Keeping Up With Millennials How companies are trying to attract and retain the largest generation in the workforce

By Pooja Singh

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Take a look around your office. How many millennials do you see? More than half of the global millennial population—those born between 1981 and 1997—lives in Asia, and makes for a big percentage of employees in the region. Over 85 million millennials, also called Gen Y, will be in the workplace by 2020, and in the next five years, they will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce. Small wonder then employers are looking for ways to attract and retain millennials and create spaces that speak to the generations' desires, while fostering productivity, efficiency, connectivity and community.

Let's Talk Basics First

Critics say millennials, with their stubbornness, haughtiness and smartphone-obsession, are going to doom us all. Some say their laziness will kill the economy. Matthew Ashes, associate director (people, performance and culture), at consultancy firm KPMG Australia, doesn't believe so. "They are as hardworking as any other generation. They are motivated, passionate and caring, and are easily integrated into established teams with multiple generations," he says, adding, "Millennials are highly innovative and are always looking to enhance and improve."

A report by CBRE, a real estate company that has 80,000 employees spread across the world, too shatters many of the preconceived notions about millennials. Its "Millennials: Myths and Realities", which surveyed 7,000 CBRE staff members and 13,000 millennials in 12 countries, found that while much has been made of millennials' supposed tendency to switch employers regularly, majority—62 per cent—would ideally prefer to change jobs as infrequently as possible.

Generally, millennials appear to highly value the quality of their workspaces, says Foo Mao Gen, head of Southeast Asia for Qualtrics, the US-based software company that became part of SAP earlier this year. In an internal study, Qualtrics found that millennials, who represent around 80 per cent of their 2,000-plus workforce, place significant value on training and career progression.

To satisfy this need, Qualtrics developed personalized training sessions, in addition to placing a high emphasis on personal goal-setting. "We also equip our leaders with the capabilities they need to meet this specific need of millennial workers. We also found that giving employees autonomy over their work, and fostering a collaborative and innovative culture, can go a long way in ensuring employees remain motivated," says Foo.

The Magic Trick

What keeps the millennials happy the most, says Ashes, is a work culture where they can experiment and continuously learn. "They want to be part of brands that take corporate responsibility seriously and can demonstrate how they have a positive impact on the world around them. The best candidates have their pick from a wide variety of companies, so the hiring decision is as much the candidate choosing the company as it is the company choosing the candidate. Millennials want to know their leaders are committed to ongoing professional development, a culture of diversity and inclusion, and workplace flexibility," he explains.

Keeping flexibility in mind, Benjamin Twoon, chief operating officer and co-founder of Singapore-based investment marketplace Fundnel, started a policy that allowed its full-time employees to take unlimited leaves. "The nature of work at a start-up often means that every employee—from investment analysts and software engineers to the co-founders—plays a pivotal role in the daily grind. To ensure we didn't lose great talent to burnout, we implemented this policy," Twoon explains.

Though many questioned the effectiveness of such an arrangement, Twoon was certain of its success. "If taking a short break every other month recharges you, allowing you to return to work refreshed, delivering better performance and greater ideas, how could I refuse? To date, the system has never been abused," he claims.

With millennials, trust matters. "They desire a career that is compatible with the lifestyle they wish to lead, and this is different for each employee. A single parent would value the ability to work remotely more while a part-time student would desire flexible working hours. Understanding what your employees need and fulfilling that desire leads to employees being more satisfied with their work life," insists Foo.

Change is Here

Compared with their older generational counterparts, millennials are hungry to be constantly challenged. This penchant stems from the effects of having entered the workforce against the backdrop of a volatile economy and a rapidly evolving business landscape, says Twoon. "This may have led to the adoption of a mindset within millennials where self-development is prioritized, a move to ensure they will continue to remain relevant in an environment where a stable job is no longer a given in most situations."

To accommodate millennial working styles and beliefs, Qualtrics last year started offering an "experience bonus", worth US$1,500. "We created this based on the insight that our employees value experiences. It should be used to fund a "dream'–something people would not otherwise try on their own. For example, we've seen employees use it to attend the FIFA World Cup or build orphanages in the Philippines," informs Foo.

Millennials consider themselves to be innovative, and expect their companies to be so as well, says Ashes. "Millennials are digitally savvy and expect their workplaces to provide tools that promote productivity and efficiency, and, more importantly, a better life," he says.

It's no longer about work/life balance, but work/life integration, adds Foo. "The company that offers more of it wins because above all else millennials want to be a part of making the world a better place and the work they do must reflect this."

Pooja Singh

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific


A stickler for details, Pooja Singh likes telling people stories. She has previously worked with Mint-Hindustan Times, Down To Earth and Asian News International-Reuters. 

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