As the millennial generation moves into the driver’s seat, and the Boomers start to exit stage left, ideas about what’s important in the workplace are evolving. In fact, millennials are the largest demographic group among U.S. workers. There’s so much being said about this group, I’m sure they’re sick of hearing “millennial this” and “millennial that” - as if they’re some kind of bug bringing about the plague.

So, let’s call them what they really are: “Gen Y”. And, if you’re part of the Gen Y definition, you can count on me not to use the “M-word” again.

The Gen Y experience has been greatly influenced by access to technology and a greater ability to connect with others on a daily basis. They bring different expectations to the workplace. Once, job security held sway as the most important element of a position, but Gen Y is looking for more than just stability. And what is stability in the workforce mean these days, anyways? They value connection, interaction, and a feeling of belonging, as the barriers between work and life are increasingly eliminated. They’re not going to appreciate a Rolex at the 20-year-mark the same way their predecessors did.

Why does this matter? Because keeping workers engaged and motivated through company culture is a big challenge. In fact, it was the number one challenge named by HR participants in a recent study:

“Organizations are recognizing the need to focus on culture and dramatically improve employee engagement as they face a looming crisis in engagement and retention.”

Companies find that a well-established and positive culture can differentiate them from competitors when they are seeking the best team players. It is a feature that today’s best workers are taking a hard look at.

Years ago, industry insiders promised the Internet was going to take over retail sales, and just last year Macy’s Internet sales surpassed their in-store sales. It may have taken longer than some probably expected, but that didn’t negate the need for us to pay attention.  If we can learn by history as we move into the future, the same thing is going to happen with the workforce. This isn’t a rant of non-necessity but rather, necessity.

In order to hire top talent and keep them on the job, managers are faced with the task of providing a company culture that appeals to Gen Y’s desire for 3 key elements in their working life.

Balance and Flexibility

Today’s team members put flexibility in the workplace ahead of compensation and advancement, in most cases. They want some options with regard to things like scheduling, location, and office setup. This is all about options: where, when, and how we work. These have expanded tremendously with technology and today’s workers expect options.

Providing this type of flexibility allows team members to find balance in their work and personal lives. This creates higher job satisfaction, and can make team members healthier and more productive.

Professional Development

The potential for advancement and learning is also a critical workplace feature for team members. Workers look for opportunity within the company for advancement and skill-sharpening, as well as participation in courses and mentoring programs.

These activities are obviously intended to improve performance, but they have other effects as well.  It can encourage cooperation and camaraderie among the team. Workers appreciate feeling supported by management, and it has a positive effect on motivation. Providing relevant, quality professional development opportunities allows workers to advance in their careers and continue to learn while also enhancing productivity.

There is a direct correlation between learning and happiness. I know in school we didn’t think so because we were more interested in the fun stuff, but in the workplace it’s the exact opposite. When you stop learning, you become stagnant.

Socially Responsible Image

Social responsibility is an important issue to workers today, who want to feel that they are making a contribution to their larger community. What a company does and says should align with what employees believe. It’s not about changing what you value as a company, but building a team that values those same things. When passion powers work, employees are more productive, engaged team members.

They want to see evidence that their employer shares some of their values. They’re looking closely at how a company demonstrates social responsibility, sustainable practices, and corporate giving.

This creates stronger relationships among team members and encourages positive attitudes. It’s also is attractive to potential customers and partners. Most importantly, when you have passion and raw emotion for what you believe in - regardless of whether that’s in life or work - you create more results and are happier doing so.

It is only when you marry these components that we see the dynamic of how a company can be fully integrated in its forward movement.