To Engage Millennial Employees . . . start by asking them how!

Paul    June 3, 2015

Title: To engage Millennial Employees . . . start by asking them how!

Organization Name: ATB Financial (Alberta Treasury Branches)

Industry: Financial Services

CEO: Dave Mowat

Web references: www.atb.com,,, Forbes

Millennials. The tag itself evokes a sort of techy, future-is-now kind of generational brand. Loosely speaking, Millennials are a cohort of people born between 1981 and 1997 with a unique socio-economic set of attributes. Employers are increasingly challenged with understanding and productively engaging the Millennial generation of employees to meet Organizational strategic objectives. Important questions to establish greater context include: who are the Millennials? what is employee engagement? and why is employee engagement critical to organizational success? ATB (Alberta Treasury Branches) meaningfully launched the Millennial outreach by asking their employees the question, “how do we engage you?”

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Welcome Millennials

Careful, Millennials are not just about the stereotypes of tech and coddling as some might think. Pew Research Centre studies classify the Millennials as the generation of individuals, who in 2015, fall between the ages of 18 and 34 years of age. Millennials, according to Pew, are the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort, starting out as the most politically progressive group (though with limited direct involvement), the least religiously observant youths and interestingly, tend to trust institutions more than previous generations. Aspirations of Millennials include home ownership, leisure time and making an impact on the world. To the Millennial in the working world, money is important, but so is working in a team environment. Just add technology as an overlay to this socio-economic generational force, and it’s time to pay attention.

Millennials have never known life without computers, the Internet and “ . . . regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding.” The greatest implication of this Millennial “Fifth Sense”  embodiment of technology is their complete immersion in social media platforms. Millenials are changing how business is being done through their constant use of social media tools – both outside as consumers and inside as employees.

Employee Engagement is Good for Business

Content employees make for a reasonably nice place to work. Give them a pay cheque and the odd promotion and staff will show up. Engaged employees do something else; they drive success, meet challenges and help sustain and grow profitability. Forbes Magazine defines Employee Engagement as, “   . . . the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and it’s goal”. Engaged employees perform because they want to. By wanting to, employees take that extra step for customers, production, processes and each other. Engaged employees lead to higher levels of service, customer satisfaction, increased sales and therefore higher profit and greater shareholder returns


Employee engagement is essentially a business process that supports the development of human capital and therefore should contribute to organizational performance. Talent processes that are important to the framework of an employee engagement program include: recruitment, training and development and retention. If a business process model is to be recognized as an engagement platform, as with other processes, supporting tools are needed. An organizations engagement with employees starts with a conversation. Here, the channel of communication or media must be relevant to the message recipient and is critical to the process.


ATB and Millennial Employee Engagement

ATB wanted to get to know their millennial employees. Recognizing that the understanding of a particular segment or cohort of their employee population had become critical to their talent and engagement processes (and business), ATB had launched a form of outreach specifically targeting millennial employees. Carol Shmygol, Vice President of Marketing with ATB came to the realization that, “Nobody knows a Millennial and what drives them quite like a Millennial. All the research and observation in the world does not come close to truly capturing first-hand life experiences and having our Millennials represented in the first person.” The “first person” leap to the development of a targeted engagement approach was the basis for a Millennial social strategy pilot. ATB’s management wanted to learn what works and what doesn’t in the management of Millennial employees and some insights into their performance evaluation. The pilot strategy involved sending a Millennial employee to work with more senior colleagues on building ATB’s Millennial community through branding, internal outreach and likely the most relevant element to the target group; social media.

ATB’s seemingly most enlightened aspect of their employee engagement initiative was the utilization of reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring occurs when older employees are connected with, and mentored by, younger employees in areas of technology, social media and current trends – all particularly relevant to the workplace. In ATB’s case, senior management working in the social strategy pilot would have certainly increased the depth of their understanding of Millennial attitudes towards employment, social interaction and the use of technology as these relate to their engagement with the firm. For the Millennial employee, the open relationship with a senior manager would have reduced the perception of organizational seniority and enhanced the appeal of teamwork. Reverse mentoring for ATB, had been identified as a driver of their employee engagement process.

How did ATB do? If you ask employee Yiorgos Boudouris, ATB did quite well. As a new employee, Yiorgos shared with his peers a running “22 day lovin’” on linked in. Regarded as an “organizational crush”, ATB had attracted, excited and motivated a new employee to the point of becoming a living promotion of the firm’s engagement strategy. In considering the employee engagement process, ATB’s level of success can best be captured by Yiogos’ reflections on his employer and the resonance with the values of his Millennial generation:    “ I can’t think of a better way to describe how I feel at ATB other than light. There’s just a general sense of support that seeps through this place. It’s pretty amazing. Of course, there’s busyness and deadlines to meet. But I’m not seeing folks sacrifice themselves to get work done. That’s so what I need. And honestly– what I think we all need.”

As organizations endeavor to strategically connect with their employees, for both employee satisfaction and financial returns, the need for a comprehensive program of engagement is critical. The Millennial generation of employees poses unique challenges, opportunities and risks to employers looking to sustain the conversation. ATB has demonstrated that a systematic approach to Millennial engagement involves getting to know their employees first.

Submitted by: Paul Baumgartner, University of Waterloo, SMBP

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