The millennial generation (born between 1980-2000) is going to shape the world of work for years to come -- not just because of the generation's unique characteristics, but also because of its power in numbers. Millennials are more numerous than any other generation since Baby Boomers and form 25 percent of the workforce in the US. By 2020, that number could rise to as high as 50 percent of the global workforce.
Millennials are defining the culture of the 21st-century workplace through our use of technology, attitude toward work, focus on social impact and personal aspirations. It’s true that different generations tend to bring different expectations into the workplace, but diversity should be a positive thing. Instead of complaining about the differences between generations, then, we should be putting our efforts into understanding different generation expectations and how to fulfill them.
I started my company when I was in college. Therefore, my first hires were people around my age (all millennials), and I know what it's like both to be a millennial in the workplace and what it's like to manage millennials. Here are some of the traits I've noticed in the much-maligned generation and how those traits can make great workers and entrepreneurs:
Knowledge of technology
Probably the most common stereotype of millennials is our use of technology. We’re totally engrained in the digital world. However, it’s important to understand this isn’t exactly a choice we made -- it’s how we grew up. I remember asking my parents if I could create a MySpace account so I could talk to my friends and selling my American Girl Dolls on Ebay when I was in middle school. Millennials grew up with broadband, smartphones, laptops and social media being the norm and expect instant access to information.
So, yes, we can be less savvy when it comes to face-to-face engagement, and it's important to strike the right balance, but we often enter the workplace with a better grasp on the use of technology for key business tools than most senior workers.
Surveys have shown that most millennials would rather make less at a job they love than a lot at a boring job. Millennials want to work with a purpose, and they want their workplace to be aligned with their values.
We tend to believe that business success should be measured by more than just profit. For example, the mission of my company, Headbands of Hope, is to donate headbands to kids with cancer, and, whenever we make a new hire, we take that employee with us to a hospital donation so they can build an instant connection with the meaning of our work.
But, meaningful work doesn’t always have to be blatantly cause-related -- we generally just want to find alignment between our talents and a desired impact. That could come through in a variety of ways. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to highlight that connection and keep that at the front of communication.
A collaborative culture is important to millennials in part because of our digital upbringing and our desire to feel connected and in part because millennials love to work toward a shared goal, whether that be a radical social change or a work project.
We’re innately collaborative because we’re accustomed to learning in teams and learning by doing. A one-sided lecture is most likely less effective than a mix of instruction, self-directed study, coaching and group learning.
Speaking of collaborative learning styles, millennials are passionate about self growth. Personal development can carry more importance to a millennial than a financial reward.
For example, the average age of an employee at Citrix is 27 years old. One of the ways they use to attract young talent is extensive staff training and learning opportunities. Listed at the top of their employee benefits page says, "Even the smartest people learn here. Employees have access to continuous learning through technology training, in-person and online courses, tuition reimbursement and development of on-the-job skills."
Personal learning and development remain their first choice benefit from employers (second is flexible hours and cash bonuses come in third place).
At Headbands of Hope, my team earns bonuses that can only be used toward continued education, whether it's for photography courses or dance lessons. It doesn’t matter what they’re learning or even if it applies to their job, it’s just the act of learning something.
Skillpop teams up with local experts (right now in the Raleigh and Charlotte area) and hosts one-time classes ranging from cookie decorating to Photoshop. If you’re not in those areas, try virtual learning with Brit+Co’s classes. You or your staff can learn how to grow your Instagram followers, decorate your living room or how to start a business (by yours truly).
The overarching theme I can pull from all of these stereotypes is the desire to feel a part of something. Millennials want to be a part of the solution. We may be eager to advance or crave feedback, but that’s just because we want to assure ourselves that what we’re doing matters. I believe entitlement -- a common criticism -- can be confused with a desire for responsibility.
We won't be happy as just another brick in a growing tower.
If you want to learn how to attract millennials with your business or have a better understanding of what they need in a work environment, look at the companies that hire the most talented millennials. Google and Apple are naturally innovative and have never rested on tradition or how things used to be done. They don’t have to specifically put out calls for millennials, but their culture, work environment and management style naturally appeal to millennial’s desires.
Just like any generation, millennials have their differences. However, resisting these differences is only going to create a more divided workforce and companies will miss out on the next generation of top talent. To remain innovative, progressive and competitive, companies will have to step outside their comfort zone to design a culture for a purpose-driven millennial workforce.