Understanding Millennials: A New Generation of Employees

Understanding Millennials: A New Generation of Employees

The mosaic of the American workforce has changed dramatically over the years, particularly with the rise of the millennial generation.  Millennials (born 1981 to 2000) now make up more than half of the workforce in the United States, second only to baby boomers.  They differ quite significantly from the generations that preceded them in how they think about and approach work, which has motivated more and more organizations to re-evaluate their policies, work style, and culture.  We want to ensure our clients have a strong sense of the millennial mentality to foster a high-performing environment that attracts and retains this generation.

Millennial Profile

Millennials are the most educated—and perhaps most compassionate—generation in American history.  They care a lot about having meaning in their lives and making a positive contribution to society.  They are often the first to be vocal about a wide range of issues ranging from social justice to the environment.  Importantly, millennials were the first generation to grow up with easy access to technology at home and school, making them tech-savvy, highly reliant on the Internet and energized by social media channels.

Generational Differences

The differences between millennials and other generations are noteworthy.

  • Traditionalists (born 1910 to 1945) prefer a more formal work environment where people do their job and do not question authority.  They like to be on time and believe in professionalism when communicating both internally and externally.
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are not afraid to work long hours, with limited work/life balance.  They are known to think about work 24/7 and expect others to do the same.
  • Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) puts a lot of value on balancing their family life with their work life.  They are inherently skeptical, but more open to taking professional risks.

Millennials At Work

Millennials have specific wants and needs when it comes to their overall employment experience.  They have an insatiable need for social interaction and strongly prefer to work in teams rather than as individuals.  According to Fortune, they value purpose over compensation—they seek out work that brings meaning to their lives.

Here is where millennials stand on some common workplace issues.  We pair these findings with some key takeaways for employers to consider:

  • Communication: Millennials value collaboration and partnership.  That is why millennials prefer complete transparency when it comes to communication, wanting to be secure in knowing how their company operates.  They prefer regular and constructive feedback that provides ongoing opportunities to learn and grow.  They feel that they are able to learn things quickly and want to feel like they are progressing.  They are so comfortable with and skilled in technology that they prefer to communicate electronically versus in-person, whether it is via text, email, IM, Slack or other apps.

Takeaway: Removing barriers to organizational layers and improving transparency will help millennials stay more motivated. Communicating regularly about workplace performance and setting clear performance standards is key.  In addition, making sure workplace technology is up-to-date and allowing employees to use a spectrum of technology and apps to communicate internally and externally is also essential.

  • Work/Life Balance: Millennials “work to live” instead of “live to work.” They want to know that they can strike a healthy balance between work, friends, and doing good things for the world.  If they feel as though their job is not providing a positive, meaningful experience, they will not hesitate to leave their job.  In fact, the average tenure of millennials is two years.  According to the Cisco Connected World Technology Report, 70 percent believe that office attendance is unnecessary on a regular basis and nearly half will choose work flexibility over pay.

Takeaway: Consider how your company handles flexible schedules, virtual working options, sick time and vacation plans.  Millennials tend to pay close attention to these policies, which can go a long way in improving retention rates.

  • Authority and Leadership: Millennials embrace a more informal style, not necessarily adhering to “traditional” boundaries between manager and employee.  They want to participate and give suggestions for how they feel things could work better.  If something does not make sense to them, they will want to discuss it until they fully understand it, instead of doing it to just get the task done.

Takeaway: Consider re-visiting your org chart to make relationships between managers and employees more team-oriented and fluid. Think about the ways in which a more relaxed structure can create a more collaborative workplace.

  • Personal Development and Mentorship: They often look for ways to develop personally outside of their main job title or function. Again, to them, work is much more than compensation—it’s an opportunity to contribute to the world.  Interestingly, more than half of millennials think that having a mentor would help them improve their productivity.  A hidden benefit is the inevitable reverse mentoring that occurs which helps the mentor become more agile with technology.

Takeaway: Think about personal and professional development programs to help recruit and retain this demographic. Offering a mentoring program can help tap into the millennial desire for guidance in the workplace while helping strengthen personal and professional connections.

  • Fun: In contrast to other generational workers, millennials want to have fun at work.  They want to be part of an organization that knows how to work hard, but play even harder.  They crave meaningful social interaction and are very active on social media.  More than half will not consider working for a company who does not provide access to social media.

Takeaway: Play at work is taking on added importance as companies recognize its role in fostering workplace happiness. While physical perks and lunchroom foosball tables will not hurt the fun factor of a company, consider activities like employee power hours or team-building exercises that boost morale while giving people the chance to connect.  Consider ways your company can embrace social media to build community and engage with millennials where they already are spending their time.

Millennials are on track to represent nearly 75 percent of the workforce by 2030.  While they may not have the long tenure in their jobs as previous generations did, there are many ideas which we encourage our clients to consider to improve retention rates.  The trick is to truly understand the mindset of the millennial worker and figure out how to put the right workplace benefits and engagement strategies into place.  Only then can companies expect to harness the power and influence of this growing generation.