What does the workplace look like for incoming millennials? Millennials, those born after 1980, are starting to enter the working world in earnest. What type of employers they are seeking, what is the nature of the jobs for which they are applying, and what expectations do they have entering the workplace? In other words, what do millennials want from their careers? New information shows it is a lot more than just money.
This generation, who grew up in the wakes of 9/11 and the Great Recession, do not deserve the bad rap they have been given. They are tired of being labeled lazy, entitled or high maintenance. They are unfairly criticized due to the idea that they grew up receiving trophies for coming in 10th place. In reality, millennials want to be recognized for their contribution, they long to work for managers who treat them fairly and with the same respect as the generations before them. They want to form positive connections with their employers and coworkers, and they want to feel their impact on both a small and large scale. This generation is well adapted to change and they are prepared to unleash their innovation when given the right environment, support, and autonomy.
What the data says
PwC started a study (pdf) aimed at the mindset of new graduates entering the workforce for the first time, focusing on “The hopes and expectations of this generation” and whether or not “Business leaders and HR teams need to revise their current strategies accordingly.” PwC points out the importance of this incoming body of people, who are more numerous than any prior generation, and already make up 25 percent of the United States workforce. The importance and potential for millennials as a new generation of workers is generally accepted as significant. However, PwC proposes there is also possibility for massive challenges that current organizations will face regarding millennials, who tend to be “uncomfortable” with “rigid corporate structures and are turned off by information silos.” Millennials, who largely predict rapid progression for themselves, are interested in varied and engaging careers with constant feedback from their employers. What this means is millennials desire a management-style and corporate culture that meets their needs. They want a flexible work environment with constructive feedback and lots of encouragement. The personality of this generation establishes a need to feel their work is valuable and that their efforts do not go unrecognized. These qualities, though perhaps similar to older generations, appear to be more heavily weighted by Millennials and are certainly those which employers can actively address.
PwC makes note that some companies have successfully attracted millennials that seems to understand these prerequisites, of course including Google and Apple, which though cliché are constantly discussed with good reason. These companies are fast-moving and innovative, and their environment and management styles appeal to this generation, allowing them to select from some of the best young talent made available. Many more companies, both small and large that follow this pattern are outlined in Great Place to Work’s first-ever ranking of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials. The choices stand out for the ways they engage this generation, recognize their talents, and give them a significant role where they can make a difference.
The Fortune article explains that these companies execute pay, profit sharing, and promotion decisions fairly and with transparency; everyone can receive special recognition; and workers have a say in decisions that affect them. One millennial said of Ultimate Software Group, Inc., ranked #5 on the list: “[Ultimate Software] has been the most rewarding career decision I’ve made. There’s challenges just like any job, but I’m regularly given the help, the freedom, and the trust I need to handle them on my own terms … and management genuinely cares about each and every employee … The most refreshing aspect is that I feel like I learn something new every day.”
Another company, Workday, Inc. ranked #7 on the list has a program for college students and recent graduates where they can attend senior leader meetings, receive mentoring, and rotate within the company to build their skills, networks and exposure to different divisions. Every employee from the chief executive to the newest hire receives a $1,500 annual bonus. Such workplaces exhibit strong, open, two-way communication; a high tolerance for risk-taking; high levels of cooperation and support among employees; and reduced roadblocks to innovation, such as internal politics. The companies that made the list were more likely to offer flexible scheduling (76 percent vs. 63 percent for other companies), telecommuting options (82 percent vs. 74 percent), paid sabbaticals (15 percent vs. 11 percent) and paid volunteer days (46 percent vs. 39 percent.) They offer extra perks like massages (65 percent vs. 26 percent) and fitness classes (70 percent vs. 24 percent) to their workforce.
Loyal or Opportunist?
Of course, there will be negative aspects employers might find with millennials, such as their sense of loyalty (or lack thereof). As reported by PwC, in 2008, just 10 percent surveyed expect to have six employers or more in their lifetime, most of which expect to have between two and five. Now, more than 25 percent surveyed expect to have six employers or more. Only 18 percent expect to stay with their current employer for the long-term.
Of course, there is a difference between having numerous jobs and being a “job hopper.” PwC determines employers who fail to invest in millennials are likely to see less loyalty than those that do. Millennials have seen that corporate loyalty does not necessarily bring rewards or even long-term security in the economic environment. Millennials are keeping an eye out for new opportunities even if they are not actively looking for a new job. Thirty-eight percent of the millennials questioned who are currently working said they were on the lookout for new opportunities, and a further 43 percent said they were not actively looking, but would be open to offers.
Even though millennials may be inclined to seek more jobs throughout their lifetime, they do not intend to leave without an impact, and they still expect to rapidly rise through their organizations. This career progression is a top priority, with 52 percent claiming it as the main attraction in an employer, even more so than competitive salaries. Also more important than financial reward is the work/life balance, which millennials place above flexible working hours and then cash bonuses in third place.
In an increasingly globalized world, another important trait is millennials’ desire to work overseas, with a large majority of 71 percent expecting to do an overseas assignment during their career. Employers offering global career paths should be encouraged by this, and desired destinations for millennials across the globe include the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, but 53 percent said they would still be willing to work in an underdeveloped country. This strong will to work abroad gives rich potential resource for companies focused on global growth, and even less desirable destinations could be positioned as an important career-path milestone.
An obvious and important advantage millennials have is their immense understanding of and experience with technology, which greatly sets them apart from other generations. Their inclination for the digital world allows millennials to enter the workplace with a grasp of key business tools, which means less time learning and more time working. Seventy-five percent of millennials surveyed by PwC believe access to technology makes them more effective at work. Nonetheless, there is concern this might lead to a strange compromise in face-to-face interaction.
As technology dominates every aspect of millennials’ lives, 41 percent said they prefer to communicate electronically at work than face-to-face or talking over the telephone. There is a sense of being “held back” by such “rigid” or “outdated” work environments, which is perhaps in part a product of the learned antisocial behavior of millennials who feel better communicating to their coworkers behind the veil of their virtual screens.
Millennials value the opinions of their senior mentors, but 34 percent are saying that their personal drive was intimidating to other generations and almost half felt that their managers did not always understand the way they use technology at work. This perhaps creates a cultural divide since millennials are more comfortable with technology and more readily use it to communicate, whereas face-to-face interaction is seen as more intimate and reasonable by older generations. Since millennials are more comfortable and feel they are more efficient when they have access to technology, they will seek a workplace that includes social networking, instant messaging, blogs, wikis, etc. Employers who wish to deal with generational tension regarding technology should seek a strategy to engage all workers and adapt their IT policies to appeal more directly to millennials, such as offering smartphones as an employee benefit and actively encouraging business-focused use of social media.
From stigma to success
The perceived negative traits this generation displays, such as narcissism, disloyalty, and an inability to interact face-to-face can be recognized, assessed, and turned into positive attributes when properly handled and leveraged by an understanding employer, points out Bruce Tulgan, consultant and author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss. He says, “[Millennials] will be the most high maintenance workforce in the history of the world, but they may also be the most high performing.” This incoming generation of young workers may have grown up amid uncertainty and excessive parental attention in the digital world, but they ultimately want the same thing that every employee wants: learning opportunities, meaningful work relationships, recognized value, and learning opportunities. In focusing on the needs of this next generation, companies can learn to create a better workplace for everyone.