Employee-centric culture

Millennials need to know they matter to their employers

went to a conference recently, attended by approximately 85 senior level human resources professionals (almost entirely vice presidents and chief human resource officers) and about 30 service providers in the HR space.

I was intrigued on the first day by two service providers who arrived casually dressed in skinny jeans and pullovers. They were surrounded by the predominantly baby boomer and older Gen X crowd in more traditional business attire. They could not have been more comfortable. They were, without question, the two youngest people at the conference. Their service was cutting edge, and the other attendees were extremely impressed with these two young, hip guys from New York with a tech-y kind of startup.

It was fitting, then, that two key themes of the speakers over the course of two-and-a-half days were employee engagement and the attraction/retention of millennials.   

One of the speakers, Darcy Smith, VP of team development at CustomInk, spoke about how her company attracts and retains its next generation of team members.

Ranking on Fortune’s  list of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials, CustomInk has an extremely engaged and happy workforce. Seventy-nine percent of its employees are identified as millennials and about 95 percent of them report being proud to work for CustomInk.

This is the place, by the way, to design your T-shirts online at CustomInk.com. Their philosophy is “custom T-shirts have the power to turn your group into a team, elevate your gathering to an event or make your special moment more…well, momentous.”

Smith, equipped with an easy-to-see energetic passion, makes CustomInk a great place to work by ensuring employees (known as Inkers) are happy and healthy. Along with a casual, flip-flop work environment, CustomInk upholds three core values, all employee-centric: 1) A sense of belonging; 2) meaningful work; and 3) a fun environment. At the same time, CustomInk has a passionate commitment to doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer.

At this conference, a number of senior corporate leaders spoke about their millennial cultures. The overwhelming question was, “What can we do to retain our people?” The answer was all about the people. Similar to CustomInk, which realizes, “If we can foster a sense of belonging, allow people to do meaningful work and create a fun environment, our employees will stay.” The chief executive officer, Marc Katz, is quoted in an interview saying, “The term ‘company culture’ actually kind of makes me cringe. It sounds sort of corporate and superficial. The fun stuff, like the free food, cool events and clever names for things, that’s great, but if it was just that stuff without real substance, I think it would be very hollow.”

So, it’s not just about the employees. A big part of it, though, is about the employees. And these are hard-working, do-whatever-it-takes people. They will share with you, “Don’t let the flip-flops fool you!”      

In contrast: I came back to Milwaukee and met with a group of CEOs. One of the CEOs said, “I need to rally my people around a priority in our business. I’m hearing so much about the focus on employees, but I don’t think that’s what it is. We are a family-owned business. I think we need to rally everyone around the family. I need them to be passionate about the family who owns this business.”

This message will invariably leave employees thinking, “Well, what about me?”   

The kind of messages we’re hearing from millennials do not support a “company-first” message. Rather than focusing on the values they deem most important, such as work-life balance, employee recognition, loyalty and respect, millennials said their employers are too focused on things like teamwork, profit and customer satisfaction.

All of that is important, of course. Fundamentally, though, if you want these things, employees have to know that they matter to you first.

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Brookfield-based Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send questions to her at anorris@livingasaleader.com. To read all of her columns, visit the knowledge portal at www.livingasaleader.com.

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Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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