Attracting millennials

Flexible, collaborative and meaningful workspaces add to the appeal

Not that long ago, businesses sought millennials to “inject new life” or “bring fresh thinking” into their organizations. But as these workers grow older and become more experienced, those reasons are starting to feel outdated. The truth is millennials are now the largest generation in the Canadian workforce and attracting them is essential for all companies looking to stay competitive. 

So the question then becomes: How do you build an office culture that millennials want to be a part of? Basically, it comes down to offering flexibility, fostering collaboration, offering meaningful work and prioritizing wellness. 

Developing a flexible work culture
To attract, motivate and engage millennials, it’s important to implement flexible work environments. This is a generation that has spent a good part of their lives using mobile phones and social media to interact with family and friends, so it’s second nature for them to communicate and collaborate with colleagues virtually from a coffee shop or home office.

American Express  recently moved to a new, flexible workplace that gives the majority of its roughly 2,000 Canadian employees the freedom to work from anywhere. As part of a “BlueWork” model, staff are free to work from home some days but are encouraged to use a variety of office work spaces that cater best to their work needs at that moment. 

Instead of sitting at the same desk every day, employees can stay connected with colleagues via instant messenger, virtual meetings or calls from their computers.

Instituting a flexible work culture is also crucial to creating an environment where women can succeed on their own terms. Many millennial women are now young mothers or at the age where they’re at least thinking about starting a family. 

In this competitive business landscape, a company’s best advantage is its people, and offering flexible work is the surest way to both attract and retain them.  

Enhancing collaboration
While it’s vital to give employees the tools and technology to be productive away from the office,  employers also don’t want rows of empty desks creating an uninspiring environment. 

To preserve a business’ culture, it’s important to complement flexibility with collaboration. Make designated cubicles a thing of the past. Instead, give employees the freedom to reserve any workstation. At American Express, one- fifth of every floor is dedicated to open, collaborative spaces so employees can set up meetings in the conference room, grab a couch by a window or enjoy a whiteboard brainstorming session over lunch with a colleague — all without compromising their connectivity. 

It’s also important to encourage greater communication between all employees, regardless of title, and to promote teamwork between different business groups. As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, millennials have always had information and answers right at their fingertips. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they often exhibit far less patience for seemingly needless workplace processes and hierarchical structures than previous generations.

To give young people the open, honest communication and real-time feedback they want from their colleagues and superiors, it’s important to knock down those cubicles and eliminate needless channels. When teams are brought together, projects are completed faster and employee productivity and engagement increase across the board. 

Offering meaningful work
While salary and growth opportunities are certainly important motivators for millennials, studies show performing meaningful work that contributes to society — rather than just a company’s bottom line — is a big priority. Millennials intending to stay with their employer for at least five years are more satisfied (88 per cent) with their organization’s sense of purpose compared to those who plan to leave within two years (63 per cent), according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey of nearly 7,700 millennials in 29 countries. 

A great deal of satisfaction comes from making an impact on the world around us. Whether it’s helping a client out of a difficult situation, mentoring a co-worker or supporting philanthropic programs, it’s crucial to provide these opportunities to employees. American Express offers employees an opportunity to get involved in the community by supporting numerous charitable partners through the employee volunteer program Serve2gether.    

Promoting health and wellness 
Millennials are looking for more than a good dental plan. They look for employers to invest in their health and well-being. And for companies, it’s a wise investment. More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of U.S. employees said participation in workplace wellness programs increased their engagement in their employer’s mission and goals, according to the 2016 Humana study The Wellness Effect: The Impact of Workplace Programs, based on a survey of 209 U.S. HR executives and managers and 500 full-time employees. 

In addition, nine out of 10 respondents say participating in wellness initiatives improved their fitness, as well as their overall happiness and well-being.

Equipping employees with everything they need to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle can improve their fitness and boost a company’s profits. That’s one of the reasons Amex chose the location for its new Canadian headquarters in Toronto. The building features a state-of–the-art, 40,000-square-foot fitness centre with areas for cardio, strength and conditioning, group exercise classes and a spinning studio. The building even has a saltwater swimming pool and year-round, temperature-controlled tennis courts. By providing subsidized gym memberships to employees, the company aimed to make it accessible and affordable for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

While these kinds of amenities may be beyond what most employers can provide, all sizes of businesses should make preventative health care a priority. 

This could include offering smoking-cessation programs, on-site flu shots and screenings to help employees track their blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol. 

Or it could simply be encouraging employees to eat better. After all, one in five employees say their current workload has caused them to regularly eat unhealthy foods, according to the 2015 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey of 1,504 primary holders of group health benefit plans.

The reward for hard-working staff who skip lunch to meet a deadline shouldn’t be a vending machine chocolate bar. Businesses must ensure employees have access to affordable and healthy food options onsite. As with flexible work, it’s about making sure people have what they need to be successful. 

When it comes down to it, if an organization can show millennials — or anyone, for that matter —  it will do everything possible to help  them maximize their potential and do their best work, all while keeping them both physically and mentally healthy, then why would they ever want to work anywhere else? 

Naomi Titleman is vice-president of human resources at American Express Canada in Toronto. For more information, visit 

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