It should come as no great surprise to the insurance and financial services industries that succession is a looming issue — one that statistically can’t be solved without tapping into the millennial generation.
One-third of producers are between the ages of 55 and 64, and 43 percent of advisors are within 15 years of retiring, according to Aaron Bartlett, an expert on millennials and technology in business who spoke this week during the 35th annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies (NAILBA) 35 in Dallas.
According to Bartlett, roughly 60,000 new hires will be needed annually to fill the talent gap left by the anticipated mass exit of retiring advisors. “This is why we must engage the millennial generation,” he said.
At 75.4 million people, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, millennials are not only the largest living generation today. They also are the largest block of the contemporary American workforce at about 53.5 million employed. Given these statistics, failing to adapt business processes, policies and environments to appeal to the wants and needs of millennials may leave companies out in the cold when they need to fill their employee ranks.
A shift in thinking may be difficult for companies that are comfortable with traditional values and practices cultivated and perfected to suit previous generations. Moving away from what’s tried and true can be difficult. It doesn’t help that millennials suffer from some negative perceptions in corporate America, such as the idea that this generation is especially narcissistic and entitled.
Okay, some stereotypes do emerge from kernels of truth. But with regards to millennials, forward-thinking managers would be well-advised to consider the context in which negative generational perceptions develop, and keep an open mind about how to harness those negatives and turn them into positives. This approach will serve companies well as they attempt to attract and retain younger employees, Bartlett said.
“What are some of your perceptions of millennials?” Bartlett asked his audience to call out their thoughts. Several attendees provided the polite point-of-view: Millennials are technology savvy and socially responsible. They also value group review and opinion.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. One attendee volunteered that millennials are job hoppers who have a “shortsighted view of long-term employment.”
That perception was reinforced recently by a Prudential study that found millennials view long-term employment as 18 to 24 months.
Bartlett chimed in that as the generation that grew up with social media, millennials also are often thought to have a short attention span.
Let’s get better acquainted
The term ‘millennial’ was coined by William Straus and Neil Howe, who sought to redefine what had been known as Generation Y. Millennials are loosely defined as those born between the early 1980s to the late 1990s, although many different spans have been put forth.
Millennials have grown up with unprecedented access to technology. Most don’t know what life was like without personal computers, said Bartlett. Many have no idea what a rotary phone is.
Generally, millennials are characterized by strong civic-mindedness. They have elevated confidence and tolerance, but also a sense of entitlement and narcissism, according to various studies. Almost all millennials believe they can do something great, and many millennials value the idea of making a positive influence in the world over professional recognition.
Research also shows that millennials are the most diverse and well-educated generation in U.S. history, said Bartlett. Both male and female millennials value family and seek a personal life beyond work.
Despite their reputation for professional restlessness, studies also show that most millennials actually desire job security.
According to Pew Research, millennials value jobs that they enjoy above other characteristics including compensation. Second on the list of important career qualities for millennials is job security. And the third most valuable job quality millennials are looking for is flexibility to attend to family needs.
The Pew study indicated that compensation is actually the least important factor for millennial job seekers.
Any company looking to engage more millennials in career-track employment might consider a combination of the following strategies.
A dozen ways to engage with millennials
No. 12: Provide regular, constructive feedback.
Millennials need to know that their work matters. The prevailing joke is that millennials are ‘the participation trophy generation,’ having always been praised just for showing up, not necessarily winning. Turn that negative perception into a positive by realizing that providing constructive, encouraging feedback when it’s earned motivates this generation to strive for even more successes.
No. 11: Make the work environment pleasant.
Studies show millennials aren’t willing to stick around when conditions are unpleasant. Creating a ‘work family’ can go a long way toward forging company loyalty among millennials. This can include providing barbecues or happy hours or other opportunities to socialize among employees. Bonus: This also fosters collaboration that millennials value.
No. 10: Tap into their rookie inexperience.
Millennials don’t have assumptions about the job or work they are asked to do, and often don’t realize a task is hard. Give them a chance to work on a problem. You might find they bring forth innovative solutions. Rookies also tend to work hard and fast out of desperation to reduce the tension of inexperience, said Bartlett. Find ways to leverage that drive rather than dismissing it as narcissism.
No. 9: Include millennials in decision-making processes.
This will give them a sense of being valuable to the company. Studies show that millennials want their input to be heard by senior leadership. Millennials grew up participating in school systems that generated lots of group projects. They are used to working as a team. Include them in meetings and brainstorming sessions, then provide opportunities for them to express their thoughts and opinions, either one-on-one or in groups.
No. 8: Leverage their desire to excel.
Millennials are confident and upwardly mobile. That makes them definite boss material. Acknowledge their aspirations, then show them the starting point (at the bottom) and the steps to the top. Mentor them along their career path.
No. 7: Create policies that support a healthy work-life balance.
Millennials want to work hard while at work, and then walk away and enjoy time with their friends and family. They also may be attracted to flexible schedules that allow working early or late to accommodate family activities throughout the day like school meetings and after-school sports. The ability to work from home periodically can also appeal to millennials, and doesn’t necessarily present a distraction as they are accustomed to working in coffee shops and other busy environments.
No. 6: Encourage collaboration.
In the first few days of their job, allow them to meet and even shadow people in different departments for a short period of time to foster future collaboration.
No. 5: Work to create an inclusive culture.
The goal should be for millennials to want to stay long-term. Millennials value job security, and are looking for a place to land where they can invest themselves for years. Often this means showing millennials a career path and a long-term vision of how they fit into the company.
No. 4: Don’t let your company become a technology dinosaur.
Millennials are very tapped into the digital world. They are not likely to be comfortable in an environment that lags in adopting technology solutions. Millennials are attracted to jobs that mimic their life, said Bartlett. “This is a group that is connected digitally to their entire universe.”
No. 3: Develop an onboarding plan that mimics what millennials are used to.
They are used to reading a syllabus and college planning documents. They are used to having a structured plan. Sit down with them and show them the plan you have for them, and ask them if it makes sense.
No. 2: Be honest in job descriptions.
Millennials have a strong desire to align their skills with the job at hand so their efforts are maximized and produce results. When a job announcement says one thing but the actual job entails something else, millennials are more likely to start looking for another position that seems like a better fit.
No. 1: Tap into their sense of civic mindedness.
Frame the available job as an opportunity to impact lives of the clients they are working with. Provide additional opportunities for employees to do community service projects through food drives or other work-sponsored charitable projects. Some companies even give a paid day off once a month for employees to do community service work, Bartlett noted.