With the millennial generation expected to constitute 50 percent of the workforce in five years and remain the dominant generation of workers for decades, knowing what they look for in a workplace and company will become increasingly important for employers.
A panel assembled by CommNexus tackled the question of what millennials — those between 20 and 34 — want and how to incorporate that into the workplace, but also acknowledged that just as with every generation before, millennials are a diverse group, and it takes an individual approach to know what each employee wants from a job and what tools are needed for them to succeed.
“In my experience they want more opportunities quicker, they want support and they want validation,” said Melinda Del Toro, vice president of human resources for ViaSat, adding that millennials, or Gen Y, also differ from older generations in their demand for work-life balance.
“It used to be that it was only people that were at that stage in life when they’re having kids and starting families that work-life balance became important, but now in our experience it’s millennials who want that.
"They don’t want to spend 50 hours or 60 hours a week in front of a computer and not have a network to show for it, whether that’s family, friends or the opportunity to live and check things off their bucket list.”
Christine DiDonato, founder and president of Career Revolution and former head of talent at Sony Electronics, said research has shown several distinct gaps between millennials and their managers.
While millennials tend to focus on results and less on face time or time actually spent in the office, she said some managers take their asking to leave early for, say, a soccer team they coach one evening a week, as a slacking work ethic or entitlement. Millennials assume that as long as the work gets done and expectations are met, it shouldn’t matter.
Another difference is asking for promotions and wanting to contribute from Day One.
Millennials are apt to ask for a raise or promotion sooner than previous generations, DiDonato said, which can rub managers from older generations the wrong way.
Managers can also get ruffled feathers when a millennial employee has an idea that he or she takes to the CEO or division head without first running it by the manager. The employee sees this as adding value to the company, while the manager may view it as sneaky or rude.
Helping Gen X or baby boomer management understand these differences in work style can save everyone a headache, and can also help attract top talent.
Jenny Morgan, human resources representative at Prometheus Labs, and Megan Leonard, event manager at Open Mobile Alliance — both millennials — said strong leadership and a good work environment are two prized qualities for millennials when considering a job. Many even prioritize these over salary, yet another switch over past generations.
“We’ve talked a lot about why we work for a company. For a millennial it’s all about your work environment,” Leonard said. “I put out a poll on my Facebook that asked, ‘Would you rather be in the right environment for a lower salary, or a higher salary maybe not in the right environment?’ 100 percent of millennial respondents said ‘right environment over higher salary.’”
In addition to helping management understand the generational differences and equipping them with appropriate communication tools, panelists suggested setting scheduled meetings for feedback so that millennials get the input they desire but managers aren’t overwhelmed with daily check-ins on top of their other work.
They also suggested creative monetary or benefit incentives to respond to requests for flexibility and work-life balance.
“The data does very blatantly tell us that today’s 20-something population that is in our workforce will leave an organization much sooner voluntarily than generations before,” DiDonato said.
“One of our clients is known for their great medical benefits, and I looked at it and I thought, ‘Wow, if you have a family of five, you really are going to attract some very, very great talent. But if you’re 25 and have $80,000 of student loan debt, that isn’t going to attract these people.’
"So just using a data point, what if you offer to spend that money in two ways: Either take this great family medical package or we’ll pay down your student loan if you stay past that 18-month mark.”
At the end of the day, however, it still comes down to getting to know your employees as individuals instead of depending on generational stereotypes and using best practices and procedures every day in every situation.
“I think that there are sound practices that you use regardless of generation: setting expectations, providing feedback, being supportive,” Del Toro said.