What do Millennials want from their employer?


May 15, 2019 / Marketing / Greg Atkinson

With Millennials now comprising a quarter of the world’s population and 35% of the global workforce, this generation is fast overtaking Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X put together. But though employers have an idea that these younger employees have different expectations about work and employment, it’s often hard to pin down exactly what Millenials want.

Commentators paint vastly different pictures about this generation. Some brand Millennials as self-entitled, easily offended divas, with lofty ideas but not much follow-through. Others laud Millennials for their social responsibility and concern for the wider world. Any point of view which casts a blanket understanding over millions of individuals is bound to be limited and flawed. But having said that, academics do tend to agree on certain trends when it comes to Millennials in the workforce. Continuing the expectation set by Gen X, Millennials are far more concerned about work/life balance than earlier generations. No longer purely or even mainly motivated by money, there is the understanding that work is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Work is what makes life possible. It is not life. In addition, the individual is responsible for ensuring that their life is what they want it to be; they cannot rely on the employer to do this for them. It is this idea of co-responsibility that distinguishes Millennials’ understanding of work from previous generations.

It is important for a company to identify the company’s Why (its purpose), before focussing on its How and What (its service or product). The What/How/Why concept is equally relevant in the present discussion. It demonstrates how co-responsibility can be pulled into every aspect of the business.

WHAT do we do together?

recruit mellenials
What do Millenials really want from their employer?

The What of a business is the service or product the company produces. It’s the work that must be done. As digital natives, Millennials are far more comfortable with new technology and techniques than older employees. So, manual or outdated processes which are slow, unwieldy or wasteful are particularly upsetting for a generation that expects things to be fast and efficient. Things are expected to just work.  

This is why Agile processes are attractive to Millennials. Done right, Agile can solve problems quickly – much more quickly than top-down management arrangements, which are often bogged down by bureaucracy. Agile teams are also linear and democratic, which helps to boost motivation and morale.

Instead of a leader issuing orders to subordinates, an Agile team comes together to jointly agree on the work to be done. Each person then takes full responsibility for their portion of the work, trusting that their teammates are doing the same. And instead of constantly looking to the supervisor, the person doing the work makes the calls on how best to get it done. This means each individual enjoys the power and freedom to work in the way best suited to them. With this power comes the responsibility for getting it done right.

The role of the supervisor is to guide and motivate, not to issue orders. Supervisors are seen as one of the team, albeit with more experience and knowledge. Authority in this sense means expertise, not a superior to be feared (or worshipped). In fact, for 86% of Millennials, a good mentor and the opportunity to learn would make them stay at a company.  

Businesses which employ Agile processes are giving Millennials the ideal combination of teamwork and personal responsibility. Employees are given the opportunity to use their skills to the fullest, while enjoying the support of colleagues and supervisors. This is the concept of co-responsibility put to work.

HOW can we do it together?

Doing it with a smile is a fundamental requirement.

In the same way the responsibility of getting the What done is shared, so too the responsibility of creating a congenial environment to determine How things get done. Responsibility (and the resultant success) cannot be properly shared in the absence of good relations between colleagues. And good relations must be built on trust and good communication. That’s why Millennials work hard to be good colleagues, and expect colleagues to return the favour. Friendships at work are not a ‘nice to have’, but rather an integral requirement.

More so than any generation before them, Millennials want a work environment that’s warm and empathetic. In fact, 62% of Millennials report having a best friend at work. This is significantly higher than the 50% of people in their early 50s. These friendships mean that 58% of male and an impressive 74% of female Millennials would stay at a company, even if a bigger paycheque is offered elsewhere. At the company, employees with friends report 50% more motivation. In addition, 60% of Millennials would stay at a company they perceived to be ‘empathetic’, rather than make more money elsewhere. All the data clearly demonstrates that for the average Millennial, the work environment outweighs money on the list of considerations.

Companies which recognise the importance Millennials place on interpersonal relationships should actively facilitate more, better, and closer relations between employees. Using a tool like Kalido will help the company do just that.

Kalido is a networking tool that helps employees get to know each other as people, not just as a job title. Users can see each others’ full profiles including skills, interests, hobbies, affiliations, past and future projects, and all the other things that make a person unique and interesting. Shared contacts, passions and backgrounds are also unearthed, which help people develop instant rapport. Networks allow employees to keep all their relevant contacts in one place, whether it’s all their teammates from a specific project, or colleagues from a specific department. Social networks like company running clubs or book clubs can also be created or joined. They encourage employees to socialise outside of work. Free in-app chats and calls also help with communication and coordination.

Much like the What discussion, Millennials will expect both the employee and the employer to contribute to How work gets done. Millennials will actively work to create good relations with their colleagues, and they’ll expect the company and colleagues to do likewise. Again, co-responsibility is evident.  

WHY do we do it together?

The ‘why’ underpins the mechanism of a Millenial in your workforce.

The What and How of work relates to the day-to-day activities of the business. But by far the most important aspect of a Millennial’s worklife is the question of Why. And the issue of Why relates to purpose – both the company’s and the individual’s. As we note in our post on ‘why profit is no longer considered purpose’, a company which exists solely to make money will actually see profits diminish in the long run. Companies are expected to have a higher purpose – a sense of social conscience. Shareholder returns are no longer the primary goal of business. Instead, companies should ask themselves what good they’re doing in the world.

It’s certainly a question Millennials will ask of their employer. And of themselves. As noted above, money is often not a primary motivation. Instead, Millennials want to feel like they’re doing something to improve the world. Their skills must be used to make a difference in areas they care about, be it the environment, animal rights, gender equality, elimination of poverty, or any number of social and political issues. While an older employee may not question a task or process, seeing it merely as a necessary evil to get the paycheque, Millennials are far more likely to ask Why. Why is that necessary? Why can’t we do it any other way? And if it’s not contributing to our higher purpose, Why are we doing it at all?

For Millennials, finding a company whose purpose aligns with their own is of the utmost importance. According to PWC, 53% of Millennials feel energised knowing their company is making an impact. 83% say the company purpose gives their day-to-day tasks meaning. And 56% believe the company’s higher purpose contributes to a strong sense of community.

Co-responsibility is evident again here. The employer is expected to have ambitions loftier than making a quick buck. And when that’s the case, the Millennial employee will work hard to help the company achieve its purpose, as it aligns to their own.

The concept of co-responsibility is useful for helping employers understand exactly what Millennials want. In all aspects of the business, it is a balance between giving employees support and guidance, and the power and freedom to take personal responsibility.