Keeping millennial employees engaged takes a lot of work
Constant motivation, feedback and training programmes are just some things that leaders and human resources teams need to focus on
Sudakshina Ghosh, team manager at SAP India in Gurugram, is happy with her 12-year-old job. The 39-year-old has been with the company since 2006. She has worked on assignments that range from sales and customer account management to building customer relationships, sales strategies and go-to-market strategies. “To deliver my best, I have to be engaged and encouraged,” says Ghosh. She credits SAP’s numerous programmes for professional development with ensuring she grows personally and professionally.
Ghosh is an exception, part of a mere 13% of Indians, whether employed in the organized sector or otherwise, who feel engaged with their jobs, according to the extensive “State Of The Global Workplace” report, 2017, published by Gallup, a global analytics company. “The biggest reason (for employee attrition) in Indian companies is that employees do not identify or feel psychologically attached with the company they are likely to invest their energies in,” says Manish Gupta, assistant professor, ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad, who has researched work engagement.
Companies need to think of employee engagement as the strategic core or central agenda of the company rather than as something that is part of the operational human resources department, hidden in a calendar of activities. Leaders and managers need to see engagement as an organizational strategy rather than a series of events, retreats or metrics for employees to find meaning in their work, explains Sapna Popli, professor of marketing at the Institute of Management and Technology, Ghaziabad, who published a paper in the Journal Of Service Theory And Practice in May 2017 on employee engagement in India’s services sector. “Listen to them, help them find meaning in their work, coach, develop and genuinely care and create an environment of feedback, trust and transparent HR practices,” she says.
Ghosh believes inter-departmental rotations have helped her develop as a professional and aim for future leadership positions. They have also allowed her to pursue her passion for travel photography and writing. “I find this organizational vision and people-focused culture very motivating,” she says.
Old-style employee engagement, which was about team-building events like parties and family get-togethers, aren’t enough for the younger workforce. “Millennials need to be appreciated, encouraged, given enough opportunities and training for their career growth to be kept engaged,” says Gupta. Other than a good salary and professional growth opportunities, millennials look for inspirational leaders who, in turn, “appreciate the performance of individuals, facilitate flexible work hours and accommodate the concerns of the employee to relieve them from stress at work, in addition to creating a fun-filled environment,” adds Gupta.
Even the workspace design makes a difference, according to the “Global Employee Engagement Report”, released in 2017 by research firm Ipsos and office furniture company Steelcase. “If your work environment doesn’t allow you to physically move, it is going to lead to a lot of discontentment,” says Praveen Rawal, Delhi-based managing director of Steelcase India and South-East Asia. What can help is offering a range of spaces that cater to the company’s diverse employees, which includes breakout zones and private focused spaces.
Shraddhanjali Rao, vice-president, human resources at SAP India, Bengaluru, says her full-time job is to cater to the professional and personal needs of about 12,000 employees in SAP India, from Gen X to millennials. “Employees in the digital workplace expect a diverse, agile, yet highly personalized workplace, in line with their individual needs and caring leaders who can listen and rethink how everyone collaborates,” she says. Rao and her team continuously strive to launch policies and options that cater to their diverse workforce, which includes people like Ghosh.
It’s essential to build engagement through the entire employee life cycle and experience within the company, including redesigning the workplace, encouraging well-being, flexibility of work, diverse experience and work productivity systems instead of treating engagement as a buzzword for an HR noticeboard. Very few Indian companies, however, are working towards it. While multinational companies are a little more aware, Ghosh believes family-owned businesses, responsible for two-thirds of India’s GDP, could improve their employee engagement to increase productivity in newer ways.
An engaged workforce has a direct impact on company performance. The Gallup report states that it makes a company 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than companies where employees are just clocking time. Rao agrees: “Just a 1% increase in SAP’s employee engagement globally has resulted in an increase of €40-50 million (around ₹350-440 crore) in our operating profit,” she claims.
Engaged employees also lead to lower attrition rates. “People stay on with the organization, become proponents of company work culture, take pride in their work, only if you listen to them,” says Bengaluru-based Venkataramana B., group president, human resources, Landmark Group, a retail company. In the last few years, Landmark has implemented employee engagement programmes that aim to listen to their employees—“Connect over Coffee” are skip-level meetings (meeting with the manager’s manager) for employee concerns, while People Pulse is an anonymous survey to identify areas of improvement—resulting in the company being recognized as one of the “Top 10 places to work in Retail in India” by the Great Place to Work Institute, a global organization certifying workplaces, in 2018. “If your employees are proud and perform well, not only does your productivity increase, but also your company’s position and recognition, and you attract the very best talent,” he says.
Gupta believes that the requirement to understand the needs of millennials and keep them engaged at work will prove vital for leaders and companies alike. After all, 64% of the workforce in India by 2021 will be between 20-35 years of age. That’s just a little more than two years away.
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