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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   January 2014

Learn a Thing or Two From Silicon Valley

Follow these tips to find — and retain — millennial employees

Learn a Thing or Two From Silicon Valley

When looking to attract today's top talent, a mortgage company's first question should be simple: “Y?” In terms of recruitment, it's a whole new game when hiring and retaining workers from the millennial generation, also known as Generation Y. Recruiting a solid team with the right talent, culture and mindset is essential to meeting your company's goals.

In Silicon Valley, employees are just as likely to be seen skateboarding or enjoy-ing a game of air hockey as they are penning computer code. Besides working non-traditional schedules, many companies' employees also enjoy free meals, complimentary dry cleaning, on-site gyms and community bicycles. It's like a giant playground for adults, with jeans and sneakers included.

For many in the mortgage industry, the world of Silicon Valley is a distant one. That doesn't mean, however, that there's nothing to learn from these companies, particularly when it comes to work culture.

In the tech world, innovative companies often are lauded for their creative approach to the workplace. Rather than cordon employees in cubicles, for instance, some tech companies remove these barriers altogether and allow employees to move around, interact and connect with their colleagues.

Companies that take this approach often are focused on keeping employees happy and engaged. In return, they're able to foster creativity, retain talent and cultivate company growth. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved, and there's no reason why mortgage banks and brokerages can't adopt some of these same tactics and goals. Even if your company can't afford the material perks offered by some of California's tech giants, you can look to the companies' intellectual rewards as a source for creating a more flexible work environment, something that may be especially appealing to a younger generation of employees.

Millennial workers

As a modern workplace, Silicon Valley has embraced the next generation — the effervescent yet indefatigable millennials. This group is a driving force behind many companies' work-culture models.

Millennials are also vital to our industry. Many of our frontline workers, loan officers, originators and other entry-level positions are filled by millennial workers, typically those born after 1980. As the housing industry continues on its current upswing, millennials also represent a growing segment of mortgage customers.

Today, corporate culture is especially important to many mortgage banks and brokerages, as the return of the purchase market has left countless organizations in flux. Some companies are growing while others are shrinking, but almost every organization is changing its shape. A competitive landscape only adds to the quandary.

Why is it important to understand the work habits of millennial employees? Simply put: Because the future of the mortgage industry depends on it. Baby boomers are aging and moving on to retirement.

According to a report from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, millennials currently make up about 36 percent of the nation's workforce. By 2020, that number is expected to be about 50 percent.

Mortgage executives should realize one potential complication about millennial employees, however. According to a recent Forbes article, even though this group is “the most educated and culturally diverse of any generation,” millennials are also “notorious job hoppers who dislike bureaucracy and distrust traditional hierarchies.” This is likely why millennials can be prone to high turnover rates.

In fact, according to a survey by Future Workplace, about 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. That expectation is vastly different than millennials' parents and grandparents, many of whom worked a single job for decades. Today, workers want to be fulfilled in their careers, and mortgage industry workers are no exception.

Among some of the changes that millennials demand include an emphasis on work-life balance, volunteering opportun-ities, more vacation time, opportunities for advancement and flexibility in scheduling (i.e., fewer days, longer hours, telecommuting options, etc.). Considering that losing just one employee can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars, it's vital for mortgage banks and brokerages to focus on retaining quality workers. And when it comes to the millennial generation, employee retention requires adapting to the changing work landscape — and adapting fast.

Tips to retain talent

According to Forbes, there are several things that you can do to improve the work culture at your company. Here are several tips to help you get hip.

  • Explain the company vision. People want to know what they're working toward. Being transparent about your company's objective can keep your employees motivated and in the loop. For a mortgage lender, this may include highlighting company goals, sharing the number of successful loans closed in a given month or releasing quarterly revenue numbers to the company at large.
  • Prioritize community service. A 2010 Pew Research study found that millennials highly value volunteering opportunities. Consider starting a volunteering committee or give employees a few hours off each quarter to pursue a charitable cause. Try to find opportunities that relate to housing, such as Habitat for Humanity or other charities that offer free or low-cost home repairs or maintenance. Your company also could host a free seminar for first-time homebuyers. Whatever your approach is, find a way to help your employees make a difference in their community.
  • Develop in-between steps and titles. Although millennials may seem spoiled or even narcissistic, modern workers want the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder. Providing in-between stages for advancement can make them feel as though they're doing just that — and it may put a little extra pep in their step. Loan officers with a few years under their belts should be differentiated from an officer hired directly after college. Otherwise, you could risk employees feeling trapped and defeated.
  • Give encouragement and regular feedback. Related to the previous points, millennials don't want to be a number or another blank face. Simple encouragement can make their jobs feel worthwhile. Share positive feedback, photos and stories from satisfied customers and new homeowners. This will help employees see the fruition of their work.
  • Offer more flexibility. This tech-savvy group can't understand the need for 60-hour workweeks or rigid schedules, so be willing to bend a little. It's often the case that variant schedules can boost productivity and employee morale. If your loan originators, underwriters and officers are swamped in paperwork, give them a break. Plan a happy hour on a Friday following a hectic week or allow for a potluck lunch to help break up the workday.
  • Provide education and professional development. Learning doesn't stop once a degree is attained. Invest in training hours, regional conferences and mentorship. Especially for entry-level loan staff, professional development can shed a light on a fulfilling career ahead and allow those employees to connect with others in the business. There are few worse feelings than being ignored or isolated in the workplace. A bit of networking and mentorship can give your staff some well-warranted attention. They'll thank you for it later.
  • Give them time for personal projects. Give your employees the chance to pursue a passion. This can spur creativity and problem-solving across the company. Do you have coders on staff? Let them experiment with website design or call-to-action features to increase customer engagement. Do you have particularly social loan officers? Allow them to use their skills on social media.

In the heavily regulated mortgage industry, there may not be an opportunity always to alter the loan process, but allowing employees to form — for instance — a wellness or social committee counts here, too. Do this and you may be surprised by the results. You even may spark some innovation in the workplace.

•  •  •

Success isn't easy in today's mortgage industry. Rapidly shifting market demands have altered the size and shape of countless banks and brokerages, and success is increasingly dependent on a company's ability to adapt.

Recruitment and retention efforts may be more important than ever, and the millennial generation is a segment of the population that your organization soon will be employing in droves, if it isn't already. Keeping up with the workplace preferences of this generation is crucial in this respect, and doing so can help you prepare your business for years of success down the line.


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