Gatwick thought leadership event reveals need for businesses to embrace millennials

November 28, 2019

Businesses looking to attract and retain millennials should focus on their similarities rather than their differences. This was the message to Gatwick business leaders at our thought leadership event held in Crawley yesterday (27 November). 

Generational change experts came together with Vail Williams to provide businesses in the region with insights into Generation Y, the demographic cohort name given to millennials aged 20 to 34. 

Attended by over 80 business professionals, the event was held at Elekta’s cornerstone facility, an international hub for the design, development and manufacturing of advanced cancer treatment solutions, recently (27 November). 

The event heard how we now live in an era where there can be four or even five generations of workers in the same business due to changing demographics and higher retirement ages. 

This poses a particular challenge for businesses seeking to attract and retain millennial talent. 

Carrie Foster, pictured below, organisation development practitioner and speaker at the event said: “There is a societal shift in attitudes towards work and employees of different ages have different expectations of what a good employee experience which HR and Business Leaders must respond to. There is a much greater expectation of work/life balance driven by a multi-generational workforce and a growing demand for employers to demonstrate ethical practices.”

By 2031, it is expected that the number of 65-year-olds and over will outnumber people under 20 in the UK. Given the rising retirement age, this means that Generation X will need to embrace Generation Y if they are to attract and retain millennials and create a positive employee experience. 

Whilst known for their collaborative nature, social conscience, flexibility and tech savviness, millennials are also renowned for bringing with them a long list of desirables for their employers to meet. 

Said to prefer light, spacious and contemporary workspaces with constant connectivity through technology and social media, millennials prefer a work-life balance and a relaxing place to “decompress” at work. 

But don’t expect them to be loyal to your business, as Elliot Anderson, External Audit Supervisor at RSM UK, discussed: “Millennials want to be emotionally involved in a business, but research shows that only 29% are engaged at work. Not only this, the 2018 Millennial survey revealed that 43% of millennials would anticipate leaving their job in the next two years.”

This has financial implications for business; research shows that it can cost up to £11,000 to replace an average employee at small to medium-sized enterprises.

Despite this, findings from a recent survey of 165 office occupiers revealed that more than 50% of those surveyed stated that attracting and retaining millennials, along with retaining so-called ‘twilighters’ close to retirement age, was key.

A further 40% of respondents said attracting and retaining millennials was essential.

Sarah Kavanagh, business transformation and HR director for Southern Co-op, pictured below, who also spoke at the event, added: “Retail employs some three million people in the UK, one million of which are under 25, so attracting and retaining millennials is incredibly important to us.

“A lot of what we have implemented in recent years has been about overcoming the difference in values, attitudes and behaviours between our Generation X and Y employees. We focus a lot more on social conscience, enabling millennials to have a say in what they do and how it’s done. Core to this is employer brand and transparency.”

Summing up, Vail Williams’ managing partner, Matthew Samuel-Camps, told the audience: “We’ve heard today about the importance and quality of the workplace environment for millennials and a holistic approach to nurturing talent.

“As employers, we need to embrace the strengths of millennials. They are wired differently but, unless we understand what they have to offer, our businesses will not continue to strive and remain successful. 

After the event, Matthew said: “As one of the speakers eloquently stated, businesses should focus on similarities rather than despair at differences.

“I hope we provided some revealing insights into millennials and how businesses need to better understand and address their needs, without alienating older colleagues, in order to stay relevant and competitive.” 

Guest speakers included Elliot Anderson, an external audit supervisor at RSM UK, Carrie Foster, an author and practitioner in organisation development, Sarah Kavanagh, Business Transformation and HR director at retailer Southern Co-op, which has employees ranging from 16 to 79.

Rod Bisset, a partner and expert in business rates at Vail Williams, compered the event at Elekta’s office in Crawley. 

Networking preceded the event.