November 25, 2016

Inside the Mind of the Millennial


There’s a disconnect between millennials and older generations in today’s workforce. Millennials want to do things in ways that Generation X and the baby boomers may not agree with, and that often causes friction. Many companies are so focused on the “what” of the matter that they may be missing out on the “why.” Older executives often find it easy to dismiss the millennial generation as lazy or unmotivated, but that simply isn’t the case.

Millennials grew up in the age of the internet; for as long as they can remember, they’ve been able to talk to anyone from anywhere at any time. They keep their professional email accounts connected to their personal cellphones, and they perform one-off work tasks at all hours. They want to wear comfortable clothes to work, and they want to work at least some of the time from home.

Many millennials got participation trophies in their soccer leagues just for trying their best; they’ve learned from an early age that rankings don’t matter much. That’s why the office hierarchy means less to them, as does the prospect of climbing the corporate ladder. They want environments where ideas and effort rule more than people do.

These ideas that millennials hold about work aren’t bad – they’re just different from the traditional notions that boomers are so used to.

While the two generations might view the workplace in different ways, learning to reconcile the two ideologies with one another will bring benefits to any employer that supports the effort.

“Millennials are starting their careers at a time when digital and cultural shifts have created a blending of work and life,” says Sherry Dixon, senior vice president at employment agency Adecco Staffing USA. “Nine-to-five schedules are becoming a thing of the past, while smartphones and cloud-based platforms are holding workers accountable for to-do lists, deadlines, and hot requests at all hours of the day. Many millennials are willing to stay connected and responsive outside of the eight-hour work day, but they may also expect employers to be more lenient when they need to work from home or take an afternoon off at the last minute. As long as young people have established trust, accountability, and consistent communication with their managers, this new dynamic can work in both the employee’s and employer’s favor.”

Meeting of the Minds

sunsetIf boomers and millennials have limited interaction, they’ll never find out how much they can learn from each other. Companies that encourage employees to close the generational gap will reap some serious rewards

“Programs that foster idea-sharing are often used as a tactic to strengthen workplace culture, but they are also great ways for businesses to absorb technical know-how from millennial workers,” Dixon says. “Companies can also implement reverse mentoring programs, where executives spend time with less-tenured employees to hear their fresh perspectives.”

Besides reverse mentoring, businesses can implement additional programs that encourage employees to teach one another across generational lines.

“Companies can leverage young workers by conducting quarterly lunch and learns,” Dixon says. “During these sessions, an office orders in lunch and dedicates the hour to an employee or team who will share best practices or introduce new topics. These not only generate positive morale, but can also tap into millennial expertise.”

Millennial Wanderlust

When you have top millennial talent on your roster, you want them to hang on to their jobs the way baby boomers did in days of yore. But that’s easier said than done. Millennials aren’t just known for changing jobs – they also like to change locations.

“People are not getting married and settling down as young as they used to, allowing them to pick up and move more easily,” Dixon says.

Adecco’s recent Way to Work survey found that 53 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 expect to move to 2-3 cities throughout their careers.

“On top of that, millennials have grown up in the age of startups and many seem to possess a more entrepreneurial spirit, which may be contributing to their desire to experience different career opportunities and new geographies – especially in places like Los Angeles and New York that are home to notable fast-growing and forward-thinking companies,” Dixon says. “Millennials consider the opportunity for growth a top concern at the start of their career journey.”

buildingsIn the Way to Work survey, 36 percent of young people said growth was a top priority in their job hunt.

“It makes sense that millennials would be driven to seek out new work environments in order to keep expanding their skill sets and advancing in their careers,” Dixon adds.

While that fact may make any effort to get millennials to stay at one company seem futile, the truth is that millennials are interested in staying at companies where they feel engaged and appreciated.

“No matter the industry, companies must provide transparent and consistent feedback to millennials in order to keep them engaged,” Dixon says. “They need to know how their particular responsibilities are contributing to the bottom line and that they are adding value to the organization. Any doubt that they are making a difference, and they will look for other options to ensure they are investing their time where it counts. And this doesn’t mean that millennials only want positive feedback; in their pursuit to advance, they are looking for ways to improve their performance.”

Most importantly, businesses must remember that they don’t have the upper hand in the current job market. In today’s economy, candidates and employees can always seek other opportunities.

“Companies are recruiting in a job seeker’s market right now, so competitive compensation packages are a must,” Dixon explains. “But salary isn’t the end of the conversation. Once an employer gets millennial talent in the door, a winning workplace culture is necessary in order to get them to stay put. Some non-compensation benefits companies are looking at as a way to vamp up culture include off-site team-building days, free snacks in the kitchen, work from home days, and modern meeting rooms with fun furniture, like bean bags.”

Read more in Career Goals

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.