Millennials are Taking Over the Workplace: Is Your Business Ready?

Who are the Millennials? Also known as Generation Y, the Millennials were born between the early 1990’s and early 2000’s. This generation is adept at digital communication, social media, and technology – due in large part to the fact that they never knew a world without computers, cell phones, or the internet. Most Millennials have either graduated college or have been in the workforce for several years, and are becoming the dominant generation in the U.S. workforce and, along the way, are changing their workplace cultures, polices, and expectations.

One of our clients, a government contractor, recently asked C2 for guidance on how to update their culture and work environment to attract and retain entry to mid-level talent (most of whom now fall within the Millennial generation). The owner of the company, who is herself a baby boomer, was having difficulty understanding why Millennials sometimes act as though they are entitled to more, resist long work long hours, or want the option to work from home. As we explained to our client, the Millennial generation grew up in a vastly different world and have, as a result, a very different set of priorities and expectations than previous U.S. generations. Until recently, many companies could avoid hiring Millennials because they were still too young for experienced and manager-level positions. However, that is no longer the case as Millennials are poised to be the dominant generation among the nation’s workforce. Instead of avoiding them, the better bet is to understand them, in order to get the most out of the skills they bring to the table.


A. Some Interesting Statistics

An HR industry study has suggested that there are 5 ways Millennials are changing the Workplace.

  1. Transparency in the workplace: Millennials demand transparency from managers and from the executive team. Being in the “know” resonates with Millennials; they do not like being blindsided by changes or being told to perform a job without understanding why they are doing it.
  2. Working remote: This is not a new concept, but it has become almost commonplace among Millennials in their quest for better work/life balance. Millennials represent the largest group who telecommute. As of 2015, Millennials worked from home an average of two days out of each month. And telecommuting, generally, has grown in popularity — increasing 80% in the past 10 years.
  3. Choosing Experience over Degrees: Millennials who are in management positions tend to hire candidates for their experience, skills, and a good employment track record, rather than for their advanced degrees. This is the exact opposite of the generations before them, where degrees were often considered prerequisites and more important than experience. Interestingly, Millennials are generally considered to be the generation with the highest average education level.
  4. A better work life balance: Millennials “work to live”; unlike prior generations who “live to work”. Millennials expect that their work will not take over their lives, and that if they work hours in excess of their regular schedule, they will receive proper compensation for their time. Finally, when Millennials leave for the day, they ‘clock out’, and tend not to re-engage once they are off the clock.
  5. Adapting to technology: Millennials adapt to new technology better than the generations before them. This eliminates the requirement of a fixed office space to get their work done and means that Millennials often demonstrate better productivity while working than do their older co-workers.

Millennials also appear to view their relationships with their employers as inherently transient. A recent Gallup poll found that only 29% of Millennials are engaged at their current jobs, and only half of the Millennials plan to stay with their current employer for the next one or two years. Their average job tenure is 12 to 18 months. Having been born into the digital age, Millennials are used to instant gratification; they do not like to wait. If promotions are delayed, Millennials are fully prepared to move on to the next job.


B. Attracting and Retaining Millennials

Given the stark contrasts to prior U.S. generations, attracting and retaining talented Millennials can be a challenge. Millennials grew up in the social media age and, therefore, not only want, but seek out instant gratification. The fact that American workplaces typically lack the instant gratification and electronic socialization that Millennials have grown accustomed to can cause a disconnect for both the Millennial and the employer. That “disconnect” for Millennials can manifest itself in many different ways, including seeming impatient, aloof, lazy, or lacking “work ethic.” However, if employers take proactive steps to engage their Millennial employees from the beginning, capturing their energy and enthusiasm and then routinely providing feedback on their work, the result can be a culture that keeps Millennials engaged and excited.

Millennials tend to thrive with intentional mentoring; needing to connect with business leaders and senior management in order to understand their place in the organization. Millennials are also known as the “participation generation”. Growing up, Millennials got trophies for simply showing up – not just winning or performing well. This can put managers and leaders in a difficult situation: how does one provide constructive criticism without impacting self-esteem…and without handing out a trophy? It’s important to train your managers to be more transparent with Millennials, to communicate that achieving their goals or becoming an “expert” may take time, and to provide both positive and negative feedback on a regular basis, not just once a year during the annual performance review. Millennials also like to have their opinions heard. So creating opportunities for Millennials to express their thoughts about your organization’s business practices, clients, culture, etc. can help keep them engaged.


C. Takeaway for Employers

Organizations have definitely begun changing to accommodate their Millennial workforce. “Perks” such as chair massages, free snacks, kegerators in the office, weekly ice cream runs, free fruits and vegetables, napping rooms and monthly drawings for prizes are some of the fun things companies are offering to try and meet the cultural expectations of their Millennials. Some companies have adopted a more traditional approach and are offering “community Perks”, such as sponsoring employees’ recreational sports teams, creating book clubs or knitting clubs, giving Paid Time Off for Volunteer activities, flexible scheduling, telecommuting, casual dress policies, and an extra day of PTO for the employees’ birthday. Whether and to what extent any of these practices might enhance your company’s ability to attract and retain talented Millennials requires an individualized assessment of your company’s structure and culture. But one thing has become abundantly clear over the past half-decade – Millennials will dominate the workforce for the next two or three decades, and their expectations for what qualifies as a good “work-life balance” will require employers everywhere to be more creative in their approach to hiring, retention, and employee benefits.


C2 provides strategic HR outsourcing to clients who want to develop optimal workforce strategies and solutions to allow them to be more competitive and profitable. C2 blog posts are intended for educational and informational purposes only.