Study: Why millennials should be taken seriously in the PR workforce

A study by the Plank Center confirms generation gaps between millennials and the old guard of comms, but its researchers note the much-apprised generation may not only be an asset but necessary.

Image via the Plank Center
Image via the Plank Center

TUSCALOOSA, AL: Millennials may clash with older cohorts, but their point-of-view could be essential for the PR industry, says a Plank Center survey.

Co-sponsored by the Institute for Public Relations, the study included two panels of 420 U.S. participants via survey platform Qualtrics. One group was made up of millennial comms pros, while the other group was comprised of managers.

Millennials’ unique skill sets and values could provide employers with an incentive to integrate them into the workforce, the study says. They are digital natives with "great passion for leadership and strong values for transparency, social responsibility, diversity, and community — all touchstones for our profession today," said University of Alabama professor Bruce Berger in the study.

Managers competing for talent concurred in PRWeek’s career guide, when agency heads talked about how integration affected the recruiting process.

"We can draw from these skills and values to enhance practice and build a brighter future," Berger added.

A five-point plan
The study concludes with a five-point plan — recruiting, engaging, developing, retaining, and gaining from millennials.

Each phase pivots around two processes to engage millennial employees: personalizing and contextualizing. Contextualizing means helping employees understand their role in the organization; personalizing means helping employees understand how the organization’s decisions affect their personal career and goals.

For example, when recruiting and hiring, the study recommends a candid discussion with the candidate about the organization, its values, and honest job descriptions to personalize the process. As for contextualization, the study recommends "bringing the organization to life beyond the job description," including a clear articulation of the organization’s positioning, CSR initiatives, and technologies, among other things.

Still, the stark differences between millennials and managers shouldn’t be understated. The two groups found themselves on different sides of the fence on more than 80% of the survey questions — albeit with important nuances.

Workplace values and attributes
Millennials consistently rated themselves higher than their managers on questions relating to workplace values and attributes. When asked about their ambitions and passions, millennial respondents had a more positive picture of themselves than managers viewed them.

The same narrative bore out in questions dealing with their willingness to take risks, how much they value workplace diversity, and how supportive they are of social causes and socially responsible companies. Millennials’ ratings of themselves were higher than managers rated them.

The only exception were perceptions around millennials’ technical know-how and innovation, the study noted.

Jobs and organizational engagement
More managers reported being engaged in their organization (74.4%) and their job (83.1%) than millennial employees (59.3% and 72.8%, respectively).

Levels of engagement also depend on how long millennial employees were on the job, the study noted, as they were just as engaged as their managers if they had been in the workforce for less than a year.

Still, after that initial drop-off, engagement would rise gradually if the employee stayed on the job for more than seven years.

Managers were incorrect when asked to venture what drove millennial job decisions, saying pay and benefits, travel opportunities, and knowing others in the organization would weigh most heavily. Rather, two-thirds of millennial respondents said reputation (68.1%), culture (67.2%), and location (67.4%) were the biggest factors in their job decisions.

As for retention, the two groups’ views were more aligned than other areas. For example, 61.2% of managers guessed correctly that an open and positive culture would be an important factor for millennials (63.8%).

Support for leadership development
Despite millennials’ headstrong confidence that they are ready to lead, managers feel differently. While 70.9% of millennials said they can do it, less than half of managers (49%) agreed.

The study also found that 76.9% of millennials said they "demonstrate a strong ethical orientation and professional value." Only 47.6% of managers agreed.

Another rift appears in leadership development opportunities, where managers rated their organizations’ development initiatives higher than millennials. Still, both groups said "the most consistent development focus was on building essential job-related skills."

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