Motivating Millennials: It’s About Pay, a Fair Say, and Solid Management

Maybe Millennials are more grown up than people think.

That’s the takeaway from a study recently conducted at workplace research site Great Rated, examining the way young employees assess their current companies.

Our study of about 150 companies found that three factors move the needle most for Millennials when it comes to a great workplace:

  1. Fair pay;
  2. A say in decisions; and,
  3. Competent management.

A focus on getting paid fairly

Those factors showed the most variation between the 10 companies that Millennials rated as the best workplaces in the study and the 10 companies with the lowest scores.

A lot has been written about how Millennials expect their voices to be heard, so their preference for workplaces with shared decision-making isn’t surprising. Less has been said about Millennials’ focus on the size of their paychecks, or about their attention to the effectiveness of leaders.

In wanting equitable pay and caring about competent managers, our research suggests this generation is more mature and grounded than we tend to believe. Consider this statement from a young employee at Quicken Loans, one of the 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials we identify in the research:

I work to make money, and ultimately I don’t see other companies paying people fairly based on the work you do. I work very hard but get paid very well.”

A focus on getting paid fairly

The study of Millennials’ views on their workplaces is based on the average scores of employees younger than 35-years-old on the Trust Index Employee Survey, the 58-statement survey measuring levels of trust, pride and camaraderie produced by Great Place to Work (Great Rated’s parent company).

Companies included in the research had to have surveyed at least 50 employees younger than age 35. The 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials had the top Trust Index scores from young people in Great Rated’s database of qualifying companies.

Levels of trust are significantly higher for young people at the 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials. As a group, the 10 Great Places for Millennials have an average Trust Index score among young people 24 percent higher than the 10 companies scoring lowest with this age group

Here are the Trust Index statements showing the greatest variation (the difference in percentage points) between the 10 companies that score highest and lowest with Millennials: Trust Index Statement:

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  1. I feel I receive a fair share of the profits made by this organization37 points
  2. People here are paid fairly for the work they do 33 points.
  3. Management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment 28 points.
  4. Management does a good job of assigning and coordinating people26 points.
  5. Managers avoid playing favorites26 points.
  6. People look forward to coming to work here26 points.
  7. Everyone has an opportunity to get special recognition25 points.
  8. Management delivers on its promise 25 points.
  9. Promotions go to those who best deserve them25 points.
  10. Management keeps me informed about important issues and changes 24 points.

Similar, but different, generational concerns

Taken together, these key factors for Millennials show a generation with workplace concerns that are both similar to those of older generations as well as different, novel. Focusing on management’s ability to coordinate work well, on pay, on fairness and on leadership integrity may be familiar to Gen Y and to Baby Boomers. But democracy and a good time at work haven’t been priorities associated with previous generations.

To me, pushing companies to be more participatory and pleasant is a positive. And there’s another new contribution from Millennials: an expectation to be treated as an individual.

The statement, “Management shows a sincere interest in me as a person, not just an employee” also showed a significant difference between the 10 highest and lowest scoring workplaces. The 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials scored 21 percentage points higher on this question.

To illustrate this desire to be seen as more than a number or a cog in a machine, consider the words of the same Quicken Loans employee quoted above: “My team leader truly cares about my personal growth in life, not just work.”

Recognizing everyone as a whole person

Maybe Millennials are lifting the bar for all of us. Whereas being treated as a unique human being on the job was once a luxury, we’re moving to more humane workplaces where everyone is recognized as a whole person.

Maybe we’ll look back a few years hence and thank Gen Y for improving what all grown-ups can expect in a workplace.

Ed Frauenheim is an editor at Great Rated!™, the workplace research site that gives job seekers the inside scoop on companies and their cultures so they can find their best fit. ?Ed produces content for Great Rated! and for its parent organization Great Place to Work®. Ed has been writing about work, business and technology for 15 years, including eight years as a reporter and editor at Workforce magazine. He is also co-author of two books: "Good Company: Business Success in the Worthiness Era," and "Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity." Contact him at


2 Comments on “Motivating Millennials: It’s About Pay, a Fair Say, and Solid Management

  1. Interesting study with useful info. Much of the info further proves what I’ve found in my own work and seen in other research. As a GenY cusper – and a diversity and inclusion and OD practitioner also practicing in generational diversity – I’ve found that what Millennials want is not that much different than other generations. The way they go about expressing needs and desires in the workplace, communication practices in both directions (from business to employee and employee to the business) is what often causes the most conflict and confusion. Though, most of the fundamental needs (trust, having a voice, recognition) are pretty much the same – though the way they expect to see/hear these things may be a bit different.

  2. Nothing really knew but here’s the problem. First, my guess is many people in other generations probably want the same thing. Nothing monumental here. Second, and more importantly, surveys such as these continue to widen the gap between our understanding of what people truly want instead of close the gap. These types of surveys assume that a handful of those who responded to the survey are indicative of ALL people within that generation. People then take these types of results and apply it to everyone within that specific generation. Instead, I’d rather read articles that stress the importance of asking EACH INDIVIDUAL about what’s important to that person… what motivates them, what’s important to them at work, what they value. I’m not sure when survey results became more valuable than individual dialogue but I think it’s about time we returned to the value of having actual conversations.

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