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A Transparent Look at the Impact of Millennials on the Workplace

Every leader knows that Millennials are having an incredible impact on the workplace.

Depending on the source you prefer, Millennials will make up between 44 (BLS) and 75 percent (Brookings) of the American workforce by 2025. And if the sheer size of this generation isn’t enough to grab your attention, the way Millennials want to participate in their work should make you take notice.

As bestselling author Dan Schawbel points out, Millennials are shaping our future. So as leaders, we need to tune into the implications that is having on how we do our jobs moving forward.

In an article for Forbes, Schawbel cites 10 ways Millennials are impacting the work landscape. I’d like to highlight where our views intersect, starting with what he’s ranked first: transparency.

I’ve been writing, thinking, and speaking about transparency for years. It’s a core value that has guided me through some of the most challenging and tumultuous leadership experiences in my career. So Millennials’ push toward greater transparency is something I think all leaders must understand and embrace.

Transparency and culture

At first glance, it would seem transparency in the workplace is a widely accepted and practiced norm. Months of research not only have confirmed my suspicions otherwise, but have also shed light on what I experienced as a CEO. Transparency turned out to be the missing ingredient in our faltering culture at Prologis and undoubtedly at countless others.

Schawbel underscores this point when he writes that Millennials “don’t trust CEOs and politicians because they don’t feel like they are honest, especially how they are portrayed in the media. They want to create honest and open cultures where there aren’t barriers between workers of different levels and everyone knows what’s going on in the company.”

According to the Pew Research Center, only 19 percent of Millennials agree with the statement, “Most people can be trusted.” This sobering statistic is a call to action for those of us in a leadership position or human resources capacity. My experiences and research collectively tell us: Transparency breeds trust and without it, you don’t have a culture with which to motivate, nurture, and lead your team.

Why is a transparent culture so critical?

According to a study by Deloitte, two-thirds of Millennials have expressed a desire to leave their organizations by 2020. Patricia Sellers of Fortune adds, “Millennials value authenticity, transparency, and democratic access. They’re also more restless than the Gen X-ers or baby boomers who came before them…” Businesses must be trustworthy in the ways they nurture loyalty among Millennials or risk losing large numbers within their workforces.

So what can you do to create a workplace culture for millennials?

Recommit to your culture. Make your values clear and lead consistently with them. Transparency isn’t about telling people what you believe. It’s about living what you believe. That’s the type of transparency Millennials connect to and appreciate. Decide how you will authentically model your values so you cultivate the same behaviors throughout your organization.

The Deloitte study revealed that “Millennials seek employers with similar values; 70 percent believe their personal values are shared by the organizations for which they work.” Your company culture must exude the values you hold dear. Otherwise, your Millennials will find a more genuine environment.

Encourage mentorship. Mentorship cultivates incredible staying power with Millennials and it’s a service I strongly believe in. Mentoring younger leaders is an incredible opportunity to pass along values and behaviors by providing a window into your soul. That’s the type of transparency Millennials long to see. It teaches them valuable lessons, and it builds loyalty.

Deloitte’s survey found that “loyalty to an employer is driven by understanding and support of Millennials’ career and life ambitions, as well as providing opportunities to progress and become leaders. Those intending to stay with their organizations for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent).”

I’m encouraged to see thought-leaders like Schawbel draw attention to transparency. Transparency is one of the many expectations this generation has of its work life, but in my opinion, their expectations signal a watershed in culture management.

In future installments of this series, I’ll explore additional ways Millennials impact our workplace and how we can actively engage in the process of welcoming them. Until then, I hope these ideas will challenge you to examine the commitment to transparency in your workplace.

Continue the series with Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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