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Generation Re-evaluation: Engaging Millennials

Part pariah, part godsend, Millennials occupy a unique space in the social and working world. Raised on a diet of technology and participation trophies, Millennials are challenging the corporate world to find ways to balance their unique skills and quirks, and engage them. In reality, however, Millennials are nothing new, and what engages them may surprise you.

The Millennial Revolution

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are defined as being born between 1980 and 2000, but perhaps you know them more for their stereotypes: narcissists, the selfie generation, social media addicts, overly sensitive. Supposedly, they’re unorthodox, they want special treatment, and they have no work ethic.

But they’re here—and their numbers in the workplace are growing. Millennials are currently the largest generation, and by 2030 they’ll make up 75% of the workforce (Bureau of Labor Statistics). They are flooding into the workplace in record numbers, and their less-than-desirable characteristics and general approach to life are puzzling their Gen X and boomer counterparts.

While Millennial stereotypes make for tantalizing click-bait, they’re far too generalizing and not new. You’ve lived all of this before.

The 25-Year-Olds of Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow

Millennials were raised under unique circumstances, but they aren’t that different from their predecessors.

Typically, the human brain does not reach full maturity until a person reaches their mid-20s. During this time, the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with higher critical thinking, reaches maturity. The MIT Young Adult Development Project cites the Car Rental Rule: “The brain isn’t fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car.”

It’s not until the brain reaches 25 that it reaches its full calibration of risk and reward, problem-solving, prioritizing, thinking ahead, self-evaluation, long-term planning, and regulation of emotion.

This has remained an objective truth for 25-year-olds throughout history. The Yuppies, the DINKs, the Dot Com Entrepreneurs, and Millennials are all the same person existing at a different point in time. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) quoted Elspeth Reeve, “It’s not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it’s that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older.” This does not make 20-somethings unemployable, it is simply a matter of understanding the growth process that everyone must go through.

This is a good thing. It means that the needs of each generation match, and you can meet the needs of today’s, yesterday’s and tomorrow’s Millennials with relative ease. The needs of young people have not necessarily changed, but instead we have learned more about employees in general, their engagement, and the programs that best suit them at any age.

Generation Re-evaluation

Just listen to The Who’s “My Generation” or The Beastie Boys’ “Fight for your Right (to Party)”—the tune of the young, confident hopefuls feeling misunderstood by their jaded elders is a consistent theme throughout time. The laziness, the need for participation trophies, and the requirement of special treatment are all less prominent than you think.

At this point, the term “Millennial” is used more as an insult than generational descriptor, and relying too heavily on these stereotypes can be harmful to your employees, candidates, and business.

Greater Purpose

A shared purpose is defined as “the why”: why an organization exists at all and what distinguishes it in a sea of corporate-ness. The purpose drives all organizational activities, serving as a compass. There is an overwhelming sense that only Millennials need a defined greater purpose in their work, but it’s not just a “Millennial thing.”

Six in ten Millennials cite a “sense of purpose” as part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers, and 40% of Millennials who plan to remain in their jobs beyond 2020 say their employers have a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success (Deloitte).

While shared purpose does bring out the best in Millennials, it also brings out the best in all employees. A shared purpose gives value to every member of an organization, defining why they come to work every day. In organizations with a strong sense of purpose, 73% of employees were engaged, compared to only 24% of employees in organizations without it (Deloitte). And 89% of executives stated that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction for everyone (HBR).

Entitlement

Nearly two-thirds, (65%) of people surveyed, say the term “entitled” describes Millennials very or somewhat well, and 58% of Millennials agree (Reason- Rupe).

POPSUGAR, a Millennial publication, offers unique insight on the matter. They believe that Millennials and their elders view entitlement differently. Instead of viewing entitlement as a sense that the universe owes them something they haven’t earned, many Millennials view entitlement as the right to go after big goals without asking for permission from gatekeepers and authority figures. Additionally, Millennials were raised under different technological circumstances, receiving results almost instantly for most of their lives. Their expectation for fast results and rewards might explain why they are labeled as “entitled,” especially if their expectations don’t match the reality of the situation—something they may not have learned yet.

These factors, combined with a newly 25-year-old brain, can create a perfect storm of narcissism.

However, Millennials may be humbler than expected. Sixty-four percent of Millennials consider themselves lucky to even have a job (CBRE). Additionally, in the workplace, Millennials feel more accountable than they do influential, indicating that they do feel a sense of responsibility over simply expecting change (Deloitte). They feel the most accountable and influential in regards to client/customer satisfaction and work culture/atmosphere. These findings suggest they believe their efforts and actions have a direct effect and will benefit their greater organization or workplace.

Job-Hopping

Career tenure is decreasing for all age brackets. The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently defines the average employee tenure at 4.2 years, and most are not shy about pointing the finger at Millennials for the decreasing number. Currently, 43% of Millennials are open to new job offers, while 38% are actively looking for a new role (PwC). But don’t let those numbers scare you: 71% of all workers admit to active job searching or at least being open to a new opportunity (Indeed).

More than 60% of Millennials said that they plan to stay in their jobs for “some time.” Yet, over 25% admitted that they often thought about quitting their jobs (Boston College).

However, Millennial loyalty is growing. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey, in 2016, 44% of Millennials planned to leave their organization within the next two years. In 2017, that number dropped to 38%. Similarly, those who planned to stay beyond five years increased from 27% to 31%.

You can increase Millennial tenure with internal programs. Growth opportunities seem to further increase loyalty: 44% of Millennial leaders say they intend to stay at their same company for more than 15 years; while 29% of non-Millennial leaders said the same thing (The Conference Board).

Millennials who feel they’re at a great workplace are 25 times more likely to plan a long-term future at that workplace (Great Place to Work). When Millennials receive 12.5% more job offers than older candidates (CEB Advisory Firm), a career change can be tantalizing. Make sure it’s hard for them to leave.

Recognition

The participation trophy has become a powerful symbol in the argument against Millennials, exemplifying their complacency and demand for attention for every small accomplishment. In reality, they don’t really need more recognition than their older counterparts. According to IBM’s Millennial Myths study, Millennials want a manager who’s ethical and fair and also values transparency and dependability, over a boss who recognizes their accomplishments and asks for their input. According to the study, it’s largely Gen X employees, not Millennials, who think everyone on a successful team should be rewarded.

Our own internal research reveals a constant truth: recognition has a direct correlation with engagement. All employees hunger for recognition: 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often, while 50% of employees who don’t feel valued plan to look for another job within the next year.

More than 50% of HR Managers say showing appreciation cuts turnover, and 49% believe it increases profit. Dedicated recognition can benefit all employees.

Lazy

Laziness is hard to quantify. While it’s one of Millennials’ biggest negative descriptors, there isn’t much research on it. However, we do know that one quarter of young Millennials between the ages of 18 and 25 say they’re not using any of their vacation time this year, versus fewer than 1 in 10 Americans overall (Project: Time Off). Are they refraining from taking time off for fear of being seen as lazy?

We also know that Millennials grew up amidst massive technological innovation including the internet and the smart phone, and they’re used to finding what they perceive as the fastest route or best shortcut. They are multitaskers and great at finding diverse ways of approaching a subject, and often those ways can conflict with what their coworkers believe is the “right way.”

All of these stereotypes (needing a greater purpose, entitlement, job-hopping, recognition, laziness) are not nearly as prevalent as blog posts would lead you to believe. However, engagement–for anyone—is not a passive experience. As an organization, your leadership must initiate active efforts and dedicated programs that will give employees the opportunity to engage themselves in their work and workplace. Earnestly facilitating employee engagement programs will produce results.

The Same and Different, All At Once

While Millennials’ needs may not be too different from their predecessors, your organization still may not be prepared for engagement.

Amongst Millennials, these factors most influenced their decision to accept their current job:

The opportunity for personal development (65%) The reputation of the organization (36%) The role itself (24%) The starting salary/rate of pay (21%) The working location(s) (20%) (PwC)

Meanwhile, the top reasons Millennials considered leaving their jobs were to:

Make more money Move forward in their careers Pursue work that is more aligned with their passions Have more flexibility/better work-life balance Be in a more desirable location (Boston College)

Once again, these are not radically different from what older employees want, but addressing these issues can increase engagement for all of your employees, Millennials included. Implementing programs like the ones below can increase engagement and lower the turnover that Millennials are so famous for.

Fair Pay

Always begin with fair pay and benefits. Further engagement simply isn’t possible without it. Remember that Millennials have more student debt than their predecessors. In fact, the class of 2015 averaged about $35,000 of debt (Wall Street Journal). Additionally, many of them spent time working for free—in 2012, 1.5 million internships were filled in the United States, and it’s estimated that roughly half of those were unpaid (Forbes). These factors make fair pay imperative.

Staples reports that 29% of Millennials state that higher salary is the biggest contributor to their loyalty, compared to 20% of the broader workforce, while Gallup reports that 50% of Millennials say they would consider taking a job with a different company for a raise of 20% or less.

See our Salary Guide to ensure that your pay is not only fair but competitive.

Shared Purpose

A shared purpose is arguably the most important tool for the entirety of your organization. Harvard Business Review reports that only 46% workers say that their organization has a strong shared sense of purpose, while only 38% report that their staff has a clear understanding of organizational purpose and commitment to core values and beliefs.

Work together with your leadership to define and implement your company’s shared purpose. Read our White Paper for more information on how to do this effectively.

Flexible Work Options

Flexible work is all the rage—and for good reason. Workers who were offered telecommuting options were more productive and had lower turnover (Harvard Business Review), and 64% of Millennials want to occasionally work from home.

While this can increase engagement, make sure that your Millennials (and all other employees) receive the right tools and preparation to work efficiently.

Recognition Programs

As we mentioned before, recognition is both powerful and underutilized: 75% of employees receiving at least monthly recognition (even if informal) are satisfied with their job, but 82% of employees don’t think they’re recognized for their work as often as they deserve (BambooHR). Meanwhile, 38% of Millennials would like to see the recognition program at their current employer improved (Aon Hewitt).

Create a structured program that allows for both formal and informal recognition. Nearly one-third of employees would rather be recognized in a company-wide email from an executive than receive a bonus of $500 (BambooHR). Read our White Paper for more advice on creating an effective program.

Transparent Leadership

Many believe Millennials feel too entitled to information across an organization. In reality, 54% of Millennials don’t fully understand their organization’s business strategy (IBM). Leading with transparency can not only keep them informed but make the whole work process easier for everyone involved. When describing their perfect boss, all three generations agreed that “transparent and readily shares information” is one of the top three most important traits (IBM).

Open communication regarding organizational workings can keep employees informed and empowered.

Mentor Programs

Mentor programs can help decrease misunderstandings across generations, and can even squash some of those undesirable Millennial habits. Create mentor and reverse mentor programs to increase exposure and teamwork. Not only do 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring to their employees (Cronus Corporation), but retention is 25% higher for employees who have engaged in companysponsored mentoring (Deloitte). The best way to decrease stigma is to increase exposure.

Structured Career Paths

Structured career paths increase transparency and fairness. When your employees know what it takes to succeed, they feel empowered and valued, and therefore stay longer. Amongst Millennials, 45% would quit a job if they didn’t see a career path they wanted at the company (Ultimate Software), and 78% of employees said they would remain longer with their employer if they saw a career path with the current organization (Mercer).

However, while 60% of HR leaders believe that their companies provide employees with a clear career path, just 36% of employees agree (Saba Software). Make sure career paths are precise and made available for all employees.

Invest in Your Reputation

Humans of all ages have the tendency to associate themselves with successful entities, a phenomenon known as Basking in the Reflected Glory or “BIRGing.” That’s why we wear hats with our favorite sports teams, wear t-shirts with our favorite bands, etc. Your business is not excluded from this concept. Your reputation will affect who you attract and the pride they feel will affect how long they stay.

Glassdoor reports 84% of candidates would consider leaving their current company if another company with an excellent reputation offered them a job, while 70% would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed (Corporate Responsibility Magazine).

Millennials are the social media generation, so give them something to brag about. Build your online presence and proudly share your accomplishments.

A robust reputation can create an influential cycle. Your employees have a direct impact on the organization’s success and they will be eager to maintain that reputation. As your reputation grows, you will attract more spectacular talent from across all generations.

As you prepare your workplace for the Millennial revolution, don’t just focus on current Millennial needs. Emphasize growing them into your organization’s next leaders. When the boomers are gone and the Xers retire, Millennials will be left in charge. Your organization falling apart will not be a testament to how great Gen X and boomers were, it will be evidence that they failed to create sustainable success.

Millennials are here, and they are both familiar and foreign all at once. Open communication and collaboration will be your greatest asset. Companies have welcomed new generations before, and they will do it again. Remember, Gen Z is already on Millennials’ heels.