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Author's profile photo Brigette McInnis-Day

The Simple Truth: Millennials Are Not That Different!

For the first time in history, the global workplace will include five generations working side-by-side: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. With such a generationally diverse workforce, companies must adapt to engage all five at once, a seemingly Herculean task.

In partnership with SAP, Oxford Economics recently conducted a survey across 27 countries, including more than 5,500 executives and employees in large organizations. Results indicate companies may have an easier time engaging those five generations than it appears. Why? Well, the results conclude that Millennials and prior generations really aren’t that different. Some of the myths that they attempt to debunk include:

  • Millennials are more likely than non-Millennials to plan on leaving their jobs in the short term.
  • Meeting income goals is less important to Millennials than it is to non-Millennials.
  • Achieving work/life balance is more important to Millennials than to non-Millennials.

The Oxford survey finds that inter-generational differences are actually less pronounced than these myths would have us believe. Let’s take a closer look:

Myth Buster #1
The survey findings indicate that Millennials are actually slightly less likely than non-Millennials to leave their jobs in the next six months (21% vs. 23%).

Myth Buster #2
41% of Millennials say higher compensation would increase their loyalty and engagement with the company, compared to 38% of non-Millennials.

Myth Buster #3
Only 29% of Millennials say work/life balance is important to their job satisfaction, vs. 31% of non-Millennials.

While Millennials share similarities with non-Millennials, companies should take note of the distinct differences between generations.  For example, while both Millennials and non-Millennials are almost equally likely to want more feedback, Millennials seek it more frequently, with 50% preferring it on a monthly basis, and as many as 16% of Millennials surveyed wanting it on a weekly basis. Most non-Millennials (51%) would prefer feedback on a quarterly or annual basis.

As a whole, Millennials are not really that different from their older counterparts. The good news is companies do not need to overhaul their engagement and retention strategies to cater to the new generation. The survey suggests that current practices of fair and equitable compensation, focus on work/life balance, and creating a fun and engaging workplace will work with Millennials as well.
One area companies should consider increased focus with Millennials is meaningful work.
Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky, author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, argues that Millennials yearn for meaningful work. He defines meaningful works as “work that provides personal meaning, reflecting who you are and what your interests are, allows you to share your gifts to help others, and is financially viable given your desired lifestyle.” Meaning is personal, Poswolsky argues, so meaningful work may look different for everyone.

In order to provide Millennials with a meaningful and empowering work environment, Poswolsky suggests companies provide:

  • Purpose – Opportunity for meaningful work that creates impact

Measurable results will be key to demonstrate that impact and engage and attract Millennials.

It is important for leaders to partner with their people and understand what motivates them. They should also work together to remove obstacles in their way to enable their people to do what they do best every day.

  • Mastery – Mentorship, skills exchange, and/or co-leadership

According to Poswolsky, Millennials want to ramp up as soon as possible, and that means they want to jump right in to the work. The best way to facilitate a speedy integration could be to partner an early talent with an experienced leader in their department. Such a mentorship relationship would go both ways: the new employee gets on-the-job training from someone who knows the business, and the mentor gets exposure to a new perspective, and possibly new ways of doing things. Giving Millennials a voice will increase their engagement through a personal investment in the business.

  • Autonomy – Encourage career exploration and flexibility

The best way to encourage exploration is to provide opportunities for early talents to try out a variety of assignments, in different business units if possible. Fellowships or rotational assignments contribute to an employee’s career development, but they also equip the employee to move across the organization effectively, a skill that will be useful for growing engagement and cross-functional succession planning.

  • Empowerment – Design roles for your talent’s future, not just yours

Poswolsky suggests that Millennials do not see career advancement as a ladder anymore, but as a series of lily pads in a pond. You stay on a lily pad for three to four years, and then you move on to the next one, which may be a higher, lower, or lateral move. Forward movement in your career does not have to mean upward movement. His analogy concludes that while the lily pads may be different roles at different companies, lily pads are always held together by their roots under the water, meaning that an employee’s purpose will always be at the root of any role they take.

With that metaphor in mind, companies have to make sure that, in the words of Nathaniel Koloc, CEO of ReWork, your lily pad is as attractive and inviting as possible. Companies must show they take professional development seriously and they must provide a positive work environment.

  • Engagement – Positive reinforcement and feedback

As the Oxford Economics survey found, Millennials seek feedback much more frequently than their non-Millennial counterparts. On this point, Poswolsky and the survey agree: Millennials need positive reinforcement and feedback to remain engaged. More frequency is important but they also want to hear honest feedback so be sure to give it to them.

  • Inclusion – Holacracy > Hierarchy
Holacracy is a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss. The work is actually more structured than in a conventional hierarchy, just in a different way. In a holacracy, there is a clear set of rules and processes for how a team breaks up its work, and defines its roles with clear responsibilities and expectations.

Poswolsky argues that Millennials seek a flatter organizational structure, and a holacracy may attract more Millennial talent than the traditional hierarchical structure found in most organizations. Why? It comes back to meaningful work and the ability to make an impact.

The Call to Action

According to the Oxford Economics survey, only about 30% of executives surveyed say their companies pay particular attention to the needs and wants of Millennials.

Whether you subscribe to Oxford’s theory that Millennials really aren’t that different from other generations or not, it is important to recognize that the entrance of a new generation into the workplace will bring about unexpected challenges. Companies have to be ready to meet those challenges head-on.

The key question to ask now is: are you ready for the next generation?

Game on.


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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Really interesting findings. I suspect that these should be compared and contrasted with other surveys and research.  This certainly adds to the discussion. Thank you for sharing.

      Author's profile photo Carolyn Brock
      Carolyn Brock

      I like the lily pad concept. Lateral moves are so valuable, as each new role enables you to learn new skills and to network with other experts in the organization. With the new skills you learn and your diverse network of connections, you can contribute new, fresh ideas and foster collaboration between groups that otherwise might not work together.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Relevant to this group (Milennials, aka Gen-X, who are the children of Baby Boomers) and Gen-Y (the group that follows Milennials) is a blog I posted recently with some advice, counsel, observations, and recommendations that might be helpful.  Here's a link to "22 Tips for New Grads and Others Early-in-Career" 

      Author's profile photo Kenneth Moore
      Kenneth Moore

      Gen-X are not Millennials.  Gen-X = Born 1966 - 1976.  Gen.Y are Millennials born 1977-1994.