Debunking the Myth About the Millennial Workforce

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Many employers see the Millennials (aka "Generation Me" or "Generation Y") as a difficult challenge and spend a tremendous amount of effort developing new and unique strategies to try and engage them. Yet, few companies take the time to ask themselves this…

"Isn't the Millennial generation simply trying to live out what previous generations could only dream of?"

Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers hold on to your hats….but maybe we are not all that different than the Millennials after all. I mean aren't the ideas of work/life balance, purposeful jobs, altruistic motives, and career fluidity things we have all sought to achieve at some point? Don't we ALL care about having a more "human" and custom work experience vs. merely clocking in and out on the linear road to retirement?

The key to engaging Millennials is to recognize this foundational similarity and admit that the real difference is that their generation is asking for these things (whereas previous generations didn't feel empowered to do so). So maybe it isn't really that the "values" are different amongst these different workforce generations, but rather that the Millennials are the first to aggressively pursue these values. Additionally, Millennials also have had the advantage of technology to strengthen this communication of what they want. In today's culture of social media, the individual voice of an employee can be equally as powerful as the institutional voice of a company. And with the range of online publishing channels, an individual's voice can be broadcasted with great influence. Simply put, Millennials know what they want and are asking for it with a loud and strong message.

As an employer that hires hundreds of Millennials a year, here are a few things we've learned over the years about how to engage today's workforce:

  • Use purpose-based job descriptions. The job should be written as a benefit-driven offer to the prospective employee; not a one-way screening tool. Don't just list out a set of responsibilities. Make sure to cover the "why" by explicitly describing the impact that an open role has on the culture/company/customers. Also, avoid saying "we" or "required" or "you must". Instead, flip the narrative around and use more "you" language (e.g. "You will enjoy working for our company which is #3 in the data analytics industry "… "You will be engaged in challenging work and handling the following responsibilities…").
  • Focus more on experiences, less on titles. Promotions are a more limited occurrence in one's career, while skills development is ongoing. Don't make the mistake of assuming your "robust" internal career ladder alone will attract and retain talent. It's ok to show the career roadmap within your company, but sell the journey over the destination. Consider adding other descriptive dimensions to any career pathing communication such as experiences, specific skills, and training they will receive along the way. You could also add a human element with testimonials of people that have made these career moves who can act as references for the value in moving into a new role.
  • Embrace the possibility of attrition. Most Millennials do not expect to stay at one job forever. Don't take this as a negative lack of commitment on their end. Rather than be threatened by this realty, accept it. While discussing career growth, explicitly communicate how the person can grow both hierarchically (in title) AND experientially (in skills). Acknowledge that it is a bit unknown where this person may be 2-3 years from now and that it's perfectly ok if they have not solidified a long term commitment to your company yet. This will build trust with them and eliminate any perception of propagandizing and hard sell on your company's career path.
  • Engage them in "doing good". This generation wants to make an impact on society, not just the bottom line. Millennials expect that any company will provide internal philanthropic programs for them to help others. Tie in your work culture and team development around selected charitable efforts and let the staff drive and execute on these social and highly fulfilling events.
  • Proactively help with work/life balance. Don't wait until enough people complain about something to respond with simple ideas for work/life accommodation. Proposing a sliding daily schedule or offering gym discounts can help support this cause for example. Any demanding job will of course involve sacrifices and a long day/week sometimes. But good companies make sure that there are not excessive demands on their staff on an ongoing and permanent basis.

According to the Pew Research Institute, Millennials now comprise the largest share of the American workforce and have a tremendous amount to offer. Their career/work desires may not actually be all that unique; they simply seek meaningful engagement from their employer. Companies must rise to the occasion and respond to this strong voice. Who knows…the millennials, who garner criticism from some, may ultimately be remembered as the workforce generation that forced companies to rethink and improve their engagement strategies. Many employers see the Millennials (aka "Generation Me" or "Generation Y") as a difficult challenge and spend a tremendous amount of effort developing new and unique strategies to try and engage them. Yet, few companies take the time to ask themselves this…