How companies can ensure a happy and productive workforce
By Martin Gunnarsson
Many businesses are offering sleek smartphones, tablets, and laptops in their eager to attract young talent. Even though this is a positive trend and a smart strategy, many companies forget the software that will ultimately run on these devices. What will happen when young professionals, reared on Instagram and Snapchat, encounter the non-glitzy reality of business software?
Who are these Millennials we keep hearing so much about? Depending on what source you consult—and there is a huge number of articles, books, and studies on the subject—the Millennial Generation is the group born between the early 1980s and 2000.
According to these same sources, the Millennials are typically characterized as being demanding, recognition-craving, self-absorbed, and entitled. So comparing these coddled selfie-stick-wielders to their grand or great grandparents, who were famously dubbed “The Greatest Generation” by legendary US journalist Tom Brokaw, is the Millennial Generation a polite euphemism for “The Worst Generation”?
Absolutely not. Millennials are hard-working, tech-savvy, goal-oriented, flexible, and thrive on change. They are often described as civic-minded with a genuine appetite for contributing and making a difference. They value work-life balance over cut-throat careerism and they engage with managers and employers to revive and energize the workplace in ways that would have been unimaginable for previous generations.
And one more thing. “They” are many. Just to give it some scale, the Millennial Generation constitutes approximately one-third of the total population of the United States.
Setting the workplace agenda
Transitioning from adolescence into the workplace, the relatively small Generation X had to see itself outnumbered by the Baby Boomers (born 1940–1960), who were quite comfortable dictating the terms of the workplace. Being a larger group than the Baby Boomers, the Millennials are well positioned to set their own agenda—a trend that is already starting to transform the workplace.
So what does this new batch of workers want from an employer? Reading popular descriptions reported in the media, it seems Millennials want tools that can maximize their sense of flexibility. More often than not, this translates into flexible work hours, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and their choice of software. For example, try finding anyone under 30 who has not changed the default browser on their work computer from Internet Explorer to Chrome (if indeed they haven’t managed to persuade the IT department to provide them with Macs). There aren’t any.
Millennials and work flexibility has also given new fuel to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. Today’s employers must make sure that its employees’ software expectations can be effectively fulfilled by the hardware of choice.
Granted, smart devices add indispensable opportunities for simplifying one’s life, enabling access to email, social media, and even, in some cases, the company’s back-end business system for impromptu time & travel reporting and more—at any time and in any place. But offering slick, handheld hardware is really only effective for attracting young talent. It won’t help employers retain them in the long term. In other words, shiny objects won’t win the Millennials’ loyalty, especially not if the software running on those shiny objects doesn’t live up to the user’s expectations.
A perfect storm: business software and the Millennial
Millennials are the first group in history to have grown up with computers and the internet as natural, ubiquitous parts of life. Through the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, this generation has grown up in a digital age with technology intertwined in every part of their lives.
This is good news for makers of consumer software as they have an infinite pool of early adopters eager to be the first to get on board “the latest thing”. For businesses, however, whose software is exclusively designed to support work, it is a quite different story.
In fact, the combination of the high expectations placed on software usability by Millennials and the oftentimes cumbersome and unattractive enterprise applications that employers are offering (albeit on shiny devices) has all the hallmarks of a perfect storm. This is a storm that will likely cast many employers as “tyrants” who force its young workers to use slow, MS-DOS-esque business systems, in which the company is heavily or irreversibly invested.
But it would be too simplistic to limit this discussion to mere design or layout preferences. It is the very manner in which Millennials communicate and consume content that is profoundly different from older generations. For example, Millennials do not email friends asking if they want to go to the movies. Rather, they send PMs via services such as WhatsApp. Similarly, a Millennial does not primarily turn to traditional media to find out what is happening in the world. Instead, the Millennial consults his or her social media feeds for the latest news.
Ensuring employee retention through business software, then, does not seem like the obvious way to the Millennial’s heart. And for any company whose attitude to ERP can be summarized by the tautology “it is what it is”, that is certainly true. For organizations that are more agile, however, the business system could be fashioned into something elegant, intuitive, and personal.
User experience is the answer
So here are some points for company decision-makers to consider:
Hardware isn’t enough to retain young talent. If you want to appeal to the Millennial Generation, don’t forget to complement hardware investments such as smartphones and tablets with similar investments in software. Speak with your software vendors about the possibilities of lifting out commonly recurring processes (for an ERP system, this might be something like time & travel reporting) from the back-end system to mobile applications.
Usability is king. This point cannot be overstated when talking about the Millennials’ expectations on their work tools. Drawing on our own experience as an enterprise applications vendor, it is abundantly clear that offering an intuitive, appealing, and highly configurable work environment plays a major role in user satisfaction and, in the long run, employee retention. IFS Lobby, which was released in IFS Applications 9, is one example of how businesses can ensure a positive user experience. IFS Lobby offers a clear and tailored view of the business or situation as it relates to a role or process, providing fully customizable and actionable information relevant to each unique user. Active engagement with the ERP system. As mentioned above, Millennials’ have developed their own way of communicating and consuming information. Why fight it when this instinct can be harnessed within the bounds of the business system? For example, at IFS we launched IFS Streams for this type of user. It is a notification feature that actively alerts the user when a change happens in an item or process that relates to the employee’s work.
(The writer is Director, IFS Product Strategies & IFS Labs)