What Millennials Want from Work

"Our research revealed that, fundamentally, Millennials want what older generations have always wanted: an interesting job that pays well, where they work with people they like and trust, have access to development and the opportunity to advance, are shown appreciation on a regular basis, and don’t have to leave."

- What Millennials Want from Work, page 9

What Millennials Want from Work is a well-researched, data-driven look at Millennials in the workforce. The authors, Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson, compiled and analyzed just under 25,000 surveys from Millennial-aged respondents across 22 countries. The respondents came from 300 organizations ranging from medium to large businesses. It may be the best researched book on Millennials that I’ve come across.

Millennials are often portrayed in the media as self (or selfie) obsessed slackers with a serious entitlement problem, but the research shows that they’re surprisingly similar to other generations. Here are a few interesting findings from the book’s research:

“More than three-quarters of Millennials believe that hierarchies are useful.”

“When the conversation is about something Millennials believe is important to them (their performance, their career, or their compensation), they really want the conversation to happen face-to-face.”

“…about half say they would be happy to spend the rest of their careers with their current organizations.”

Millennials may be the most tech savvy generation we’ve ever had but the findings above suggest that they’re more traditional than we expected. They believe in hierarchies, they want to have in-person conversations for things that are important to them, and many of them want to stay at their current organizations for a long time.

On the flip side, Millennials are also building upon the progress made by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in the workplace. They are engaging in conversations to push the boundaries in workplace flexibility, pay equality, and transparency from their organizations. Millennials, like the generations before them, are continuing the generational tradition of pushing organizations to change.

If you lead Millennials in your organization, you need to pick up this book to better understand the generation that is soon to take over the workplace. In the sections below, I’ll share more of the research from the book and how to better engage this generation.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Where’s the trust?

"As Baby Boomers pointed out years ago and Gen Xers reiterated, trust in leadership does not come simply from leaders having a higher-level role than those they supervise. The leaders have to continuously earn their direct reports’ trust."
- What Millennials Want from Work, page 61

According to the book’s research only 38 percent of Millennials trust their boss a lot. Organizational trust is even lower with only 24 percent of Millennials saying they trust their organization a lot. It’s a major concern for organizations when roughly two out of three Millennial employees have some level of hesitation about their organization’s or their leader’s trustworthiness.

It’s not surprising that Millennials generally distrust organizations and leaders. Many Millennials entered the workforce during the Great Recession in which millions lost their jobs and homes. In the eyes of Millennials, the days when companies promised a comfortable retirement after 40 years of service are long gone. Millennials today view themselves more as “free agents” in the market – ready to go to the company that gives them the best opportunity and compensation.

With that being said, if Millennials feel like they found the right fit with an organization that they trust, a leader that they respect, work that’s interesting, and a community of peers that they get along with, they’ll stick around. About half of Millennials want to spend the rest of their careers with their current organizations and just under 70 percent of American Millennials expect to work nine or more years at their current organizations.

If building trust is the first step in attracting and retaining Millennials, how do you make that happen? Below are a few actionable strategies.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be fair and open about compensation

"Overall, a massive 99 percent of Millennials we studied believe that their compensation is at least somewhat important."
- What Millennials Want from Work, page 82

Millennials might be even more sensitive than previous generations about pay. Many of them are coming out of school with significant student loan debt as approximately 70 percent of BA graduates take out a student loan in the US. Many are dealing with sky rocketing living costs (especially in urban areas) and trying to save a few bucks for retirement. Studies also show that generations that entered the workforce during depressions earn less over the course of their careers putting Millennials deeper in the hole.

Companies that have an unfair or unclear compensation system will have a difficult time attracting Millennials. In the last few years, websites like Glassdoor have been curating anonymous company reviews and salary information from current and former employees making it very easy to find out how much others make. If a Millennial feels underpaid, it’s easy for them to find out and collect enough information to make the move to another company.

Companies like Buffer are setting up Transparency Boards which make public the salaries of all the employees in the organization. If we’re talking about building trust with your employees, creating transparency and dialogue around salary could be a great first step. Most Millennials believe hierarchy is important so they won’t object to someone getting paid more because they have more responsibilities.

According to the authors, “organizations shouldn’t try to hide or skew where the compensation sits in the distribution board, because Millennials are likely to find out.” Millennials want to know if they are being paid equitably. While setting up a Transparency Board a la Buffer might sound ambitious for your organization, be aware that the lack of transparency in compensation structure is a huge turn off for Millennials and making sure the current structure is understood becomes a critical aspect of retaining this generation.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Provide opportunities for mentorship

"Ninety-one percent of Millennials say they either have or want a mentor…While 73 percent of Millennials expect their supervisors to help, only 57 percent report that their supervisors do."
- What Millennials Want from Work, page 51-52

As young, inexperienced professionals, Millennials have a lot to learn. For many of them, having the right manager can make a huge difference and according to the research, mentorship is an area that Millennials are very interested in.

A couple of years ago I was hired onto a business development team at a global tech company. The average age of the employees in the department was around 26 years old. One of the most useful programs they provided was a mentorship program in which they paired every new hire with an experienced peer. The mentors were chosen based on their tenure and success with the role. In the first few months on the job I would shadow my mentor, ask him questions, listen into his client calls, and even have him listen into my calls. My mentor pointed out other people on the team to learn from and introduced me to a variety of resources that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. While my manager supported me with coaching conversations every week, the day-to-day mentorship helped my growth during the early stages. Overall, it was critical to my onboarding and success at the company.

Mentorship programs add another benefit that Millennials want more of – frequent feedback. According to the authors, “while 54 percent of Millennials would like developmental feedback monthly or more frequently (daily or weekly), only 23 percent say they get feedback that frequently.” Exploring options for mentorship programs is a great way to train and empower Millennials. It complements the manager’s coaching conversations and a way for the mentors themselves to develop leadership and coaching skills themselves.

If you lead Millennials in your organization or are curious to find out how this will change the workplace, What Millennials Want from Work is a well-researched, data-driven resource for you. My only wish from this book was to see some research on Millennials in startups and small businesses as they may have a different take on the world of work compared to their corporate peers. That aside, it was an enlightening look into the world of Millennials and how they’re set to continue to change our workplace.

What are your thoughts on the Millennial generation? What are the similarities and differences they have from other generations?

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Peter Nakamura

ABOUT Peter Nakamura

Peter was born and raised in Kobe, Japan. He moved to Ontario, Canada and completed a Commerce degree at Queen's University. Upon graduating, Peter spent a year in Mozambique working at a microfinance bank to improve access to loans for local entrepreneurs...
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