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Millennial Magnets

HRE presents an exclusive list of companies young workers find particularly inviting, with some employer best practices included.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008
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If you want to attract millennials, you have to think like a millennial. And some companies do that very well.

At Marriott International Inc., for example, if teams of employees can figure out how to do their jobs faster, they can have more flexibility in their work schedules -- a particularly attractive perk to a generation that seems especially opposed to letting work become all-consuming.

Other companies are equally creative.

FactSet Research Systems, which creates financial software, helps employees set up Facebook groups so they can keep in touch with one another. Scottrade, the online broker, has an employee rewards program that hands out the must-have millennial item, the iPod. And Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company, trains all managers and supervisors to understand how young people think.

Those are just a few of the innovative techniques used by Human Resource Executive®'s Great Companies for Millennials, an exclusive list prepared for the magazine by the Great Place to Work Institute in San Francisco. The 18 companies on the list were all given exceptionally high marks by their U.S. employees 25 and under in surveys developed by the institute. (The full list is here.) The companies were culled, at HRE's request, from the institute's "100 Best Companies to Work For," prepared for Fortune magazine.

Many of the companies have programs and initiatives specifically geared to attract and retain younger employees. Others say they don't target one age group over another -- they try to appeal to all employees equally. But what the 18 have in common is that they hit all the right notes in the siren song for young workers.

Experts on millennials in the workplace -- as well as human resource executives at companies on our list -- say this new generation of workers has a specific set of expectations.

They think having to "pay one's dues" is old-fashioned, and want to be given responsibility quickly. They crave recognition for their efforts. They have a strong desire to be part of a community of young co-workers who not only socialize, but help each other out on the job.

The latest technology is important to them, of course. So is work/life balance, and an employer that genuinely cares for the environment and has a sense of social responsibility.

Members of this generation -- many of whom have had their young lives planned out for them to the last detail by their overachieving boomer parents -- also want something else: a clear career path laid out before them. They already know where they're going. And they expect you to make sure they get there.

Only four of the 18 companies have more than 10,000 employees -- perhaps not surprising, considering that young workers put top emphasis on the question, "There is a family or team feeling here."

But Marriott, which has 123,000 U.S. employees, proves that millennials can find a home in even the largest corporations.

For starters, Marriott, based in Bethesda, Md., still emphasizes its origins 80 years ago as a family-owned root-beer stand, says David Rodriguez, executive vice president of global human resources. Marriott has the feel of a small company, and a sense that "everybody's involved in a family business," he says.

Some Friendly Features

And like many of the smaller companies, Marriott allows the kind of workplace flexibility that young people find appealing.

One example is the company's new "Teamwork Innovations" program, which encourages employees to eliminate redundant work. At one hotel, teams of employees looked at the hour it took to turn over a shift and realized they could cut 40 percent off that time. As a result of the time savings, employees were able to leave earlier.

"If your work can be done in fewer hours, that's what we want," says Rodriguez. That's also what millennials want. Unlike earlier generations, he says, young people today are far less interested in hanging around so the boss will think they're more productive.

"They don't want it to be a criterion for being a top performer that they're there for a couple of extra hours," he says.

"That's what Gen Y is saying -- 'Judge me by my work, not by whether I'm around for a certain number of hours a day.' "

That's something all employees want, but "Gen Y has been much more vocal about it," says Rodriguez. "Baby boomers just assumed they would work from dawn to dusk. Gen Y is saying, 'I'm not going to do it the way Mom and Dad did it.' "

Rodriguez says millennials have been influential at Marriott, as the company has made work more flexible for all employees.

"Gen Y is bringing attention to it, but everybody's benefiting," he says.

Like many of the companies on HRE's list, Marriott puts the latest technology into its workers' hands.

Rodriguez pictures a scenario to illustrate this: A Marriott employee is at home late at night, in pajamas, using an iPod, watching David Letterman on TV and thinking about his or her ideal next job at Marriott. The employee can get on a computer, access his or her "personal portal" at the company's intranet site and specify the desired type of job, pay level and even city. The moment such a job is posted by the company, the employee will be alerted -- and his or her resume will automatically be sent to the hiring manager.

Young people expect that kind of connectivity, at any hour of the day or night, says Rodriguez.

"They're so used to doing things electronically," he says. Employers who didn't score well with Gen Y on the Great Company surveys are "probably still pushing paper."

And then there is the issue of trust. After the 9/11 attacks, far fewer people traveled, and the hotel industry was temporarily devastated, says Rodriguez. Many hotel companies reneged on job offers they had extended to graduates of university hospitality programs.

Not Marriott. "We found ways to employ them any way we could," he says. "We honored our commitments."

He believes that effort has resulted in "lifelong loyalty" from many of those employees.

And Marriott's effort is still remembered by university officials, who spread the word to students.

Says Rodriguez: "Gen Y is very much looking for employers who are genuine."

Responsible Rewards

The Great Companies for Millennials also scored particularly high in the surveys among young people asked to rate them according to whether they give promotions "to those who best deserve them."

Chesapeake Energy, based in Oklahoma City, has that one covered. Young employees are given responsibility early, says Martha Burger, senior vice president for human and corporate resources.

"If a supervisory position is open, it's not necessarily the person who's been here the longest who gets it," says Burger. "It's the person who's best for the job."

That's what young people expect, she says. "The concept of paying your dues is something we need to forget for the younger generation," says Burger. "They see paying your dues as occupying space."

Her company's policy is, "If you want something, you don't have to wait 10 years to get it. If you've earned the responsibility, you can have it."

At Chesapeake Energy, having talented young employees is not a luxury -- it's a necessity. In the 1970s and 1980s, "the oil boom turned to oil bust," and few young people wanted to work for energy companies, says Burger. As a result, an entire generation is missing from the workforce. The company has been growing rapidly in recent years, says Burger, and there's a tremendous need for new waves of young people.

But competition for young workers in the industry is intense, so Chesapeake has had to be very creative in keeping them happy. One technique: The company trains supervisors and managers -- who are often in the 50s -- on the best ways to develop young people.

"We talk about the differences in this generation, and what makes them tick," says Burger. "We do case studies, such as asking, 'How would you handle a young person who comes to you and says, 'I'm not being challenged'? "

The company does this because it can't afford not to, says Burger.

"If young people aren't understood, they will leave," she says. "Their thought process about getting another job is different from other generations."

Companies that don't recognize this run the risk of alienating millennials. That's something that National Instruments, an Austin, Texas-based firm that makes computer hardware and software for engineering uses, understands very well.

"Our culture doesn't start from 'You're too young,' " says Mark Finger, vice president of human resources. "We're not afraid to take people with 12 to 18 months' experience and put them in the field."

The company's approach, he says, is "We're not afraid of your talent. We'll reward talent and people who do incredible things. That is very attractive to very smart people."

David Hall, who is 25 and has worked for National Instruments for two-and-a-half years, agrees. He's responsible for driving revenue growth for a line of products that test wireless devices in cell phones. He regularly meets with customers, and writes articles for industry magazines.

"I've been given a huge responsibility to lead a big initiative at a very young age," says Hall, who has a degree in computer engineering. "It's kind of thrilling." He got a taste of that early responsibility when he taught a computer programming class to fellow employees six months after joining the company.

"Many of the people attending the class had kids older than me," he says. "But they were looking to me for answers for a fairly technical product. And these guys were smart."

There was a lot of pressure and responsibility, says Hall, but "that's the kind of experience that grows you as a person and a professional."

It's critical that fast-rising young employees don't get bogged down and discouraged. Kimley-Horn and Associates, a Cary, N.C.-based company that specializes in civil engineering and land planning, takes care to hire enough graduates each year so young employees can keep moving up.

Some companies tend to hire graduates in chunks every few years, but Kimley-Horn, which has about 2,400 employees, keeps the pipeline moving, says Barry Barber, director of human resources.

"If we don't hire anybody, you're still low man on the totem pole," says Barber.

Young employees could get burned out, or stuck in place.

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"We don't want folks to be pigeonholed," he says. "You don't do that with a 24-year-old."

A Social Agenda

Although corporate America generally frowns on too much socializing at work, many of the companies on our list -- including Kimley-Horn -- actually encourage employees to get together.

At many of its offices, Kimley-Horn holds lunchtime forums, during which senior workers share their knowledge and experience with newer workers. But the events also help to get young people together to plan social outings, says Barber.

"Most new graduates are moving to new geographical areas where they don't know anybody," says Barber. "They're coming from college, where they had an instant social life, and an instant community."

The forums not only integrate employees into the firm, but also help them build a new social network, says Barber.

Young people expect this kind of helping hand from their employers, experts say.

Neil Howe, co-author of the forthcoming book Millennials in the Workplace, says that this generation has always been comfortable socializing with their parents, and with other kids around adults.

It's a natural step for them to want the same dynamics at their jobs, says Howe, who, along with his late co-author, William Strauss, coined the term millennials. Says Howe: "They want to bring the comforts of home to the workplace."

Like Kimley-Horn, FactSet -- a Norwalk, Conn.-based firm that creates software for investment professionals -- recognizes and encourages this, says Director of Human Resources Dan Viens.

Training courses have a "huge social component," he says. The company arranges social outings, such as bowling, after the training sessions, and helps the groups set up Facebook groups so employees can stay in touch with one another. That's good for the company in several ways, says Viens: Not only are the employees happier, but the networking helps them do their jobs better.

FactSet is also attractive to young people because it allows employees to switch careers at the company. FactSet holds career fairs for employees already on the job, letting them know what's available, says Viens.

"We don't want anybody to walk out the door because they're looking for a career opportunity that they did not think was here," he says.

And then there's the personal touch.

Students who have accepted jobs at FactSet, but haven't left school, will often be sent gift baskets, blankets and hot chocolate before their finals. Along with the gifts will be a note that says, "Good luck, we're thinking of you, we look forward to seeing you soon."

As much as millennials love the personal touch, they also love the attention. Scottrade, based in St. Louis, understands this -- and considers rewards and recognition programs particularly important to millennials, says Jane Wulf, executive director of human resources.

"They like to be recognized," she says. "They grew up with bumper stickers on their cars saying, 'My child is an honor student.' They grew up in an era where everyone won a trophy."

In Scottrade's "Above and Beyond" program, any employee can nominate any other employee for recognition. Nominations earn points that can be traded in for such things as gift cards, jewelry and an iPod.

Although the program is for all employees, young people find it particularly attractive, says Wulf.

Make It Cool

Millennials not only want cool things, they want to work for companies that are considered cool. It's not suprising that cooler-than-thou Google and Starbucks are also on our list.

So is 1,800-employee Umpqua Bank, based in Portland, Ore. Young people love to work there, and a big reason is the bank's image -- as a very cool place -- in the local community, says Executive Vice President of Cultural Enhancement Barbara Baker, Umpqua's chief HR officer.

That coolness is meant to appeal to all customers, not just young people, and Umpqua pursues it with enthusiasm.

Its branches are called stores; its tellers are called "universal associates." Branches have Internet cafes, coffee bars (which dispense the bank's own brand of coffee) and couches where customers can relax, browse through magazines and watch business channels on television.

Some branches host yoga classes and movie nights, and there's even a water dish for dogs outside, so customers' pets don't have to miss out on the fun.

When you walk into many of the stores, you can hardly tell you're in a bank, says Baker. And that's the intention.

"We wanted to create excitement around a retail environment, like Starbucks and Nordstrom," says Baker. "We say, 'Come in and browse in our store, and by the way, do your banking.' "

Baker says customers love this approach, and so do employees -- particularly the many young people who become tellers at Umpqua right after high school or college. And when they tell people where they work, the response is often, "Oh, that's the cool bank," says Baker.

About 20 percent of the company's workers are under 25, typical for a bank.

"The company does have that cool factor, that 'it' factor," says Chris George, 25, an assistant vice president in the mortgage division.

Young employees especially like that, he says. "Your friends are envious," says George. "They'll say, 'How'd you get a job at Umpqua?' "

And when people he meets ask what he does for a living, he doesn't say he works for a bank.

"I say I work for Umpqua bank," says George. "Saying you work for Umpqua speaks for your character."

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