“Let Me Tell You About the Rich. They Are Different from You and Me”

That’s a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Rich Boy, written back in 1926. He was referring to the rich being different from the rest of us, but he might as well have been written, “Let Me Tell You About the Millennials. They Are Different from You and Me” when talking about today’s Millennials. As with every new generation, the older generations are having a hard time understanding the younger generations – they are from a different time.

However, building owners, architects, planners, and managers, who work in the renovation industry are poised with an interesting challenge because they are tasked with retrofitting and renovating workspaces in a way that welcomes, retains, and better accommodates this emerging workforce.

For the most part, studies indicate that Millennials are well educated, very tech-savvy, and perfect for today’s more progressive employers. One by one, they are helping companies transfer from more traditional 20th-century business models and facilities to those that will help American companies adapt to the ever-changing 21st-century business landscape.

However, one of the big problems employers are having with this new, younger workforce—people born between 1982 and 2000—is employee retention. We will explore that issue and how renovators can help turn things around. But first, let’s take a closer look at what makes Millennials so different from boomers and past generations.

We already referenced two key differences. Compared to earlier generations, Millennials do tend to be far better educated. They are also skilled in technology, and this is often true even for those Millennials without a college degree. They also tend to change jobs far more frequently than earlier generations.

Further, according to Jay Gilbert, a business consultant, this younger workforce is different in the following ways:

  • They are very self-confident.
  • Multitasking comes easily for them. Possibly this is the result of having two or three different programs operating on a computer screen at once.
  • They have very high expectations of themselves and the organizations they work for.
  • They prefer to work in teams; working individually in their own office does not come naturally.
  • They want information instantly; remember, this generation grew up with the Internet.
  • They are very focused on sustainability.

This last point is significant because older generations, those who began working shortly after World War II, were not that focused on Green, environmental, and sustainability issues. For their children, however, these issues are starting to come into focus and becoming a cause for concern.

Millennials have now taken the baton and are very focused on these issues, if for no other reason than that they are the ones who will be most impacted by climate change and other unfortunate changes in our environment.

Further, according to Leigh Buchannan, business writer and former editor of the Harvard Business Review, “One of the characteristics of Millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.”

Taking this a step further, they want their employers to be doing the same—”doing well by doing good.” Showing this younger workforce that their company is undertaking this is one way employers can address the retention challenges mentioned earlier.

However, satisfying this younger workforce will require far more transparency and engagement than most companies have provided in the past. This is also where building owners, architects, planners, and others involved in retrofitting facilities come into the picture. When updating older facilities, they will need to address the expectations of this new, vibrant workforce.

Transparency and Engagement

Because we know that Millennials are very sustainability focused and want to work for employers that share their values, one of the best ways employers can communicate the steps they are taking is by sharing their environmental programs and accomplishments with these workers. We can refer to this as an “engagement strategy,” because it engages both the workforce and the employer, bringing them closer together.

However, creating an engagement strategy and communicating it can be easier said than done, especially if Millennials want this type of information instantly. In the past, many employers, especially those in large corporations, would issue annual sustainability reports. These reports, which serve as a barometer for a company’s commitment to the community and the environment, were typically written, not so much for employees, but for stockholders, investors, accountants, and banks.

Sustainability reports do not lend themselves to employee engagement. They are not only difficult to read but also difficult to understand. For instance, one report indicated that a large facility had reduced its energy needs from 1 billion Btu (British thermal units) annually to less than 900 million Btu annually over two years. We assume this is good news, if for no other reason than the numbers are lower. However, how do we translate this data so building users—and most especially younger workers—can relate to it?

One option is to access technologies such as sustainability dashboard systems, now available from different sources, which are already in use in many facilities. Business owners and managers often use these systems to measure and monitor their energy, fuel, and water consumption; waste; and other metrics. They then can use this information to prepare sustainability reports.

However, at least one system takes this information a step further, and this is where renovators come into the picture. By installing large monitors placed in strategic locations throughout the facility, these same metrics are presented in a way that everyone can see them and, more importantly, understand them.

For instance, if the facility noted earlier is using one hundred million less Btu annually, that’s not enough energy to power one if not two homes for a year.*  Now, Millennials and all workers, for that matter, can better understand what those numbers mean.

Employee Retention

We’ve touched on the issue of employee retention several times in this article. According to Gilbert, with the “high cost of employee turnover, peaking at up to 150 percent of the employee’s annual salary, engagement and retention initiatives done properly will have a significant impact on an organization.”

One way to accomplish this is to help staff better understand the sustainability progress accomplished by their employers. However, one size does not fit all. Owners, architects, and managers are encouraged to look for multiple ways to communicate sustainability initiatives with their workforce. The payoffs can be considerable.

Katrina Saucier is program manager for Sustainability Dashboard Tools, Inc. She can be reached through her company website at www.green2sustainable.com <http://www.green2sustainable.com>

*The amount of BTUs a U.S. home uses annually can vary significantly, from less than 90 million to more than 300 million.  However, according to the EPA, the average American home consumes 156 million BTUs of energy: https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gases-equivalencies-calculator-calculations-and-references .