Local SMEs share insights on creating a millennial-ready workplace

13-Aug-2019

There are 1.2 million millennials in Singapore today, which constitute 22 per cent of resident population. They are also the largest generation in the Singapore workforce. This means the strength of the marketplace largely depends on what the millennial generation can achieve.

They are said to be entitled, addicted to technology and non-committal. They have a reputation for being jobhoppers. According to the Gallup study1, millennials are by far the most likely generation to switch jobs with 21% switching jobs in 2016 compared to 7% of gen Xers and others.

However, this batch of next generation leaders consists of the most innovative and creative we have seen. Many millennial-led companies, such as Carousell and Grab, have impressed many with their ability to champion disruption, leverage technology and attract talent.

Naiise Team

 

Unleash human potential to drive growth 

Shifting demographics, technological revolution, greater individual choice and the rise of client sophistication are driving change in the workplace, resulting in a new era defined as The Human Age in which talent overtakes capital as a key economic differentiator, and the ability to unleash human potential is the key to business growth. These forces are urging organisations to rethink how they access talent; reimagine their people practices and redesign how they construct work2.

 

Ms Linda Teo, Country Manager at leading global recruitment agency ManpowerGroup Singapore, noted that in today’s digitalised world of work, employers are increasingly looking out for talent with the right mix of technical and soft skills to augment technology in the workplace.

 

“While demand for tech and digital skills is growing across all functions, human skills such as communication and problem-solving are becoming more valued, which employers find even harder to train. Roles that are routine are expected to be cut while demand for talent to fill jobs requiring human intervention is expected to increase,” Linda said.

 

Millennials, having grown up with technology, are tech-fluent and highly agile. They are assets to companies looking to tap on talent for new value-creation. However, these ones don’t settle down easily. StarHub’s research revealed that 34% of Singaporean SMEs find it a challenge to attract and retain employees.

 

In the war for talent, companies can have an edge if they focus on what makes them tick.

 

It’s the journey, not the job

Millennials don’t work for a paycheck – they work for a purpose and development. Top reasons for millennials’ unhappiness in their workplace include lack of personal growth, lack of challenge or inability to have upward growth. Providing on-the-job skill-building can grow them professionally within their role and increase engagement levels.

 

 

42% of Singapore employees left a company because it lacked Learning & Development (L&D) opportunities.3

 

“Millennials look for a place where they can find meaning in their work more than how big the paycheck is or how stable the company is. Millennial-age workers are willing to come into a chaotic environment like a start-up, as long as there's an opportunity to learn and grow. Flexibility is also a big part of what they look for as it reveals the trust the company puts in them in their work,” said Paul Hadjy, Co-Founder and CEO of local cyber security software company, Horangi

Horangi’s team meeting at their shophouse office along Telok Ayer Street

 

Darius Cheung, Founder and CEO of property platform 99.co, highlights the importance for employers to chart clear career progression and direction for millennial-age employees. He said, “As millennials tend to be hungry for growth and are often purpose-driven, we strive to constantly keep them engaged in the business and organisation so they continue to have a vested interest in its growth and success.”

Darius Cheung, Founder at 99.co

 

Lifting the job-hopping stigma

By age 35, about 25% of young employees would have worked five jobs4. Employers who are hiring millennials need to embrace their job hopping mindset.

 

Paul sees the job-hopping mentality as a positive trait. He shared, “We love hiring millennial-age employees. While they might be painted in a negative vibe when being seen as self-entitled job hoppers, millennials who are talented know their value and what they bring to the table. We find that people who recognise their own value are more secure and confident, less likely to play into office politics. Job hopping essentially means that you are passionate about growing and want to always be learning, providing value and getting it back.”

 

 

“To me, job hopping represents ambition and it is a trait we look for in our employees,” said Paul.

Paul Hadjy, Co-Founder at Horangi

 

Research has shown that millennials will move on and move up, but more often than not they expect to advance with the same employer.5

 

Kent Teo, Co-founder and CEO of space activations agency Invade, takes on another perspective. He said, “I wouldn't exactly label the millennial-age employees as job-hoppers. In this fast-paced environment, they are constantly exposed to opportunities and information as compared to the previous generation, they are always being challenged to perform better and tend to have high expectations of themselves. As such, some of the challenges would be pacing their expectations of the company and being able to explore their career paths with them in tandem. They want to be challenged and they want to be excited, and as long as the company that they are working for, continues to grow with them, they will stay.”

Kent Teo, Founder and CEO at Invade

 

Falling in the trap of Silicon-valley perks 

Unlimited leave days. Sleeping pods. In-house masseurs. What was once the prime examples of employee benefits from the likes of top tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Adobe, have now been adopted as common practice by new-age companies in the attempt to impress the millennial jobseeker as they face the pinch of a talent crunch. 

 

However, these perks should be physical manifestations and not standalone representations of the overall workplace culture. Employers who are not careful about the bigger purpose driving these perks will risk committing the mistake of favouring style over substance.

 

Founder of skiing and snowboarding travel company The Ride Side, Alex Hsu said, “On one hand, lifestyle perks driven by tech giants such as flexibility to work anywhere, overstocked pantries and tech-advanced workspaces are a given in today’s working environment, but I do not think they are necessary perks that millennials look for in a job. On the other hand, technology is an enabler for a high performing team, but what’s driving a millennial to excel in a job is the potential for personal growth and a direction they can pour their commitment into.”

 

He added that businesses need to provide the creative space for employees to excel with purpose, and to regard them as partners instead of employees.

Alex Hsu and Daphne Goh, Co-founders of The Ride Side

 

He said, “Millennials look for jobs that are creative endeavours in an environment which gives them room to grow and contribute to a company’s shared success. The highest levels of trust, accountability and respect in a company’s culture are pillars to support this creative endeavour.”

 

Flatten hierarchy and heighten autonomy

Millennials tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and turned off by information silos. They expect rapid progression, a varied and interesting career path and constant feedback.

 

Kent creates a flat hierarchy environment where everyone is welcome to pitch in their ideas. He said, “We empower them to suggest ideas, concepts, solutions during our weekly townhall meetings. By forming a working committee team from various departments to take on different projects and campaigns allows them to feel a sense of ownership to their work.”

The Invade team at their recent event, Shilin Night Market

 

“Having a fairly flat hierarchy and allowing for autonomy in projects provide a sense of empowerment and purpose for millennials. By encouraging our employees to speak up and have direct access to management allows them to have a direct impact on the organisation and culture. Mentorship is encouraged, as opposed to a top-down authoritative approach. Such a culture fosters the value of accountability, which will help 99ers go far in both their professional and personal lives. We've also observed that by giving them greater autonomy in managing their projects and deadlines, it instils a culture of innovation, independence and pride in one's work,” said Darius.

 

Local retail chain Naiise average employee age is at 27 years old. On managing a largely millennial-age team, Founder Dennis Tay said, “We cultivate a high energy environment with flat hierarchy and open communication between departments. Keeping it passionate and family-like with flexible work arrangements help us appeal to the younger generation whose priorities are job satisfaction and career growth.”

Dennis Tay, Founder of Naiise

 

Redesign processes for digital nomads

Millennials’ use of technology clearly sets them apart. One of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their affinity with the digital world. This is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers.

 

“Companies should also review their recruitment process. In the digital age, employers can no longer rely on a onesize-fits-all talent acquisition strategy. In order to engage millennial talents, companies have to employ a mix of different technology platforms and tools while also incorporating the human touch to provide the high-tech, hightouch experience they desire. For example, companies can reach out to millennials on social media platforms and inject the human element in the interaction by delivering a personalised message,” said Linda.

 

Millennial employees don’t want to be desk-bound, and they are placing more pressure on employers to mobilise activities. From our whitepaper study, millennials working in SMEs revealed that the top things that employers fall short of include providing mobile-first apps and communications (37%) and offering work flexibility (34%).

This calls for companies to design their infrastructure and operations systems for the digital nomads.

The Ride Side team on one of their ski trips

 

The Ride Side’s operations require the team to be stationed overseas for six months a year, which prompted Alex and Daphne to create a lean and agile team, highly supported by technology. Digital solutions have enabled them to run the business with minimal disruption.

 

“As much as possible, we look for cloud-based solutions which allow consistent and instant information sharing between the teams in Singapore and on the ground in ski resorts. This business set up supports our flexible work arrangements without compromising on the customer experience, which is essential for running our unique travel company,” Alex said.

 

Speak the same tech-language

Millennials’ lifestyles are deeply ingrained in the use of technology. Organisations looking to attract these talents will need to sharpen their edge by investing in digital solutions to speak the same tech-language.

 

They expect to communicate through social networking, instant messaging, blogs, etc – in other words, the different tech they have grown up using. Workplaces that make it easier for millennials instantly connect, engage and collaborate with colleagues in a way that is natural to them will foster greater productivity.

 

Millennials routinely make use of their own technology at work and three-quarters believe that access to technology makes them more effective at work6.

 

59% said that an employer’s provision of state-of-the-art technology was important to them when considering a job.

41% of millennials prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face or even over the telephone. Darius noted, “Using internal communication tools like Slack and Facebook Workplace taps into the millennials’ proclivity towards using text messaging to communicate as opposed to sending emails or having long face-to-face meetings.”

 

As consumers of the workplace, millennials are altering the way businesses run. To the modern employer, embracing the work-hard, play-hard millennial mindset and digital-first behavior will help ready themselves for the new generations to come.

 

 

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