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Guest Column – September 2018: Listening to Millennials

Carrie Rossenfeld Guest Column

From SoCal Real Estate’s September 2018 issue:

John Combs | Courtesy a representative of RiverRock Real Estate Group

By John Combs, founder and principal, RiverRock Real Estate Group

I recently appeared at a conference with Donahue Schriber CEO Pat Donahue. He said it best when he referred to the millennial generation as delayed. Pat went on to state, “People say they’re never going to own a home. Of course, they’re going to own a home. They’re just not going to own a home at the same age as we did … This generation watched as their parents got wiped out buying homes. So instead of buying homes, they rent.”

I also believe that this generation witnessed their parents working nonstop. They also watched us getting laid off at the end of careers. They don’t want that to happen to them. They’ve learned from dinner-table conversations and the pains experienced by their family. Long-term employment is really important. Career advancement is super important.

What workers wanted nine years ago is very different today. At RiverRock Real Estate Group, we give “Rockstars” — that’s what we call our team — their birthdays off. They get a paid day off. They get a birthday pop-up card sent to their house with a gift card of $75 to use however they want.

We also decided to initiate summer hours. People really like early Friday closing, so we end the day at 3 p.m. on Fridays. People can go and enjoy the summer with friends and families. We also have shorter December hours so people can shop for the holidays.

We pay everyone to do community service. This is another significant area of influence from the millennials — they really care about the community and philanthropy. However, as company founder, I don’t choose the charity for them. Instead, the employees pick what tugs at their heart. Sometimes they pick multiple events such as Working Wardrobes and volunteering at food banks and in kitchens serving the homeless.

Three times a year, we facilitate an all-employee, no-executives call. We have an opportunity for a facilitator to ask questions from the executive team. We don’t care who says what. We really care about what they need. From the surveys we do, we found people wanted flex time. Well, I didn’t know what that meant: Shorter work days? Work from home part time? Pick the hours and have split shifts? We asked the team what they meant by flex time. Guess what? It was all of those things.

Attracting millennials can be challenging. I’ve read about companies offering pet insurance as a benefit, because 35 percent of millennials own pets. If the pet gets sick, they need to have the cash to pay the vet bills. That makes sense.

Another issue for this generation is college debt. A good recruitment tool is to offer assistance in paying off college debt. In a recent survey, millennials said they would be willing to make 12 percent less if a company helped them with their student debt, because they have so much stress over it.

Today’s employers have to articulate a company’s soul and purpose in the community if they want to attract the right people. It’s all about the triple bottom line: people, profit, purpose. More importantly, millennials want to know how they will be trained and what their career path will be. They’ve done their research because they are much more interested in the company than ever before.

There was another point Pat made during our talk: millennials learned from their parents how not to do it. His comment was “to give them a value proposition and let them do what they’re going to do. They love to go out to eat. They love to work out. But in the end, they know how to work hard, and that’s the deal.”

As I see it, mentorship, training, feedback, listening, respect — these are all the things that every generation wants, but they’re now being amplified through the millennials. And that is a good thing for every generation.

John Combs is founder and principal of RiverRock Real Estate Group, which is celebrating its 15th year in business. The firm handles management services for more than 29 million square feet of office, industrial and retail properties throughout California and Arizona.