There is often some misplaced idea that millennials are somehow lazy, narcissistic, and have a short attention span. The truth is that although this is certainly the case with some millennials, the same traits can also be found in gen Xers, baby boomers, and even the greatest generation, the issue is possibly that technology has simply allowed the worst of these tendencies to float to the surface, resulting in sweeping generalizations about an entire generation.
However, one thing that is a clear trend amongst millennials is a clear sense of working for a purpose, not simply working to gain wealth. This is not surprising, given that the opportunities afforded to them are considerably worse than the generations that came before. To put the difference in perspective, in the 1960s the average age for buying your second home in the UK was 28, today the average age of buying your first house is 30 and as high as 32 in London. Given that average house prices have grown by a staggering 6.9% per year since 1980 in the UK, the bulk of wealth earned by gen X and baby boomers has come from ownership of a house, something that is a far off dream for many millennials. To put it in perspective, the average wage in 1980 was £6000 and the average house price was £24,000, representing 4x the annual salary. Today the average wage is £27,600, whilst the average house price is £215,000, meaning that average house is 7.8x the average salary.
This is also unlikely to change any time soon (although in the future this kind of growth will become unsustainable given the low wage increases and high inflation) so millennials have by-and-large started to see financial gain as secondary to purpose and doing good. This means that companies looking to employ the best millennials shouldn’t be looking at giving them a corner office, they should be looking to do good in society and have a clear purpose beyond making a profit.
Companies like Patagonia, GE, and Nike, have all managed to attract an impressive number of millennials because in addition to the money they make, they also make a huge difference in the world. Patagonia, for instance, have a core purpose of saving the environment, by supporting environmental NGOs, releasing environmentalist films and media, volunteering for environmental causes, and even paying legal bills for people arrested for peacefully protesting environmental issues. In addition to this, they have a flexible working policy allowing workers to undertake outdoor activities in the best conditions, a creche, and even allow people to bring their dogs to work. This creates the kind of environment where people want to work, where they know they are working towards a goal beyond making a profit.
Taking this kind of approach is going to be difficult for many companies who have had so much success over the past 100 years working under what is becoming and increasingly outdated model. When you think of how the stereotypes of banks, insurance companies, accountants etc perceives working at the company to be - arrive at 9, work, then leave at 5.30 and earn a high wage, simply isn’t attractive to many millennials today. They realize that if you’re going to spend around 60% of your waking time doing something, it should be more than doing a job that creates no societal value over making money. According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, 55% of Millennials accepted a job based on a company’s involvement in good causes, and this number is only likely to increase.
Companies have tried to foster a perception of engagement in this area, but most offer little but vague assertions and buzz words. Most millennials can see through this easily and will tend to avoid companies who try to appear conscious, but one of the best known brands in the world which employs tens of thousands of people have a ‘values’ section on their website which extends to 195 words - hardly thorough.
Millennials are diligent - they are the first generation brought up with the internet, they can find out everything they want to know about a potential employer in minutes, you just need to make sure that what they find is genuine and shows that you do good.