Are Millennial Workers Really That Different From the Rest?
There is a lot of coverage in the press about the transformation of workforce culture, resulting from the well documented generational shifts that are occurring in the workplace. As Baby Boomers retire, or at least step down into part-time/stewardship roles, their shoes are being filled by the maturing generation X. This is leaving a gap at the bottom for the arrival of the burgeoning millennial generation who, by current estimates, make up around 40 percent of the workforce and will make up 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.
As a result of this generational shift, many employers are scrambling to adjust their employer brands in order to be relevant and attractive to this new wave of young talent that is sweeping across the corporate sphere.
But, the question that is rarely asked is whether Millennials are really that different anyway. Is there really such a need to lay out a special corporate red carpet or will the current red carpet that we’ve been using for other generations do just fine?
For starters, there is research around which questions the generational stereotypes that many have bought into. For example, a Korn/Ferry white paper, Rethinking Generation Gaps in The Workplace by UNC Kenan-Flager Business School, concluded that all four generations have similar key work motivators for job security and promotion opportunities. Commitment levels were also found to be the same across generations, although younger generations were ready to accept higher risk earlier in their career. However, this may not be so much attitude related but age related in that younger people are less likely to have accumulated financial commitments and dependents, meaning they can handle more risk. Arguably, certain older workers who have not accumulated ties and dependents may also be open to more risk.
As well as this, Professor Ben Rosen at Kenan-Flagler Business School conducted in-house research and also found many shared characteristics and expectations across generations. He looked at 5,400 workers and found that all living generations (Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials) expected the five following things from their employers and these are to:
- To work on challenging projects.
- Competitive compensation.
- Opportunities for advancement and chances to learn and grow in their jobs.
- To be fairly treated.
- Work-life balance.
He also found similarities in expectations of leadership, with all generations characterizing the ideal leader in the following ways:
- Leads by example.
- Is accessible.
- Helps others see how their roles contribute to the organization.
- Acts as a coach and mentor.
- Challenges others and holds others accountable.
Now, while I am not denying the existing of generational differences in attitude and expectations, it is likely that the combined effect of over reporting of the generational differences has exaggerated its importance and drowned out the case for the generational similarities, of which there are many key ones.
Therefore, it seems to me that millennials aren’t really that different from the rest, and there is enough research out there clearly outlining plenty of generational similarities around which business can build a unified cross generational employer branding and engagement plan, incorporating many if not all of the traditional brand incentives. There is no need to roll out a new employer branding red carpet for millennials, because with a few tweaks, the existing red carpet will work just fine.