Wilma Smythe

Often castigated in the media, you might be tempted just to ignore the millennial generation. Do so at your peril though as this generation has something to offer.

Often we read reports in the media about the Millennial generation. Most highlight the generational gap with Generation X and the Baby Boomers and report traits they say Millennials exhibit, such as having higher levels of selfishness, a sense of entitlement, a higher need of social recognition, a desire to having an impact on society and, of course, being much more technologically savvy than previous generations.

But why are Millennials such a unique generation? 

Having studied this generation thoroughly, we have identified five major events that, having occurred simultaneously, make this generation significantly distinct from other recent generations:

  1. A technology revolution: Having been exposed to the Internet and social media from a young age, Millennials have grown up not knowing anything different from receiving instantaneous answers to questions via the internet or social media, making them feel the world can be personalised to meet their individual needs very quickly, which has, in turn, created a generation that is less patient and often nourished by instant gratification.
  2. An economic crisis: The crash of the Internet bubble at the beginning of the 21st century, followed by the 2008-2010 recession, has meant that many Millennials have seen their parents grapple with job instability and unemployment in ways that the Baby Boomers and Generation X never experienced.
  3. Higher education fees but fewer guarantees for quality work. The costs of attending and of student loan repayments if they go to university, make this generation more anxious about their employment prospects than previous generations. This is also partly due to the lack of guarantees of quality employment following a university education. Our own research amongst university students found that more than half (52%) agreed or strongly agreed about getting ‘very anxious’ about their professional future. This is further exacerbated by new reports forecasting that many new roles in the near future are not yet defined as these jobs simply do not exist today.
  4. The environmental movement: Climate change scientists have indicated that man-made pollution is causing the planet to warm. This means that Millennials and other future generations will suffer the consequences most and some Millennials are blaming previous generations for this. Some feel empowered to change the world for the better, partly because they can now communicate as one group (via social media) more easily than ever before.
  5. Child-led approaches to parenting.  While some argue that the emergence of attachment parenting has created more dependent offspring, we find that the growing availability of sensationalistic news along with the fact that people are now having fewer children (and are thus putting fewer eggs in one basket) has resulted in the parents of Millennials ‘over-protecting’ their children and wanting to be involved in everything they do. As a result, Millennials seem to require more feedback and social handling than previous generations.

Listen, understand and act or decline

While the insights above can be interesting for casual readers, and somewhat explanatory for Millennials’ parents, they are no longer a list of ‘interesting facts’ for organisations.

Consider the following:

  • As many as 50% of Millennials are expected to dominate the workforce by 2020. 75% are expected to be in the workforce by 2025.
  • The Millennial generation is highly entrepreneurial. Our research found that 17% of university students are planning to start a business following graduation, with 41% wanting to have their own business at some point in their lives.
  • Millennials are leading on disruptive innovation: A number of them have already changed the world with new business models, such as Uber and Facebook, transforming global economies. Many are working today aiming to imitate those successes.
  • Millennials are experts at using social media. This communication tool can empower social groups to change the world both economically and politically. The case of United Airlines, which broke someone’s guitar and brought the company’s share value down very quickly, and the surge of the Arab spring are just some of the many examples of how social media has handed real power to individuals taking it away from organisations and government entities.
  • This generation is more concerned about having a positive impact on society. Our research showed about half (49%) of students will “only consider working for an organisation that has a positive impact on society”, which is very high in the context of levels of expected loan repayments when leaving university which might lead us to believe they would simply want to work to earn money.

Ignoring this generation means that organisations might be cutting out a significant proportion of the talent pool that will soon lead the world through the 21st century. It is therefore morally and practically right to support them (if they are struggling, as many are) in leading for the benefit of society (as many want to do), but also listening to them and being open to their new ways of thinking and innovative ideas (as many have already demonstrated they are able to do).

Many employers have already noticed a generational gap when working with Millennials. Many notice an increased desire for faster career progression, resulting in lower levels of employee loyalty, if it is not addressed. Research conducted by Deloitte amongst working Millennials shows that one in every four Millennial workers are planning to leave their job within their first year of work and two in every three plan to leave within the next two to five years.

High levels of attrition are not healthy for employers, and particularly for those that now rely on young talent to innovate (which, in these days of constant change, should be the majority of employers). Further, those who have not incorporated genuine social values and ethics as part of their agenda will not be able to attract and retain the best talent given Millennnials’ higher preference for socially-focused organisations.

If generational differences are not understood by organisations, conflicting subcultures might develop and contribute to the organisation’s detriment. If organisations do not embed social values, many Millennials will simply leave and create their own social start ups, potentially disrupting larger companies.

Lastly, Millennials are consumers too and they will not purchase from organisations that don’t reflect their social values.

The need to adapt is higher than ever.

Welcome to the new generation

Because of the significant differences with existing generations, as described above, in order to maintain employee loyalty and sustainability, it is critical for organisations to understand this particular generation and adapt to their different expectations rather than expecting Millennials to adapt to them.

This does not mean to simply take one side and adapt solely to the needs of one single generation. What it does mean is organisations having an integrated and employee-centric management approach that considers the needs of all staff, which should include conducting an employee segmentation to understand these needs and how they cluster together.

A key step in achieving this goal is to shift the organisational mindset to ensure that organisations become great places to work by actively and visibly listening to all staff and involving them in key decisions.

For Millennials in particular, we share our 5 top tips for doing this:

  1. Listen, listen, listen: Get regular feedback from existing employees and make them feel considered and respected. This does not simply mean once-a-year engagement surveys, but involvement in key decisions and an openness to get them helping to shape proposals. It involves finding out if they would recommend working for your organisation; understanding what they enjoy and what could be done better; identifying their strengths; and offering opportunities for growth where possible and in many directions.
  2. Redefine your businesses role in society and design a CSR programme:  In our recent survey, 81% of students say that they want to work towards a purpose. Organisations that are ultimately focused on bettering the world are inherently more attractive than those whose purpose may be seen as just making a profit and who do no care about their overall impact.
  3. Offer work-life balance and flexibility:  Work-life balance and flexibility is the most important factor  in the decision-making process for Millennials in remaining loyal to an employer (with 57% of our respondents saying this) and it’s also the third most important when looking to apply for a job (with 55% prioritising this). It is never too late to develop working practices that can enable to work remotely and with a flexible schedule, not to mention the need for implementing collaborative technologies while working offsite.
  4. Offer training and development opportunities: When job hunting, Millennials prioritise employers that offer training and development opportunities. They believe that “employers should provide opportunities for progression and growth” and that “annual training should be a must to keep the employees up to date with modern techniques”.
  5. Provide a friendly and collaborative working environment: Traditional workplaces were not designed for Millennials; they need a positive, human and open environment where they can share ideas and access technology so they can work more efficiently and collaboratively. They expect employers “to be respectful, helpful, hardworking, supportive and friendly.”

But not all Millennials are the same. Despite a number of common traits, some are more materialistic, others more socially and environmentally focused; some are more determined to grow and embrace change, others need security and stability.

If you are interested in better understanding the different needs, attitudes, behaviours and aspirations of Millennials and how you can adapt your organisation’s work practices and attract and retain the talent that best works for your organisation, get our  “Desmytifying Millennials Infographic”

This infographic visually captures six different Millennial segments and offers step-by-step guidance helping you to refresh your talent management strategy.

Want to know more about young people and their challenges, and how your organisation can help bridge the gap between education and work? Simply download our FREE white paper “Puting young people back into work”. In it, you will find further insights and a thorough analysis of Millennials and the challenges they now face with employment and education.

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