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Employers and Embracing Young Professionals

Jan 26, 2014
Hartford Business Journal
Employers and Embracing Young Professionals
Hartford Business Journal Op-Ed
By Julie Daly Meehan

After HYPE there's hope. As the executive director of the forenamed young professionals group (Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepeneurs) I can't tell you how many times this joke has been tossed out to me at networking events. It's usually delivered by those who consider themselves to be beyond the inferred HYPEster age range (25-35), and therefore a member of our fictional sister organization, Hartford "Old" Professionals & Entrepreneurs.

While age can be a sensitive subject in the office for some (especially with five generations in the workplace becoming the norm), not once has this common quip been laced with a negative tone. Rather, it always comes from a deep appreciation for the energy that young professionals (YPs) are bringing to the Greater Hartford region, and a desire to be part of that positive impact.

It's no secret that involving YPs is a key component to sustainability and success. Everyone understands the importance of creating a pipeline of supporters in order to preserve a legacy, and organizations of all kinds currently have their sights set on Gen Xers, Millennials, and, to some degree, Generation Z (they're just coming of age now). Companies want to retain us as employees, nonprofits want to recruit us as volunteers and donors, and developers want to create the environments we prefer so we'll rent or buy from them. When it comes to engaging YPs, the hard part isn't usually the "why," it's more often the "how."

In the workplace, generational differences can create communication barriers. One generation may share styles and methods that clash with those of another, leading to misunderstandings and decreased productivity. While I can't speak for an entire generation (I'm a Millennial), I'd like to offer what seems to be a common perspective of my cohort.

Getting the best out of your Gen Y employee is simple: offer them a specific goal, be accessible and receptive to questions, and let them figure it out on their own. We've learned to process information differently than previous generations, and we need to be free to do that.

Our methods may be unexpected, but we're focused on the goal assigned to us and want to be trusted. Foster a culture where creativity is welcomed, even celebrated, and we'll flourish, strengthening the company and achieving great things.

Giving back to the community is a priority for most YPs, and nonprofits are lining up to be the recipient of those efforts. The most successful efforts to recruit YP supporters that I've seen involve simply asking them what they want, sincerely listening to that feedback, and involving them in ways that benefit the organization, but are also personally meaningful to them.

Take the time to tailor involvement opportunities to fit their interests and needs, even if they're currently unable to make a donation. Really engage them now, when what they have to offer is their time volunteering at an event, or their expertise in technology or social media. Not only will they tell their friends, but they'll remember these positive experiences later, and your organization will be top of mind when they're in a better position to offer financial support.

Then there are basic needs: a place to live, food to eat, transportation, and of course, fun things to do.

YPs are changing consumer trends, and local developers are paying attention. Hartford has clearly already figured out the "how" of engaging young professionals in this area, and while there is much work to be done, everyone is putting in effort to make it happen:

• Substantial progress is being made in retail development and public transit expansion
  throughout the region;

• Local companies are offering incentives to employees who buy homes throughout the
  city;

• The Capital Region Development Authority is developing new housing all over
  downtown;

• The city of Hartford's marketing, events & cultural affairs department is constantly
  offering amazing (and often free) experiences like iConnect, Winterfest, and
  summertime movies in the parks;

• The iQuilt Partnership is working hard to make downtown more walkable, sustainable
  and welcoming.

The list goes on and on. Hartford Has It and this is an exciting time for YPs to be here.

So I actually love to hear the HYPE vs. hope jokes. As I think about it more, there might be a slight twinge of jealousy behind them, but around experience, not youth. I know that I'm lucky to be part of such a sought after and influential generation, and I'm proud to be part of Hartford's revitalization.

Julie Daly Meehan is the executive director of HYPE, the Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepeneurs, an initiative of the MetroHartford Alliance.

See the article as posted by the Hartford Business Journal:
http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/article/20140127/PRINTEDITION/301249951/1004