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Employee experience and the millennial

Summer of 2016: Graduation season has arrived and a new generation of employees is entering the job market.  According to LinkedIn, the most coveted companies to work for are those offering a simple organizational structure, flexible schedules, and perks that go beyond typical benefits. Our Marketing and New Business Intern, Natalia Garcia-Sanabria (Class of 2017), spoke with Wolff Olins’ Global Principal, Sam Wilson, who has been working with companies looking to pioneer and re-design their employee experience. The following interview probes this new frontier of corporate culture and asks how firms can prove their relevance to this new generation as they enter the workforce.

Natalia:  What is employee experience?

Sam:  Just as with designing the ultimate customer experience, employee experience is about being incredibly thoughtful and intentional about the relationship that you have with your employees. It encompasses everything from being incredibly clear about the value proposition you offer them i.e. what they can uniquely expect to get from working for you versus somebody else, how you design the actual role itself, how you think about the career development and growth of your employees. So it starts with ensuring you design a job people actually want, and then you building the perks, benefits, physical environment and culture to support them to do that job to the best of their ability.

Natalia:  Is incorporating employee experience into a business model a growing trend?

Sam:  Yes. There is a higher level of consciousness around the power of creating the right culture and taking as much care of your employees as you do your customers. Most companies have disrupted the workspace by creating the right kind of culture and experience for their employees, and many more have found themselves under serious scrutiny when poor cultural practices emerge.  A company has a culture whether it is intentional or not. The companies that will succeed are the ones who view their customers and their employees with equal care and attention.

Natalia:  Are millennials different from previous generations when it comes to what they expect from their employer and career path?

Sam:  Millennials were born into a pretty crazy time of war, environmental and financial crisis – they saw their parents lose their life savings, radical technological disruption, hyper-connection and information overload. They don’t trust the government or big institutions. Their heroes, like Mark Zuckerberg are billionaires, CEO of their own universe at the age of 20. Is it any wonder they have different expectations and perspectives of the role they want to play? They don’t want to ‘work for the man’ - for the same company or even in the same industry forever; in a world without any more cozy pensions and retirement packages, they know no-one else is looking out for them, they have to own their own destiny.

Natalia:  Do you think there is a disconnect between how Baby Boomers and Generation X operate vs. Millennials and Generation Z?

Sam:  I think their values aren’t much different from generations before but they are more vocal and determined to live them. They want their job to fit in with their life and passions; who doesn’t want that? It’s just that few from the previous generations would dare to expect that, never mind demand it.  

Natalia:  If Millennials and Generation Z are more demanding, where do their demands end?

Sam:  People want to feel that the work they’re doing has a positive impact on the world. There’s an expectation today that a business must be responsible in all of its practices. Because we have access to information about businesses more than we used to, you can’t hide when you aren’t doing the right thing. It’s less about entitlement and more about a higher expectation of how corporations and enterprises conduct themselves. Individuals today have so much more power and influence. If they don’t like something, they’ll tweet about it.

Natalia:  Do Millennials and Generation Z want to save the world?

Sam:  I think most people want to feel like they want to leave the world better than they found it. That’s not a new idea. Whilst technology means individuals are more empowered than ever, and many of the new generation of businesses make big claims about progressive agendas, I’m not sure changing the world for the better is getting any easier. But it’s great that more and more people get out of bed every morning and give it their all.


Illustration by Kate Rinker

Natalia Garcia-Sanabria is currently interning at Wolff Olins New York. You can follow her @NGS_1295