Millennials, or Generation Y, are generally referred to as the generation with birth years ranging from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s. The millennial workforce population is projected to surpass that of baby boomers as the largest living American generation. As of 2017, 56 million millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers that accounted for a third of the labor force (Fry, 2018). This Y generation is expected to comprise 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% of the global workforce by 2025 (Deloitte, 2014).
This group is often described as adaptable, entrepreneurial, team-oriented, and creative. They tend to have skills and resources that previous generations do not, such as a unique technology skill set and global perspective. They also work effectively and efficiently, accomplishing more in an average workday.
Millennials are also described as continuous learners, team players, diverse, optimistic, achievement-oriented, socially conscious, and highly educated (Brack & Kelly, 2012). Approximately 79% of this generation’s members hold at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 69% of generation X and 62% of baby boomers (Smith, 2014).
While they are the most diverse generation in U.S. history (Brookings, 2018), many employers also considered them the most difficult generation to understand and manage. As such, hiring managers reported that attracting and retaining the right millennial talent is critical (Voogd, 2015). To do so, managers need to understand the three key personality characteristics of this generation.
Millennials are motivated by meaning. “The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and how it contributes to society as they are in its products and profits,” said Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Global (Deloitte, 2015, p. 2).
Beyond understanding how to perform a task, millennials want to know why. They are motivated to work harder when they understand the importance of a particular task within the context of the company’s big-picture goals. By focusing on making a positive difference in the lives of others, rather than on more materialistic markers of success, millennials are setting themselves up for the meaningful life to which they aspire (Smith & Aaker, 2013).
Millennials want constant feedback and crave recognition. They prefer a clear picture of what is expected of them in the workplace and what skills or experience are required to accomplish more at work, thereby setting themselves up for a promotion. They dislike having to wait for their mid-year review, preferring to receive bite-size feedback more often. They also crave clarity on how they are doing day-by-day, seeing performance management as an ongoing journey compared to a one-off event (Garg, 2016).
Millennials are eager to learn and advance their careers. Gallup (Adkins & Rigoni, 2016) has found that "opportunities to learn and grow " (para. 1) is one of the top three factors in retaining millennials and the only aspect of retention that separates millennials' needs from those of non-millennials .
Similarly, PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational professional services network, conducted a study about working millennials. Researchers asked millennials various questions about employers and the workplace, three of which inform workplaces. When asked about what makes an organization an attractive employer, 52% of respondents prioritized opportunities for career development. When asked about what influences a decision to accept a job, 65% of respondents prioritized opportunities for personal development. Finally, when asked about determining most valued benefits offered by an employer, 22% of respondents listed training and development as the most valued asset an employer can offer (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011). In another study conducted by Forbes, the number one reason millennials provided for leaving organizations was the lack of career progression (Rodriguez, 2018). Thus, it is evident that millennials look mostly at career development and job advancement when they decide to enter or leave a workplace.
In conclusion, millennials are looking for more in life than a stagnate job and paycheck. Their unique characteristics demand a different strategic approach to attract this type of employee. They differ from other generations in their expectations for learning/advancement, feedback, and recognition. Therefore, the big challenges for managers and workplace professionals in any organization is to understand this generation and know exactly what can attract, engage, motivate, and retain them. “Irrespective of the long-term aims and ambitions of an individual company, the ability to attract and retain millennial talents will be a vital step to achieving it,” according to the PricewaterhouseCooper’s 14th Annual Global CEO Survey (2011, p. 3).
Adkins, A & Rigoni, B. (2016, June 30). Millennials want jobs to be development opportunities. Gallup. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236438/millennials-jobs-development-opportunities.aspx
Brack, J. & Kelly, K. (2012). Maximizing millennials in the workplace. UNC executive development. Retrieved from https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/custom-programs/~/media/files/documents/executive-development/maximizing-millennials-in-the-workplace.pdf
Brookings. (2018, January). Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history. Retrieved
Deloitte. (2014, January). Big demands and high expectations. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-dttl-2014-millennial-survey-report.pdf
Deloitte. (2015). Mind the gaps. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-wef-2015-millennial-survey-executivesummary.pdf
Fry, R. (2018, April 11). Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/
Garg, M. (2016, September 8). 6 Steps to Launch a Millennial-Friendly Learning Experience. Mind Tickle. Retrieved from https://www.mindtickle.com/blog/launch-millennial-friendly-learning-experience
PricewaterhouseCoopers. (2011). Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace. Retrieved
Rodriguez, D. (2018, May 23). Close the expectation gap to attract and retain high-quality workers. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2018/05/23/close-the-expectation-gap-to-attract-and-retain-high-quality-workers/#3ef14ef4583f
Smith, E. E. & Aaker, J. L. (2013, November 30). Millennial searchers. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/opinion/sunday/millennial-searchers.html
Smith, J. (2014, November 18). What you should know about millennials at work. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/what-you-should-know-about-millennials-at-work-2014-11
Voogd, P. (2015, December 22). Six ways to attract and retain a dynamic millennial team. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/253605
Nidal Khaznadar serves as a Human Resources Manager at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. and earned a master’s degree in Human Resources Management from the University of Cincinnati. He has worked locally and internationally in for-profit and non-profit sectors as an HR expert who helps companies start, lead, and improve their HR practices. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org