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What HR Managers Need to Know About Millennials

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Every generation brings with them a unique set of workplace needs, and with no generation is this truer than with the millennials. This is a generation that has been through the harsh realities of long wars, great recessions, and digital revolutions.

These events have come to shape this new generation of workers in ways that are difficult to quantify. The modern workplace should not only be coping with this new, younger, and increasingly more diverse crop of workers, but should also fully leverage them for mutual success.

Who Are the Millennials?

The millennial generation might have the most variation in names, with such monikers as gen next, echo boomers, and the baby-on-board generation.

Some believe millennials include generation X, Y, and Z. While generations Y and Z are subsets of the millennial generation, generation X is its own category.

To avoid all of the confusion, here’s the most widely accepted generational breakdown in use today:

  • Silent Generation: Born between 1928 and 1945
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials: Born between 1980 and 2004

The millennials are now the largest generation in the United States. As of 2013, roughly one-third of the entire population was a millennial.

Not only are their numbers impressive, but millennials are also increasingly more diverse. Many millennials are either the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. The upsurge in immigration that began in the 1940s helped shape this generation.

The millennial generation has been called gen next, echo boomers, and the baby-on-board generation.

The share of millennials born in a foreign country is now up to 15 percent, the highest it’s been since the last great immigration wave in 1910. Almost half of all millennials today identify with a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white.

Beyond mere identification, millennials must have needs and wants. Isolating what sets them apart is the first step to ensuring their success in the workplace.

What Sets Millennials Apart?

Millennials are the most studied generation to date. Like every generation, they have a unique set of traits and desires.

This generation more than any other has mastered self-expression and social creativity, as shown in recent statistics:

  • 75 percent have created a profile on a social networking site
  • 38 percent have at least one tattoo
  • 23 percent have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobe
  • 20 percent have posted a video of themselves online at least once in the past

Each generation has been shaped by economic, cultural, political, and social influences. These are just a few examples of how successive generations have been shaped in the past half-century:

  • Baby Boomers: The Woodstock generation, shaped by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, idealistic and traditional.
  • Generation X: The latchkey generation, shaped by Watergate and the energy crisis, skeptical and independent.
  • Millennials: The connected generation, shaped by the internet, 9/11, and the great recession, collaborative and social-minded.

The Recession is an extremely important factor in shaping the millennial generation.

Perhaps the biggest differentiating factor between millennials and any other generation has been the rise of the personal computer and the Internet. Though it began with generation X, the millennials were the first generation to have spent their formative years with computers and Internet access.

This can be evidenced by how millennials consume information in the modern era:

  • Television – 65 percent
  • Internet – 59 percent
  • Newspapers – 24 percent
  • Radio – 18 percent

The bottom two industries are evidence of how millennials can impact an industry. The hands of newer generations hold fewer newspapers. Many publications are only finding success by becoming digital, increasingly the only way to reach millennial eyeballs.

The Great Recession could be the other single most important factor in shaping the millennial generation. The oldest millennials were 27 years old when the recession began, and many had to make very hard decisions regarding the future of their educations and careers.

The impact on this generation can be born out in the numbers:

  • 36 percent of millennials say that they rely on their family for financial support
  • 20 percent of millennials live in poverty
  • 13 percent of millennials have had to return home after living on their own

These are statistics that shape a generation. While many may deride millennials as being pampered and ushered through life with the comforts of technology and the assurances of capitalism, the statistics don’t support those views.

Having grown up in the prosperous times of the technology and real estate booms, the busts were especially hard. Millennials were stuck with establishing careers at a time when good opportunities were hard to find. This minor devastation of a generation has left some asking what millennials actually care about.

What Do Millennials Care About?

Millennials are sometimes called the most compassionate generation. They’re often the first to speak out against corporate irresponsibility, climate change, and inequality issues.

More than any other generation, millennials want to know that they have the freedom of choice. The modern world has exploded with new avenues of approach and millennials want to know that they have the option to do things their way. Millennials balk at doing things the way they’ve always been done just for the sake of doing so.

Knowing that they have meaning in their lives and are contributing to society may be two of the biggest things millennials care about. These desires permeate their personal and professional lives.

Other common concerns millennials often voice include:

  • Ensuring student loans are more affordable
  • Promoting digital innovation
  • Ensuring equal pay for all
  • Increasing affordable housing
  • Increasing access to affordable healthcare

Like any generation before them, millennials also have a unique set of emotional and social needs. They are the collaborators and the creative thinkers.

When asked how they feel about their personal and professional lives, this generation can often be heard saying things like:

  • I want to be treated like a partner
  • Give me tools that fit me
  • I feel good connections are important
  • I may be insecure about today, but I feel good about tomorrow
  • Making a difference in the world is important to me
  • I want my life to be an adventure

While some of these principles can be translated to the workplace, millennials do have specific sets of wants and needs where the workplace is concerned. Companies of today are becoming more and more progressive in their policies as they attempt to attract the distinctive millennial worker.

What Do Millennials Want in the Workplace?

Though at times the workplace needs of the millennial worker may seem outlandish compared to perks of prior eras, catering to this group may be exactly what today’s workplace needs to do.

Considering employee turnover costs 21.4 percent of a worker’s annual salary, keeping workers around for the long haul is strategically wise over the long term. Implementing workplace benefits that increase employee retention is more than just a good thing to do, it makes real business sense.

Employee turnover costs 21.4% of a worker's annual salary.

Millennials put “meaningful work” above “high pay” when asked what means the most to them in today’s workplace. Even then, high pay was only a few percentage points above a “sense of accomplishment.”

More and more companies recognize this and are beginning to adjust their policies to meet the needs of the millennial generation.

Some of these needs include:

  • Work/Life Balance: In today’s modern workplace, millennials want to know that they have the flexibility of enjoying both life and work; that those two are not mutually exclusive principles. They look for things such as flexible schedules, telecommuting options, and generous sick time and vacation plans.
  • Personal Development: Knowing that they are able to personally develop within their professional career is often at the top of a millennial’s workplace wish list. They often seek ways to develop outside of their primary job function. Having programs in place that enrich personal as well as professional development go a long way in attracting and retaining millennial employees.
  • Mentorship: Fully 53 percent of millennial workers stated that having a mentor would help them improve and become more productive employees. Offering a mentoring or apprenticeship program not only serves a functional need, but it also helps to bring people together and form tighter personal and professional connections throughout the organization.
  • Volunteerism: More than any other generation, Millennials want to give back. In a recent study, a whopping 88 percent of millennials said that their job is more fulfilling when employers provide opportunities to make a positive impact. Even more, 55 percent stated that it would affect their decision on whether or not to accept an offer.
  • Transparency: Being a generation that values collaboration and being treated like a partner, millennials want to be secure in knowing how the company operates. Some companies are even going so far as to post salaries and pay structures. While not every organization can go that far, by removing barriers to organizational layers and improving transparency, millennials will be more motivated employees.
  • Fun: For millennials, the concept of working hard but playing harder is more than a cliché. These are workers that want to feel like they are having fun at work. As a result, more company lunchrooms can be seen with ping pong tables, foosball, and arcade games.

Ensuring millennial engagement and workplace fun is about more than just providing physical perks or lunchroom arcade games. Millennials want to feel like their jobs are fun as well. Things like employee power hours or team-building activities that give people the chance to connect while completing a fun activity help bolster millennial morale.

Greater engagement means a better workplace. Increasing morale is a rising tide that lifts all boats. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of workers feel like they are just punching the clock, with no real engagement on the part of their employers.

This is something to keep in mind when evaluating employee loyalty. Consider that millennials began their career search during the worst recession in modern history; they may not have the same view of company loyalty as other generations do.

Many younger workers who had managed to land decent jobs at the start of the recession became victims of the “last one in, first one out” philosophy that often appears during a downturn. A full 49 percent of millennials surveyed reported that during the recession they were forced to take a job that they really didn’t want just to pay the bills. Almost a quarter reported taking an unpaid job just for the experience.

The realities of the recession have resulted in over a quarter of millennials expecting to have six or more employers during the course of their careers. Only 18 percent expected to stay in their current position over the long term.

While these realities may have created a loyalty gap, millennials are not difficult to retain provided workplace policies meet their desires on even a minimal level. Indeed, the new question on manager’s lips is not whether or not millennials will stick around, it’s whether or not they will be worth keeping around once they are hired.

Why Millennials Are Good for Business

In a recent study on millennials, Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, stated that millennials “are crucial to the development and growth of our economy, yet managers have a negative impression of them and it’s creating workplace drama.”

Some dismiss millennial workers by lamenting that they are entitled, lazy, and needy. The truth is that this tech-savvy and socially aware generation is bringing a new level of technical awareness and progressive thinking to today’s workplace.

This is a group of working adults who have been forged in the fires of the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression. While their workplace needs may at times seem as outlandish as they are innovative, they understand what it takes to grow a career and contribute to the company’s success.

Over half of working millennials say they're more focused on career growth than competitive salaries.

Today, over half of working millennials state that they are more focused on career growth than on competitive salaries. With this mindset, millennials may actually be some of the best workers out there and here’s why:

  • The Startup Mentality: The idea of embracing mistakes and improving on failures is etched into every millennial’s psyche. Since millennials come to the table expecting that their employer won’t be around in five years, they are determined to succeed and will focus on standing out.
  • The Social Mentality: In today’s global marketplace, communication happens instantaneously and news travels at the speed of light. Having a workforce that can navigate the complexities of today’s digital environment is crucial to succeeding in it.
  • The Expectation Mentality: Back when resources were scarce, things happened at a slower pace. With the digital age making responsiveness instant, millennials are adept at synthesizing multiple sources of information, multitasking, and weaving disparate parts into a usable whole.
  • The Digital Mentality: Today, the industries that are slow to innovate are the first to die. The possibilities of the Internet age present entirely new dynamics for the modern workplace to contend with. By utilizing the digital mastery that millennials bring to the workplace, today’s companies can give themselves a lasting competitive edge.

The fact is, by 2025 millennials will make up the majority of the American workforce. The successful companies of the future will have to adapt.

Moreover, as millennials continue to mature, they will develop skills that will be instrumental in shaping the technological future of tomorrow’s workplace. Ensuring that they are happy, productive, motivated, and enjoying themselves will be more than just esoteric ideas for a classroom.

Those pursuing a career in Human Resources will need to be able to navigate the millennial workplace of tomorrow to succeed today.

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