What Do Millennials Want?

Susan Hodkinson
| 6/24/2016
What do millennials want?
Much has been written over the last decade about the implications of multiple generations and their divergent approaches to work. When millennials began entering the workforce in the early 2000s, they seemed much more easy-going. At first, they demonstrated a real respect and admiration for their boomer bosses. They enjoyed a friendly and familiar relationship. They still wanted a certain flexibility and freedom that the Generation Xers first demanded before them, but boomers had already started to adjust to and embrace these demands, so they seemed more reasonable and expected.

With time, the millennials started to move up the organization hierarchy. Boomer executives started to recognize the young workers who had “it.” Having learned how important it is to give feedback from those demanding Generation Xers, boomers took care to ensure that their young stars knew of their bright futures. This next generation seemed a delight — smart, personable, confident.

And then the resignations started. The millennial employee who seems poised for promotion announces that he is taking a new job because he wants to explore a new role. Another changes her career trajectory entirely. Another announces that while he isn’t resigning at this time, he knows that his current role will not satisfy him longer term, and he is considering other options.

Hurried lunches are held in an attempt to retain these wavering employees. The fickle simply need to be reassured how bright the next ten years look for them — so thought the boomer leaders. The millennials seem to appreciate the efforts, but they leave anyway. Boomer bosses are left bereft.

Many years ago, Sigmund Freud famously asked: “What do women want?”  The question from today’s hiring manager might be: “What do millennials want?” As the millennial generation becomes the largest demographic in the workplace, and the workforce starts to shrink as boomers retire, leaders and hiring managers must start paying attention to millennial wants to secure the futures of their organizations.

First, leaders must take a chance on these enthusiastic new workers. From day one, assume they will succeed. Invest in them. Promote them early-and often. Recognize the benefits that the organization will realize with the injection of youth, optimism, and energy.

And then, be prepared for the changes that will be required for this more diverse organization will operate. Look at alternate structures for how work gets done as well as how employees are compensated and rewarded. Consider incentive plans or referral bonuses. Millennial workers, who expect recognition for their hard work will respond to awards and badges.

If a star millennial leaves, and then decides that the grass isn’t greener after all, welcome them back. They will be a better contributor to your organization for the additional experience, and exploring a new path isn’t disloyalty, it’s the natural curiosity that comes so easily to this group of workers.

Have honest discussions with them about their futures. A paternalist slap on the back and the advice “If you work hard, someday all of this will be yours” will not resonate with a millennial. Keep communication as transparent and forthright as possible. Help them see how their roles tie into the big picture.

Ensure that your HR systems are current and reflect the differing expectations that millennials have from their employers. Millennials desire structured feedback mechanisms that focus on coaching and frequent “check-ins.” They want to see mentorship opportunities with supportive supervisors. As technological multi-taskers who have grown up with Google and the ability to find any answer as long as they have Wi-Fi, they value the ability to telecommute and work flex-hours.

Retention of this group will only become more important and challenging in the years ahead; it’s imperative that leaders stay reminded of the millennial expectations of their organizations. John Yokoyama, owner of the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington, wrote a book about the power of creating an energized work place (Google it, your millennials already have). In it, Yokoyama says, “I can’t afford to say yes to all my staff’s desires, but one thing is certain — I can’t afford the outrageous cost of not listening to their requests.”

Like it or not, the millennials are here to stay.

This article has been prepared for the general information of our clients. Specific professional advice should be obtained prior to the implementation of any suggestion contained in this article.

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Susan Hodkinson
Susan Hodkinson
Chief Operating Officer & Partner, HR Consulting Practice