ChapmanCG and NBCUniversal collaborated once again this month, taking advantage of NBCUniversal’s International CHRO, Melanie Laithwaite's, visit to Singapore and welcoming her with a select gathering of HR friends for an enjoyable breakfast discussion around the Millennial challenge. Companies represented included Amadeus, AXA, Expedia, Discovery, Disney, Global Fashion Group, PayPal and VMWare.

Suzanna Garcia Bernal, APAC HR Director at NBCUniversal and Tim Spriggs, Managing Director at ChapmanCG facilitated an insightful and fresh exchange around the latest strategies that their organizations are doing to attract, retain and develop their millennial workforce (and importantly how this demographic and the entire population mix works in harmony across the business). Graham Tollit, Senior Director and Katherine Qu, Director with ChapmanCG also attended.

We had a mix group with HR leaders from both relatively young companies (e.g. online retail companies Zalora, Expedia, etc.) as well as more traditional businesses. They highlighted just how young and how prevalent millennials are in the workforce today. Over a 50% millennial employee are in their workforce and in some cases in Asia 75% or more, and this is including the CEO, who may very well be from this generation as well. In the Philippines, where people join the workforce at a younger age after study, this number can further increase. It’s now critical to look at the ‘employee experience’ as Millennials expect more.

But what does this all mean? We know we can’t just put all millennials into the same box and generalize as millennials in Indonesia—for example—have different expectations due to market maturity and norms than say, in Vietnam or Singapore. Each of these countries is diverse in terms of culture, motivations and how to plan a workforce. But there are, of course, some common similarities, but still no easy answer. Millennials are known to be technology driven, they can be demanding, they like to challenge and they want to be at the center of things. It’s important that they feel valued and have purpose. They need the opportunity to be innovative, entrepreneurial and have a voice. One could argue everyone needs this, but it’s key for any HR leader and business to be aware of this to ensure the right level of engagements and retention.

It can be perceived that Millennials are tough, that they are ok with short term situations and the ‘gig-economy’. The group felt this was not necessarily the case at all. They have a reputation for pushing hard and being carefree even; but they still have anxieties; they still worry about stability. A recent study adds to this and says there has been a significant recent shift in attitude with the rise of populism, Trump, Brexit and so on; and the potential risks associated globally, leading to even more appetite for security in work and life. “Culture trumps age’, said one HR leader. Going even further is the necessity of HR to manage a multi-generational workforce, where agile working, collaboration, technology and a shift away from hierarchy is the norm.

Another misperception around the Millennial group is that they are not hung up on titles and happy with flat structures, which is not the case many argued. They still want the manager title, perhaps even more so if they feel it means they are progressing. The challenge being is that there are often now too many manager titles where we know that great managers are generally trained through a traditional hierarchical structure.

The discussion then moved to predictive career pathing and technology that can segment employees and provide the right track dependent on profile. This is an area gathering popularity and we expect to hear more of in the future—in addition to the ongoing debate around performance management and ratings.

Wellness, benefits and overall compensation was also a current and important topic on everyone minds as they look at what each generation expects in terms of pay mix, structure and effective and fair roll-out. Interestingly, the organisations of everyone in the group were at varying degrees of progress and thoughts around these topics. Some had flexible benefits versus all-out 100% cash versus the ability to choose what to do depending on circumstances. In reality, it’s somewhere in the middle will mostly likely work.

Despite millions of millennials already in the workforce and much progress, many companies still struggle to attract and retain this generation of talent. Overall, it’s not about table tennis and breakout areas, but more around building a strong culture, understanding behaviors and listening and acknowledging individuals feedback while giving purpose and stability. It’s a combination of these factors that a company will develop the thriving, engaged and loyal workforce they are looking for.

Here’s what participants had to say:

“Thank you to everyone for joining the breakfast and a special thanks to ChapmanCG for helping us organise such a worthwhile and interesting session. The challenges of a multi-generational workforce and cultural differences will, I am sure, be ones we continue to discuss, but it was great to hear everyone's perspectives. Thank you.”

Melanie Laithwaite - International CHRO, NBCUniversal