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For one and all: how reaching out to millennials benefits the entire workforce.

Sodexo Canada's 10,000 employees include everyone from part-time workers who are also students to full-time employees nearing retirement age, and they occupy a variety of jobs, from finance and IT workers to engineers and chefs. The company--a division of Sodexo, the global food services and facilities management company that counts more than 420,000 employees worldwide--set out to develop a strategy that would put a renewed focus on people and position it as an employer of choice following a 2008 employee survey that revealed engagement was at an all-time low. Noting that employees ranked diversity and inclusion programs as the No. 1 driver of engagement, Sodexo Canada decided to emphasize a range of benefits and programs that, while aimed at its youngest workers, are turning out to have broad appeal among the entire workforce. {Catherine Power, vice president of communications, who is responsible for driving a comprehensive and integrated communication strategy to influence change and engage employees and external stakeholders, spoke recently with CW Managing Editor Amanda Aiello Beck, and explained how the company is making a positive difference.

CW: What are members of the millennial generation looking for in a career?

Katherine Power: Their engagement drivers are different from those of other generations, where work-life balance and work activities--the actual work they perform--have more impact on their engagement. They are definitely looking for flexibility and flexible hours. The millennials would like not to be thought of as a stereotype, and they do want to work hard. They enjoy some autonomy and freedom in their roles, they would like to be trusted to make decisions, and they are very good communicators. I think we all recognize the}' are very good with technology. That doesn't mean they automatically understand the intricacies of the technology, but they know how to use it and maximize its potential.

CW: What are managers' perceptions of working with this group?

KP: Many managers report having difficulties in working with this generation--issues surrounding millennials showing up on time, unreasonable expectations in regard to career advancement, and communication style, to name a few.

This generation has had some challenges finding work, and they have had to be more open to accepting contract roles that older workers may shun. It's hard to say if this is due to the slow economy and the challenges they have faced in finding full-time work, or a work-style preference of the generation. But to some recruiters it may appear on their resumes that they have had too many jobs in a short period of time.

CW: How is Sodexo Canada addressing these generational issues?

KP: We have implemented HR programs that are available to all our employees, so rather than pigeonholing our employees and saying, "You are a millennial so you get X benefit and you are a boomer so you get Y benefit," we provide a wide variety of flexible options for everyone. So whether you are 20-something and wanting to continue your education part time or are preparing for retirement but not quite ready to stop working completely, we can offer job-sharing or part-time options that suit your circumstances. We have a general HR policy of flexibility and a management culture that supports finding unique solutions for unique situations.

CW: What are you doing to specifically engage the younger generation?

KP: As I mentioned, our policies such as casual dress, telecommuting and "pick your own mobile device" apply to all employees. We do have a Rising Stars program, which is an onboarding program for our new managers. New managers who are recruited in their first few years of being in the workforce or are straight out of school can participate in the program. It exposes them to a variety of roles within the organization and also provides them with a year of workshops to develop their management skills. It's also a great way for our new managers across the country to get to know each other and build a network internally that they can rely on. We also have a structured mentoring program, which is very popular with our millennial members. The program is over the course of a year and provides the opportunity for new managers to connect with a senior mentor within the organization. Often the relationships continue well after the program has officially ended.

CW: Are there any unique challenges to retaining millennials?

KP: Our employee surveys indicate that employees who are millennials think about leaving the company significantly more often, and that it would take a lot less for them to leave the company, thus their loyalty is harder to win. Our culture has changed quite dramatically in the past five years to become much more transparent. And although that change wasn't to address issues with retaining millennials specifically, we have found that the move has contributed to a drop in voluntary turnover. We are focused on being an employer of choice--its one of our strategic pillars--and I think our focus on diversity has really supported those efforts.

CW: Are millennials beginning to emerge as leaders in your organization?

KP: Absolutely. We recently profiled some of our high performers on our website and have a lot of talent that we are working with to ensure they stay with us and grow within the organization. In working with our new managers, we've found that some millennials are very collaborative, open to communication and technology, and do take into consideration all team members' ideas before making a final decision. They know the final decision is theirs; however, they want to try to ensure that everyone is happy and on board with their decisions. They are a lot less "my way or else" in their approach.

CW: What other generational issues has Sodexo Canada identified?

KP: Our organization is currently examining how to retain older employees and provide them with work arrangements that are more adapted for their lifestyle and needs, and that may ultimately keep them in the workforce longer. Interestingly enough, what seems to work best for our millennial employees is also what is working best for our employees who are 50 years old or more. Part-time positions, job sharing, contract work, flexible hours--these are all options that are very attractive to members of all generations.

CW: Can you share any strategies for effectively communicating and engaging with millennial employees?

KP: Millennials get a lot of information from their peers, particularly through informal communication channels such as the company grapevine. Therefore, open and transparent communication is incredibly important for reaching and engaging with them. Of course, the use of technology is important as well. We tell our managers that if texting works better to communicate with your staff, then do it. At the same time, we have to coach our millennial employees that sometimes you need to pick up the phone or walk over a couple of offices and speak to someone in person to resolve an issue. We have very open social media guidelines at Sodexo, and encourage our employees to communicate and provide feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The millennials are key to Sodexo's success. We recognize that the war for talent is only going to get more competitive, and that we can only succeed if we can attract and retain, through programs like those mentioned, talent that will lead the company in the years to come. We will continue to focus on creating a top employer culture that brings opportunity and flexibility for employees of all generations.

survey examines millennials' motivation

In 2011, PwC conducted a survey of 4,364 university graduates from 75 countries about their expectations of work. The findings reveal millennials' attitudes toward work and the current work environment, as well as what factors contribute most to their joining and staying with an organization. Key findings include:

* 52 percent of respondents said that career advancement makes an organization an attractive employer, while 44 percent said that competitive wages do.

* 41 percent said they prefer to communicate electronically at work rather than face-to-face or over the telephone.

* 38 percent said they felt that older senior managers do not 'elate to younger workers.

hear for yourself

In this CW Radio podcast, Andre Prinsloo, the executive liaison at Consulta Research, based in South Africa, shares his insights as a millennial on what workplace factors are most important to this generation. He also offers tips for how organizations can attract and retain members of this influential generation.
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Title Annotation:the next generation: engagement
Author:Beck, Amanda Aiello
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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