Managers and HR leaders often grumble, or rant, about the trouble with Millennials.

“But much of the frustration is based on partial truths and Millennial mythology, rather than fact,” says CCL’s Jennifer Deal.

For 10 years, Deal has been researching Millennials and their characteristics, behaviors, proclivities, and desires, specifically as they relate to work and careers.

Her new book, What Millennials Want from Work (co-authored with Alec Levenson of the University of Southern California) presents a complete and complex picture of Millennials. The book is based on survey data from more than 25,000 Millennials from 22 countries and more than 300 organizations, plus 29,000 people from other generations from the same organizations.

“You can provide an environment where Millennials can be both happy and effective without ruining your organization — if you focus on what actually is important to them,” says Deal.

HR leaders, executives and line managers looking to do a better job of attracting, retaining and engaging Millennials should take note of Deal’s findings and recommendations.

Millennials are Entitled AND Hardworking. Millennials want to have a say and contribute their ideas. They resist doing repetitive or boring work. They want to have a life outside of work, and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments. But entitled doesn’t mean lazy. Millennials work long hours, don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office and are quite motivated. They want to contribute beyond their job descriptions and move up in the organization.

  • Minimize repetitive work and engage Millennials to improve processes so everyone’s work is more efficient.
  • Make use of their willingness to work long hours, but don’t take advantage of them.
  • Encourage employees’ desire to contribute ideas, and appreciate their willingness to speak up.

Millennials are Needy AND Independent. Millennials are often scorned for being needy — hanging on to parents and seeking constant praise and approval. While Millennials do want support, feedback, mentoring and to feel appreciated, that doesn’t make them dependent. They actually are being quite strategic. They think about what they need to be successful, and that’s what they ask for.

  • Don’t worry about managing Millennials’ parents.
  • Let them know how they are doing — frequently. Provide them with mentors and frequent feedback.
  • Provide support when things get tough.
  • Let them control as much as possible.

Millennials are determined to Do Good AND Do Well. Do Millennials want to save the world? Yes. But doing good is not a higher priority than doing well. Millennials want work that both enables them to contribute to society in positive ways and that rewards them appropriately. One is not a substitute for the other.

  • Be a good corporate citizen.
  • Make sure Millennials understand how your business is having a positive impact and how their work directly contributes.
  • Pay them what they are worth. Millennials know what standard compensation is — so don’t try to hide pay information from them.

Millennials are High Tech AND High Touch. Millennials are comfortable with technology. They have grown up with it and it is woven into their friendships and everyday activities. Millennials love technology at work because it reduces drudgery and saves them time. But just because they spend so much time attached to one tech toy or another, that doesn’t mean people aren’t essential. In fact, feeling like they have a community at work is a determining factor in Millennials’ organization commitment, job satisfaction, engagement and retention.

  • Let Millennials use their preferred technology to support their work, if possible.
  • Communicate with them in person and often, especially for anything related to compensation, development or performance.
  • Provide opportunities for Millennials to make friends at work.

Millennials are Committed AND Leaving. The research shows that Millennials are committed — they are mostly getting what they need; they don’t want to leave; they want to move up in the organization. But being committed is not blind loyalty or staying no matter what. At least a third of Millennials are assessing the environment for better options.

  • Provide good management and minimize organizational politics (as much as possible).
  • Help Millennials get development.
  • Give good reasons for them to stay. People don’t leave — Millennials included — if they don’t believe they can get a better combination of pay, responsibility, development and advancement potential and work-life control.
  • Reduce overload and work-life imbalance — they are real issues that will drive Millennials away.

Fundamentally, Millennials want to do interesting work, with people they enjoy, for which they are well paid — and still have enough time to live their life.

Which makes Millennials pretty much like the rest of us.


10 thoughts on “5 Truths about the Millennial Workforce

  1. Thanks for pointing out that millenials are like “us”. The hype about millenials being so different has caused leaders to forget the basic blocking and tackling of working with younger people, regardless of generation. I’ve found the millenial “difference” used as an excuse for poor leadership too often. Leaders who improve their own emotional intelligence and leadership skills will be effective with employees, including millenials.

    1. Leslie, in many cases you are absolutely right. Alec Levenson and I found that engaging in good management and leadership will work for people of all generations – including Millennials, regardless of the hype!

  2. It is nice to see an article that highlights the strengths Millennials bring to the table not just the characteristics that the other generations find frustrating. It is through finding and leveraging strengths that leaders can help them maximize their potential.

  3. I really liked the use of AND, especially the High Tech and the High Touch insight – breaks some common myths; ones I think we have held onto for too long! Its so easy to cling on to perceptions and create an “us vs them” experience. Looking forward to reading the book, and how millennials describe the workplace.

  4. Thank you for writing this book and conducting/collecting this research, Jennifer. I am really enjoying the book and find myself quoting it often (smugly, of course, as it backs up what I have been saying for a long time and I love myth-busting).

    I know there are “older” leaders – not necessarily in age – who find it difficult to provide the recognition and feedback that millennials want. I just think it is so nice to give feedback to employees who are open to it and better still, act on it immediately.

    Thanks again.

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