Workplace Culture

HR Leader: Millennials Helping to Shape Better Workplace

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

May. 25, 2017

The millennial tech smarts, diverse demographics and fresh ideas make them crucial to business success and relevance.

“Any millennials in the room?” asked Ann Marr to a group of diverse, young, attentive individuals. The vice president of global human resources at World Wide Technology Inc. got her answer immediately as easily more than half of the people in the room raised their hands, to which she said, “Wow, but that’s not surprising.”

At the 2017 Great Place to Work For All’s conference in Chicago, the word millennial was buzzing around like a busy bee. Marr held a breakout session as part of the conference’s first full day May 24 that highlighted why millennials are beneficial to companies and develop a pipeline of talent, especially to tech companies like WWT.

The millennial tech smarts, diverse demographics, large population and inspiring, fresh ideas make them beneficial to the workforce in a way that is crucial to business success and relevance.

As the VP of human resources for 19 years, Marr said she has seen millennials rise through the company’s internship program and become full-time employees. She said St. Louis-based WWT tries to recruit and retain the tech-savvy workers to stay at the company and not jet off to find new, challenging jobs — a trait commonly associated with the generation. Millennials are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce, but per Marr’s company, the generation will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030. Add in millennials’ willingness to embrace diversity and their passion for community engagement, and Marr said the group is a force to be reckoned with.

“Millennials are the most diverse generation,” Marr said. “Think about it — they have been around diversity; that’s all they have known.”

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to working with smart millennials. Marr said WWT’s internship program teaches students things most would call common sense, like learning better face-to-face communication, keeping eye contact and being on time. Even though they are well-versed in social media and technology, some millennials in her experience need additional help working in a professional setting.

Once there though, they excel in growth and leadership opportunities that bring fresh ideas and innovative visions to the table.

“Listen to what they are saying,” she said, adding that the boisterous attitude of the typical millennial gives them the confidence they need to succeed and work their way up the company ladder.

She said she’s found that many millennials are indeed ready to work remotely and prefer it to being in an office every day. It has not only changed the way people look at remote work but also transformed the traditional work hierarchy. Looking to bosses as coaches and mentors instead of simply authoritative leaders helps millennials feel welcome and produce quality work. Collaboration and inclusion, whether it be through work projects or office culture helps retain them, Marr said.

This forward-thinking attitude is what propels companies to move fast and constantly grow. John Chambers, executive chairman and former CEO of Cisco, stressed during his talk that the fast-paced workforce culture has shown millennials no longer have loyalty to a specific company but will move around in their careers about 10 times. While that may be concerning to some, Chambers said it isn’t necessarily negative and comes down to the kind of culture a workforce promotes.

“Without speed, things fall apart,” Chambers said. “[Millennials] should stay because of culture and strategy.”

As he knows well from experience, the workplace culture is about integrity, trust, constant change and that continuous speed and growth.

To do this, you need a leader who is not afraid to make bold moves, deal with the speed of change and walk the talk of the company’s morale. The best way to do that?

“Think like a millennial,” he said.

Ariel Parrella-Aureli is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email

Ariel Parrella-Aureli is a Workforce intern.

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