- Millennials comprise over one-third of the workforce and play a crucial role in the U.S. economy.
- Managing millennials in the workplace requires business owners to be transparent, flexible and willing to embrace technology.
- Millennials can be fickle; they’re willing to job-hop if they aren’t satisfied in their current role.
- This article is for business owners who want to understand all aspects of hiring and managing millennial workers.
Millennials play a vital role in the workforce and account for a significant portion of American employees. They’re an ambitious group that values transparency and work-life balance over salary and title.
Recruiting the millennial generation requires finesse, but retaining this segment of the workforce is also hard work. Millennials aren’t known for employer loyalty; they’re often willing to leave for greener pastures. If your business wants to avoid high turnover costs, understanding how to keep millennials happy is essential, whether they’re in the office or working from home.
Millennials change jobs often, which costs businesses $30.5 billion annually in lost productivity.
Who are millennials?
Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials are the largest generational cohort, comprising nearly 22 percent of the United States population and 35 percent of the U.S. workforce. They are tech-savvy, care about more than just a paycheck, and are accustomed to having a voice and a seat at the table. They’re an optimistic group that loves social media, and they want their jobs and encounters to have meaning.
What characteristics define millennials?
Millennials possess unique characteristics that must be embraced and harnessed in the workplace to foster employee loyalty. If you can’t meet their basic needs and provide the right work environment, they will quickly jump ship.
Here are six characteristics that define millennials in the workplace:
1. Millennials grew up with technology.
Millennials grew up with technology, including laptops, desktop computers and smartphones. They favor email, texting and messaging apps over phone calls and face-to-face meetings, and they are ready and willing to try new technology and apps. They expect their employers to support technology, especially mobile apps.
2. Millennials crave a positive work-life balance.
Many millennials grew up watching their parents put all their time and effort into a job, only to lose it during the Great Recession. They also lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both of these events influenced their views of work and life.
As a result, millennial employees crave a positive work-life balance. Many choose flexible hours and the ability to spend time with family and friends over a high salary. This desire is something small business owners can use to their advantage when competing with deep-pocketed companies for talent.
All generations seek work-life balance — not just millennials. The quality of your team’s output could suffer without a positive work-life balance, so helping them achieve it is crucial.
3. Millennials expect collaboration.
The typical millennial worker isn’t the go-it-alone type; they prefer to work with others in the company, often those in other departments. Collaboration is a key tenet of work for millennials — one that may have become more challenging during the pandemic if not for their comfort with technology.
Whether through video conferencing or collaboration tools, millennials must feel engaged and part of the team, even if they’re at home.
4. Millennials require a seat at the table.
Millennials grew up having a say in family decisions and expect that same right at the office, regardless of their organizational level. They want to be heard, and they respect the companies that give them that ability.
This attitude may be complex for an older-generation boss to accept. However, good managers should find a way to make room for millennial voices to encourage this ambitious group. Give them the path and the rules, and millennials will work hard to achieve their own career goals as well as the business’s goals.
5. Millennials want to continue learning.
For millennials, learning doesn’t end once they graduate college. This group has a deep passion for learning and a desire for career growth. They value educational opportunities and seek mentorship from those who came before them.
Companies that provide ongoing education, mentorship and professional growth opportunities will likely do a better job retaining millennial workers than those that don’t.
6. Millennials’ loyalty is fickle.
Millennials are a loyal group when a company does right by them. However, they wouldn’t think twice about leaving a company if another one offered them a better opportunity to learn, grow or balance their work and personal lives.
If your managers communicate with a multigenerational workforce, hold team-building events to help everyone get to know one another and learn to work together.
How have millennials evolved in the workplace?
Millennials have had an indelible impact on the American workplace. They have turned workplace norms on their head, bringing technology, flexibility and transparency to companies nationwide.
1. Millennials helped usher in more technology usage.
Companies that want to recruit millennials and improve employee retention must be willing to embrace everything millennials prioritize, starting with technology. Whether it takes the form of collaboration tools, video conferencing or mobile apps, technology is a top consideration for many millennials seeking employment. Small business owners will benefit from embracing the technologies millennials care about.
For example, consider the pandemic. Companies moved to remote work quickly and with few hiccups, largely thanks to the tech-savvy nature of their millennial workers. The learning curve was short, and many employees easily picked up where they left off in the office.
2. Millennials helped usher in remote work.
Millennials helped usher in the remote work trend, thanks to COVID-19. In the years leading up to the pandemic, many millennials had shown a desire to work remotely, but companies resisted until they had no choice.
“Millennials always appreciated work-life balance, and before the pandemic, a lot of bigger companies said, ‘No, our way of managing people is being that big brother over their shoulder,’” explained Andrew Meadows, senior vice president of HR, brand and culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings. “Millennials work differently. Accountability isn’t about sitting at a desk. It’s ‘how many tickets closed, how many problems did I resolve, or sales I brought in.’”
The more flexible you are, the more employee loyalty you’ll foster — and that’s even more true in a post-COVID-19 world. Employees have gotten used to working at home and expect the continued ability to do so.
Christina Janzer, senior vice president of research and analytics at Slack, said Slack research revealed that only 12 percent of knowledge workers want to return to the office, with 72 percent preferring a hybrid model of working in the office sometimes and at home sometimes.
Businesses also benefit from the work-from-home trend. Research from Ergotron shows that working from home can increase productivity.
3. Millennials have changed transparency expectations.
Millennials have also left their mark on how companies interact with their employees. Gone are the days of a strictly need-to-know basis for business communications. Millennials want to know what’s happening within the organization and expect transparency from their employers.
“The relationship people have with companies has changed a lot over the years,” Janzer noted. “To have a successful relationship, you have to be very intentional about how you share what’s happening and what’s top of mind. There’s a higher bar for that.”
How should you manage millennials in the workplace?
Millennials may not be the most loyal workers, but they’re an invaluable asset to businesses of all sizes. They bring a fresh perspective, passion and a drive to succeed. But you must tread carefully with this group. A dissatisfied millennial could quickly lead to an open position.
Here are some best practices for managing millennials in the workplace.
1. Provide fair pay, flexibility and support to millennials.
Providing millennials with fair compensation, flexibility and mental health support is crucial.
- Fair compensation. Millennials face high levels of financial uncertainty. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, about half of all millennials live paycheck to paycheck, and nearly as many have second jobs. The survey found that the No. 1 reason millennials leave a job is because of pay. However, the top factors they consider when looking for a new position are work-life balance and learning or development opportunities. To retain millennial talent, employers must offer fair pay and programs to provide financial training and support.
- Work flexibility. Since 76 percent of survey respondents said they prefer to work in a hybrid or remote arrangement, businesses must offer flexible workplace options. Remote work lets employees prioritize their time, saving them money and easing stress. Better work-life balance and more freedom foster employee loyalty and reduce turnover.
- Mental health support. Employers must also address the workplace mental health crisis and better support their employees. The Deloitte survey found that mental health issues, like employee burnout and workplace stress, plague millennials. Hybrid schedules and financial support systems are a great start, but companies must go further by providing mental health resources and creating an open and supportive work environment.
2. Encourage engagement and connection among millennials.
Millennials want to feel like part of a team. Collaboration is essential for these workers, but the pandemic took a toll on group connections. Business owners must ensure employee engagement is high. Left unchecked, disengagement could hurt productivity.
A peer mentorship program is a great way to build a sense of community. Younger employees will feel more connected to the team as they build relationships with older employees. These programs also benefit mentors and the company. Meadows recommends pairing a millennial with a more tenured employee from an older generation to provide a spark for your business. “[Millennials] are coming in with fresh ideas,” Meadows noted.
Keeping remote workers engaged is challenging but crucial. Consider hosting virtual meetings and hangouts, acknowledging and celebrating special events like birthdays, and fostering personal connections.
3. Foster trust and transparency with millennials.
Trust and transparency are the key ingredients of a successful working relationship.
- Trust boosts employee happiness — and retention. Conversely, a lack of trust generates resentment. “It’s not going to work if the employer doesn’t trust them,” Meadows cautioned. “It creates resentment and employees who are more outspoken.”
- The same ideas about trust apply to transparency. Millennials are an ambitious group who will meet and exceed goals if they know the endgame and rules. They want to know what challenges they’re facing instead of being kept in the dark. Communication and employee engagement are inextricably tied. Clear and effective communication can help millennials better understand shared goals and increase their motivation and engagement.
4. Stimulate inspiration and interest in millennials.
Business owners must keep their millennial employees interested. Millennials become bored easily and won’t wait years for a promotion. They want the next big thing yesterday and will go to great lengths to get it. “There’s a lot more fatigue over doing repetitive jobs,” Meadows explained. “[Millennials] want to be inspired at work, not necessarily invested in work.”
Millennials also pay attention to a company’s values and priorities. The Deloitte survey noted that 36 percent of millennials have turned down jobs because of a company’s business ethics. Since almost half of respondents reported putting pressure on their company to take action on fighting climate change, making sustainability part of your business model is an excellent way to keep millennial employees inspired. Social justice and diversity strategies can also help motivate employees to stay on board.
Consider creating a diversity and inclusion training program to demonstrate your commitment to fairness and equality across your entire operation.
Happy millennials make successful companies
Millennials may have a reputation for jumping from job to job and making demands that employers from older generations may not be accustomed to. But implementing the changes they’ve come to expect does more than keep millennial employees happy. Flexible work arrangements, more open communication, opportunities for learning and growth, genuine support, and a safe and inclusive work environment will lead to increased employee engagement and productivity for all workers, regardless of age.
These guidelines are a great first step to managing and retaining millennial employees. However, a good leader must listen and adapt to meet employees’ needs. After all, a business is only as strong as the people who make it. Happy and engaged employees will help your business soar.
Tom Anziano contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.
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