May 03, 2017

Over the past year, I’ve had numerous conversations with clients about how to hire, inspire and retain their millennial employees. It seems many leaders I work are struggling to find the “right” answer, but there are as many answers to this question as there are industries, offices and jobs.

I was recently introduced to the idea of leveraging workplace design as a tool for retaining and recruiting millennial employees when my firm, Baker Tilly, remodeled our offices. Prior to the remodel, employees were surveyed on issues such as privacy, flexibility within a work station, need for social interaction and variety of work spaces. Synthesizing this information — from more than 200 employees — into viable recommendations would be a big job. 

You may be asking yourself if it really makes sense to invest in an office renovation to attract and retain millennials. My answer to that is a resounding “yes!”

A recent survey found nearly 90 percent of workers are less than satisfied with their work environment. With the cost of replacing a millennial employee ranging between $15,000 to $20,000, according to Millennial Branding, and with more than one-in-three American workers being a Millennial, reevaluating your current office layout and amenities may provide real benefits.

Consider this example:

There’s no place like work when it feels like home

As our office renovation was taking shape, a friend who owns an engineering consulting firm was completing his own office renovation. Highly talented millennial engineers are not easy to identify and recruit, making retention vital, and he found he was losing many of these millennial employees because of the long hours often required to finish projects.

As a baby boomer, he had readily worked long hours to finish projects and advance his career, but once he recognized that this new generation simply thought about work differently, he made some sweeping changes to his office. Couches were brought in and placed throughout the office, a lounge was created with a fireplace, big screen TVs and game stations and the kitchen was stocked with healthy snacks.

He found the millennial engineers were more amenable to working into the evening if their work place resembled their home. If the comforts and stress relievers that his employees sought in their home were available at the office — perhaps even an upgrade to what they had at home — the engineers didn’t mind staying later in the office.

While some companies solve this dilemma simply by allowing employees to work at home, the engineers created a better work product working in teams and communicating face to face.

In addition to a facelift, the firm also changed their norms around telecommuting and communications. All these changes allowed current millennial employees to work when inspiration struck (which wasn’t necessarily between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and helped the firm recruit more and better talent because of the new office layout.

Overall, the owner says production has improved and work/life balance is thriving since making these changes.

Redesigning where you work

So, you’ve decided a redesign could help your employee retention and recruitment problem. Here are four items to consider.

1. Empower collaboration and innovation

Millennials believe collaboration is the key to innovation and as a result, want to collaborate and work in teams. Consider these innovative design elements to support those beliefs:

  • Team zones: Group people by client or industry focus
  • Huddle rooms: Smaller conference rooms with smart boards and white boards that are close to a team’s work space
  • Telephone booths: Small rooms with a door that closes and with no glass partitions where an employee can make a private phone call during the day without leaving the office
  • Relaxed social settings: Large rooms with couches, lounge chairs, bean bags, games, fireplaces and nooks for alone time

These spaces all create workplace well-being, which is directly linked to a happy and productive staff. Intersperse these spaces with the correct digital and mobile technology so that employees have options for where they can work within your office.

2. Make it flexible

Today’s employees have technology that allows them to work anywhere. Millennials want to move, change positions and work in different areas throughout the day.

Incorporating different types of work settings within your office will allow your employees to sit, stand, lean, seek privacy, socialize and move around as they feel necessary. Your workforce will be healthier and miss less work, thereby saving the company money in lost productivity.

Reducing workplace stress associated with an unproductive environment can have a big impact on your employees’ lives and the company’s bottom line. Stress is the leading cause of unscheduled absences and a factor in high turnover, costing U.S. employers about $300 billion per year.

3. Align your work space with your mission

Millennials, in general, are idealists who believe a company should do more than produce profits. They want to use their work to change the world or help a larger cause and this means rethinking your work space around your corporate mission.

For instance, if your company is committed to a cleaner environment, your workspace should punctuate that by emphasizing sustainability and conservation. If your firm is in the healthcare industry, your workspace should emphasize natural light, standing desk options and encourage physical movement in general.

4. Get your workforce involved

With all of this to consider, where do you start? Begin by communicating. Millennials believe they can and will drive change. Give them that opportunity by starting with a survey. Make sure the survey offers room for written comments in addition to preference ratings. Find a workspace designer to work with who can help you reshape your work environment.

Making these changes will require an investment and, most likely, a change in attitudes toward how work gets done. Challenge your firm to push through these changes. The pay-off will come with the ability to attract and retain top-notch talent. When your company is a magnet for talent, it becomes a magnet for profits.

Article By: Laura Fries, managing director and executive vice president of Baker Tilly’s Executive Search practice, has more than 20 years of experience serving clients in multiple industries and functional disciplines, placing C-level and vice president/director executives with firms across the U.S.

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