Company Culture

How Millennials Want to Work and Live

By Sarah AlexanderFebruary 8, 2017

There are more Millennials in the workforce than any previous generation, including Baby Boomers. In a study by PwC, researchers found that Millennials already form 25% of the workforce in the US and will form 50% of the global workforce by 2020. It’s clear that Millennials will be a powerful generation of workers and that those with the right skills will be in high demand.

However, companies have yet to pinpoint what makes Millennials tick. This generation generally doesn’t feel close or particularly attached to their jobs or the brands they buy from despite being more worldly and connected than ever, thanks to smartphones and the Internet. According to the Harvard Business Review, Millennials lead the pack of American workers who are unhappy with their work, with 71% either not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

This begs the question, how do Millennials want to work and live? Gallup presents a number of insights in its report addressing this question.

When it comes to work, Millennials bring unique desires to the table:

Purpose before paycheck

“Back in the old days,” says Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, “Baby Boomers like me didn’t necessarily need meaning in our jobs. We just wanted a paycheck – our mission and purpose were 100% our families and communities. For Millennials, compensation is important and must be fair, but it’s no longer the driver.”

What is their number one driver? Finding purpose and meaning.

According to Gallup, Millennials are looking for “work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important.” While Millennials might be generally unattached, they are seeking engagement – an emotional and behavioral connection – to their work versus simply punching a timestamp.

Focus on development over satisfaction

When it comes to drivers, development opportunities come close behind purpose, with 87% of Millennials in Gallup’s study stating that development is important to them in a job. PwC similarly found that that over half of Millennials report “ability to grow and progress through the organization” as the primary attraction to an employer.

Furthermore, Harvard Business Review has found that, contrary to popular perception, ping pong tables or other tangible items that try to foster job satisfaction can’t make up for development opportunities and/or meaning not being there. Companies are best off focusing on substance over form as they think about how to engage their Millennial employees.

Be a coach, not a boss

Gallup has found that Millennials want to be valued by their supervisors as both people and employees. As such, Millennials want to work with their managers to improve versus having a more traditional, and perhaps distant, employee-manager relationship. As Clifton says, “Millennials care about having managers who can coach them… and help them understand and build their strengths.”

Coaching has historically been missing in the workplace, but that is no longer a possibility for companies seeking to engage top Millennial talent. Organizations will benefit by encouraging managers to observe the four foundational coaching skills.

Communicate Often

According to Gallup, Millennials don’t accept “that’s the way it’s been done.” And this extends to the workplace, particularly when it comes to feedback and communication. Clifton says, “The way [Millennials] communicate – texting, tweeting, Skype, etc. – is now real-time and continuous. This dramatically affects the workplace because Millennials are accustomed to constant communication and feedback.” With this in mind, responding to email correspondence within 24 hours is a must, and manager might benefit by scheduling a recurring weekly check-in with your employees,

Do away with the annual review

Given the expectation of continuous communication and frequent feedback, annual reviews are becoming a thing of the past. Ongoing conversations are much more effective and mimic the continuous communication and instant feedback on which Millennials thrive. Organizations would benefit by considering more innovative processes for feedback, assessment, and promotion.

Build a strengths-based culture

Clifton observes, “Gallup has discovered that weaknesses never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely.” Organizations that invest in strength-based development achieve as much as a 29% increase in profit and a 15% improvement in employee engagement. As such, Gallup recommends that organizations transition to strengths-based cultures in order to attract and keep their stars. It goes one step further providing step-by-step guidance to implement this change in your company now.

Give employees a platform to contribute

Millennials see their job as their life more than ever. As these lines continue to blur, Millennials want their job to be their way to make a positive contribution to the world. “More than ever in the history of corporate culture,” Clifton says, “employees are asking, ‘Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution? Does this organization give me the chance to do what I do best every day?’ Because for Millennials, a job is no longer just a job – it’s their life as well.”

With this in mind, employers will thrive if they empower their employees – particularly those of the Millennial generation – to feel like they are contributing to the world around them by showing them how their role ties into the big picture.

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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