5 things about millennial employees that will surprise you

millennial employees
Rachael Brown, HRM Online


written on May 26, 2016

“Are millennial employees really that different?”

Touted as fickle and wanting immediate gratification, idealistic and ambitious, millennial employees get a bad reputation sometimes. But how much of this is fair, and how much of it is just ‘kids these days’ talk that surfaces anytime a new generation rolls through?

HR professionals and business leaders will need to become savvy about this younger generation to stay competitive and thrive – by 2025, millennial employees will comprise nearly half the workforce worldwide (44 per cent). To help understand what makes them tick, two recent studies, the How Millennials Want to Work and Live report from Gallup and Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2016, asked thousands of millennial employees from nearly 30 countries about what they look for in an employer.

Here are five insightful and occasionally surprising things they had to say about what they want and how businesses can get the most from them.

1. Millennial employees are the least engaged generation at work.

Despite being the largest generation at work, only 29 per cent of millennial employees are keen to suit up everyday.

Often millennials are characterised as entitled job-hoppers, but this might be a bit of a mix-up. About 70 per cent of survey respondents said they weren’t engaged or were actively disengaged from work, suggesting they are indifferent about their job. “While they come across as wanting more and more, the reality is that they just want a job that feels worthwhile,” according to Gallup. “And they will keep looking until they find it.”

Which leads into our next point …

2. At any given time, more than half of millennial employees are looking to switch jobs.

And 66 per cent expect to be working somewhere else by 2020, according to Deloitte’s data. This is a serious challenge for employers to overcome.

“Defined by their lack of attachment to institutions and traditions, millennial employees change jobs more often than other generations – more than half say they’re currently looking for a new job, ” says Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup. “Millennials are changing the way of the world, so we too must change.”

This lack of loyalty might be a sign of neglect, says Deloitte, as only 28 per cent of millennial respondents felt that their current organisation was making full use of the skills they currently offer. Millennial employees named quality leadership as the most prized skill in business, and the majority expressed interest in rising to that challenge. However, Deloitte found that of the respondents who said they were likely to leave in the next four years, 71 per cent said it was because they were unhappy with how their leadership skills were being developed – or rather, neglected.

If businesses can provide the tools and resources necessary to develop millennials in this key area, they will reap benefits such as increased engagement and retention. Millennials who felt their employer supported their leadership ambitions were 15 per cent more likely to stay for more than five years.

3. Rock walls and beer fridges are actually pretty low on their lists.

Perks and fancy amenities are nice, but millennials, especially those with little experience in the workforce, look for other incentives. And no, not the monetary kind.

“Giving out toys and entitlements is a leadership mistake, and worse, it’s condescending,” says Clifton. “Purpose and development drive this generation.”

The Gallup report found that more than a big paycheck or in-house baristas, opportunities for development are what millennial workers look for. Job satisfaction still matters, but millennials care about having managers who can coach them, who value their input, and who help them develop their skills and find their strengths.

This ties in closely with what respondents had to say about performance management. Only 21 per cent of millennials met with their managers on a weekly basis, but the engagement rate of this minority is twice that of those who don’t have regular communication, according to Gallup. Additionally, millennials who received real-time, consistent feedback performed better in teams and contributed more to the company in terms of productivity.

When writing job ads aimed at millennial employees, focus more on work-life balance, opportunities for progress, flexible work options, and a sense of purpose behind the work, and less on the office ping-pong table.

4. They don’t care that your business generates ‘buzz’.

Millennial employees aren’t as concerned about hype as you might think, nor are they dismissive of traditional businesses either. Respondents to Deloitte’s survey said that they judge the performance of a business on what it does and how it treats people. Employee satisfaction and fair treatment, integrity and honesty, customer care, quality and reliability, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) were the top ranked traits.

Surprisingly, buzz and brand didn’t even crack the top 10. “Millennials are less impressed by the sheer scale of a business, its age or the general buzz that surrounds it,” researchers say.

They also found that overall, millennials aren’t as suspicious or contemptuous about business as some might think. Roughly 75 per cent of respondents said businesses have a positive impact on wider society, and this figure hasn’t changed much over the past few years. Respondents also said that they think businesses are behaving more responsibly than in previous years: 58 per cent agree that businesses behave ethically; and 57 per cent said their leaders are committed to helping improve society.

When asked, one Australian respondent says “following environmentally sustainable practices and offering employees a good work-life balance” guaranteed future success for organisations. Another respondent, this one from the UK, says that “to be fully transparent and strive for fairness and equality in all aspects of their working” was the most important thing.

These comments are a strong indication that millennials choose employers whose values reflect their own, and 56 per cent of respondents have “ruled out ever working for a particular organisation because of its values or standard of conduct,” according to researchers.

Businesses that provide opportunities for millennial employees to exercise their values while acting ethically and responsibly themselves have a greater chance of engaging this generation and retaining them.

5. They aren’t against making a buck.

You might think it’s all well and good that millennials want to work for socially responsible companies, but they also aren’t averse to making money. Deloitte researchers found that this generation is acutely aware of economic factors that influence business, as well as the financial benefits associated with job creation.

Millennial employees are great barometers of economic confidence. After all, their formative years were spent in the GFC’s wake. Economic confidence is relatively low among millennials in Australia, and high youth unemployment levels are front-of-mind. However, millennial workers remain optimistic: 41 per cent expect the overall economy to improve in the next 12 months.

Holly Ransom will be presenting on inter-generational leadership and the five-generation workforce at the AHRI National Convention 3-5 August 2016 in Brisbane. To learn more and to register, click here

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