Reacting To Millennials With Strategy

They are given a bad rep, often by those who don't understand them


The millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, are now entering employment in their droves. There are 54 million adult Americans aged between 18 and 34, and they already make up a third of the American workforce. By 2020, over 50% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials. Most of them are only just now starting their careers, and they will be an important engine of the economy in the decades to come.

Millennials are unique in terms of the degree of instability and change that they have grown up with. Over the course of their schooling, most went from having one PC per school, to classrooms in which every student has an iPad. They have seen the DotCom boom, the DotCom bust, the financial crisis, the Iraq War, and the Arab Spring, and they have had it all rammed down their throats in real time by 24 hour news and the internet. Millennials are subsequently different to Generation X and the Baby Boomers who came before them. They want different things from life, and different things from their career. They also offer different skill sets, different talents, and add value in different areas. Subsequently, companies need to have a strategy in place to ensure that they are recruiting and retaining the best available millennial talent, and exploiting what they have to offer.

Central to developing such a strategy is understanding who millennials are, what motivates them, and why your company should put the effort into getting them on board. Millennials are often considered lazy, entitled and high maintenance. This is both untrue and unfounded, though there is probably some truth in the idea that technology and social media has inspired a degree of narcissism in the young. Fortune’s rankings of the best companies for millennials actually found that net profit per reporting company for list winners averaged $532 million, but just $361 million for non-finalists. This generation has grown up in digital, and while this may mean diminished people skills, it’s more than compensated for by their ability to use technology and adapt to rapid change. They are also more likely to drive innovation.

Part of the reason for this is their natural mistrust of authority and their self confidence to go it alone. According to a Pew Research Study, just 19% of Generation Y believes that others can be trusted, compared to 40% of boomers. This kind of attitude has helped foster a real spirit of entrepreneurism, and one study found that more than half of Millennials expressed interest in starting a business. Millennials are far less loyal than previous generations, and the idea of staying with one job for a lifetime has gone out the window, largely due to the economic realities in which they have grown up. A Future Workplace study found that 91% of Gen Yers expect to stay in a job for three years or less. In the information age, everyone expects to know everything about everyone, and a big part of getting their loyalty is being transparent with them. Keep job roles clear, then identify and offer opportunities for growth and creative expression that build or stretch their expertise.

Millennials want responsibility and to feel like their own boss, yet at the same time they want to be constantly learning. This generation particularly trusts and values information from contemporaries, so firms have had a lot of success incorporating peer relationships into their recruiting strategy, and offering ongoing alumni support to former employees. Mentees had a 23% higher retention rate than nonparticipants. Keep job roles clear, then identify and offer opportunities for growth and creative expression that build or stretch their expertise.

A good work/life balance is also important. A 1997 Gallup survey found that 9 in 10 children (a population comprised entirely of Millennials that year) reported high levels of closeness with their parents and were personally happy with that relationship. Employers need to ensure that they are sensitive to this, and offer flexible working hours. Companies on Great Place to Work’s Millennials list were also found to be more likely to offer flexible scheduling (76% vs. 63% for other companies), telecommuting options (82% vs. 74%), paid sabbaticals (15% vs. 11%) and paid volunteer days (46% vs. 39%) diverse work activity and experiences.

While appreciating that Millennials want different things than other generations, it is important not to neglect the traditional motivation for employment - money. While many millennials do want to feel they are contributing and doing something they love, they also want to get paid, something many articles seem to ignore. Speaking as a millennial, who knows a lot of other millennials, I do care about how much money I get and I do care about how many hours I work, and I know very few who don’t.

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