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Millenials in the workplace: How to protect them from burnout and improve internal communication in the era of always-on

This blog post about millenials in the workplace is the courtesy of our new EMEA board member Steffi Burkhart.

The figures are quite alarming: the German labor market will face a shortage of about eight million qualified workers by 2030. This skills shortage is not only an alarming topic in Germany: it is a global phenomenon  even in  developing countries like Brazil and China.  The majority of people who will be working in this timeframe -the so-called millennial generation (generation Y (1995-1980) and generation Z (2000-1995)) - are therefore increasingly in demand around the globe.

While the number of highly qualified workers is shrinking, trends such as digitalization, automatization and the proliferation of technology require increasingly qualified workers. Therefore, top talent is the key competitive advantage of the future.

We already face a War for Talent, which will become even more fierce in the future. Companies need to understand that their human capital is their most important capital. That is why I consider myself a human capital evangelist. It is time to invest in HR in all areas: From employee attraction, to recruiting, retention and development of human capital.

When organizations invest in these areas, they need to understand the specific needs of millenials in the workplace: A sustainable and long-term HR strategy requires a well-structured corporate health care plan with an increasing emphasis especially on mental health.

Figures regarding millennials' mental health indicate that more and more young professionals are in danger of suffering from emotional exhaustion. The main causes for this exhaustion are the growing convergence of work and leisure time, and the misuse of modern technologies. This is particularly true for professionals between the ages of 20 until mid-30.

The typical millennial doesn't let go of his or her smartphone. It is their companion almost 24-hours a day. This generation has more of an “on demand” mentality - always reachable, but also very distractible. They are not able to differentiate between work and leisure time when it comes to technology. Work-relevant content is consumed in the same way as private content. Millennials answer to work mails at home, but also respond to many private messages at work.

This leads to a problem where companies struggle to get their younger employees' full attention. Furthermore, the merge of work and leisure time increasingly leads to stress for those younger workers.

In the current Stress Survey of the American Psychological Association (2017) 76 percent of millennials stated that work is a significant stress factor for them. 44 percent feel emotionally exhausted and petulant due to  stress. Almost half of the respondents said they feel separated from their families because of modern information and communication technologies, even when they are in the same room. It's proven that millennials have a higher chance of suffering from psychological problems and mental disorders, such as depression.

The survey from The Workforce Institute at Kronos about the usage and mind-set around “always-on” technologies in Germany, France and the UK gives some indication of the effect on work-life. It showed, that the younger respondents (aged 16-25), were, compared to other age groups, less able to manage their time and less engaged during the working day. This corresponds to an unhealthy lifestyle of that age group. Almost half (45.1 percent) of the young respondents got less than six hours of sleep per night. Some even develop self-endangering behavior like the consumption of stimulating substances.

Approaches for better mental health care management

There are many ways companies can help their millennial employees develop efficient and healthy coping strategies. The World Economic Forum brought experts in the field of mental health together to develop a simple toolkit with seven actions, that can help organizations improve the mental health of their employees. These experts emphasize  the importance of having executives within the organization be aware of the problem and of having an approachable contact person in the organization.

A good health care plan should focus on training around efficient stress management and positive coping strategies. When implementing these trainings, it is important to keep in mind that the training needs to fit into the average working schedule of the employees. The prioritization of daily business often inhibits the effectiveness of such trainings. Microlearning could therefore be an even better solution: “Microlearning” consists of  small information units, so called “learning nuggets” from three to 15 minutes, that require very little of the employee's resources in terms of time and attention.

It's time for a revolution in corporate communication

When it comes to increasing the productivity of the millennial generation, there are a few things to consider around technology. The first one is to make sure they are able to work smarter and not necessarily harder - in other words: make sure they can work more efficiently. The easiest way of doing this is by offering millennial workers the communication channels they are already used to - texting, social media and videochatting to name a few. Millennials shift smoothly between their different devices. They might start  drafting a text on their phone, edit it on their computer and finish it on their tablet. So if companies want to improve their way of working with the younger generations, they need to focus on getting technology to a level that engages these generations, for example by enabling seamless communication on all devices, focusing more on social collaboration and moving away from unidirectional communication vehicles such as email and the dreaded voicemail. And even though there is evidence that millennials don't actively demand these changes, once implemented, they do work more efficiently.

Even corporate profiles on Social Media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram can help improve internal communication. Face-to-face meetings however become much more relevant in the time of distraction and I strongly believe that organizations should encourage face-to-face meetings, personal feedback, informal chats, mentoring and coaching by setting-up incentives because it will highly improve internal corporate communication.

Developing an organization's internal communication to leverage multi-device and multi-channel communication has more advantages than to just better engage millenials in the workplace and can positively impact the long-term success of any business: More and more often there is a need to react to new challenges extremely quickly. Just imagine a car retailer that needs to respond with a sales-push to a competitor because that competitor just launched a new car: To create the according impact fast, employees, as well as customers, testimonials and influencers need to communicate quickly and on a broad scale - this requires real-time communication between a lot of people, which is only possible through a network-communication, not through a top-down structure.

Furthermore, network-communication can help to discover and respond faster and more adequately to all kinds of developments as well as to micro-trends or regional trends: when there is a trend for something - maybe a vegan burger? - emerging in a certain market, companies can quickly identify that trend through their communication channels and then decide whether to participate in that trend or not.

And finally, network-communication also provides organizations with data to find out which communication channels work best for them. A good opportunity for testing these channels with your employees could be major public events. In a world where work-life boundaries are getting more blurred and companies compete for the employee's attention with their communication against their private communication, major public events can be a good occasion to start experimenting with tools and new channels. Why not start right away with something about the upcoming Soccer World Championship?

In the long run, technological innovations in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) will disrupt corporate communication as it is today. Google recently launched “Google Duplex”, a technology that uses AI to makes phone calls and is very difficult to differentiate from conversations with humans. This demonstrates, how close to everyday life these fundamental shifts already are. There is no debate about whether companies decide to change their communication, they will have to, and not just to please the millenials in the workplace. The important question is whether they understand the great relevance of human capital, make use of the upcoming changes and create a competitive advantage out of it.

Share your insights!

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