Are We Asking the Right Questions About Millennials?

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The Millennial generation is the most polarizing topic of discussion among the professional HR community right now.

Are they THAT different? Do they REALLY get what we are trying to do? Are they as productive as everyone else, or not?

These are all questions that start interesting debates. But in the end, they’re the wrong questions to ask.

Most of the interactions I’ve had with clients around Millennials are focused on engagement, helping young employees succeed within an organization. Companies want to know how to motivate them and what incentives and benefits appeal to the best young talent.

These conversations are usually about acclimating Millennials to a current system – but the best way to approach the Millennial conundrum may be to think about the inverse.

Growing importance of the next generation

Millennials are becoming more important to employers. More are joining the workforce each day and those starting in entry-level positions are taking on more responsibility. Warranted or not, this generation has already caught a lot of flak from people of all ages. An example from a national poll conducted in September:

  • 68 percent of American workers of all ages felt that Millennials are less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work compared to their counterparts.
  • And a surprising 55 percent of Millennials echoed the same sentiment about their generation.

Statistics like these are important for short-term considerations about engagement and productivity, but there is data out there that is more telling. Things like:

  • 75 percent of working Millennials say workplace training would be more valuable if they were available on mobile technology.
  • 45 percent of Millennials would accept a lower-paying job with more flexibility towards social media access, remote work and technology choice than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.

Regardless of whether feelings about Millennials’ motivation and work ethic are more perception than truth, it is imperative to remember this:

Millennials are the future leaders of the business community, and they WILL change the norms.

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Instead of trying to figure out how Millennials can be groomed to fit the current mold, employers need to start thinking about how their organizations can change to incorporate what Millennials are bringing to our workforce.

Shifting dynamics

To answer one of those questions posed earlier, no, the Millennial generation is not all that different. Every ‘next generation’ has an impact on how offices are run and how business is done – and Millennials will have theirs. They grew up with more technology and are more comfortable with digital communication, but those are superficial footnotes that can be embraced rather than just being noticed.

Workplace norms change with each generation. In 20 years, Millennials will be the ones with gray hair asking questions about why the youngsters born in the 2010s just don’t seem to ‘get it’ like they did.

These generational conversations are cyclical, but the important questions to consider about Millennials right now are these:

Should you focus on making Millennials work for your business as it is right now? Or should you focus on making your business work for Millennials down the road?


2 Comments on “Are We Asking the Right Questions About Millennials?

  1. Excellent piece Dean. The reaction to Millennials in the workplace is probably not a lot different than that of younger generations in the past. It may be magnified a bit because of the more “self absorbed” nature of Boomers and their generational predecessors of the past.

    The difference I see currently with the Millennials is the drastic change in the technological landscape that they grew up with. “Any new idea (especially good ones) are going to be met with resistance since they alter the balance of power.” And technology – mobile and social media is exactly those ideas.The “powers that be” are at a disadvantage in this new world way of operating and communicating. In turn, they are going to resist and attempt to make this younger generation conform. And when they don’t (often for good reason), the old guard will assume they’re not up to the task.

    No amount of conformity tactics are going to produce positive results with the Millennials. This will especially ring true with the most talented and creative … the ones the Boomers need most. Answering your question Dean – companies will have to adapt and accommodate their new wave of talent. They have no option. If they don’t, these youngsters will be the ones that will ultimately compete against them … and win!

  2. Good question, Dean, and I agree with you Clay. The workplace changes with every generation. Employers who don’t recognise this and take the expectations of new workers into account are going to miss out on upcoming talent. We’re noticing a massive shift at the moment – pay cheques and benefits are no longer enough to motivate the next generation of talent – employees want to work for organisations with ethics and values, and a genuine commitment to their career development.

    According to Stephen McCafferty and Linda Holbeche from Cass Business School in the UK, Millennials want more choice and to feel connected to the world around them. In an article recently published on Changeboard, they highlight research conducted by Roffey Park, which found “What people want is meaningful work, a chance to be part of community in which they achieve something that matters. In particular people said they found work meaningful if they felt they could believe their leaders; that there was genuine mutuality of interest, and that risk and gain were shared.”

    What HR can do now is prepare for this shift in balance by being transparent and working to create authentic relationships between leaders and employees. Steven and Linda comment: “So HR, now is the time to step up, build organisations which are open, seek to build a continuous relationship with employees, and deal with the tough stuff in ways which are honest, authentic and human.”

    If employees genuinely feel valued, developed and passionate about what they do, surely this will lead to greater motivation, innovation and productivity for the business. Adopting to the changing needs of employees means organisations will be able to attract and retain the best talent. As you said, Millennials are the future leaders of the business community; the current business world needs to adapt.

    You can read the full article here:

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