The millennial generation, now flooding into employment, will shape the world of work for years to come. Attracting the best of these millennial workers is critical to the future of your business. Their career aspirations, attitudes about work, and knowledge of new technologies will define the culture of the 21st century workplace.
Understanding the 20- and 30-something
In late 2011, PwC surveyed a total of 4,364 university graduates about their expectations of work. Graduates from across 75 countries took part in the study between 31 August and 7 October 2011. Here are our findings:
Loyalty-lite: The economic downturn has had a significant impact on the loyalty millennials feel towards their employers. In 2008, 75% expected to have between two and five employers in their lifetime. In this survey the proportion has fallen to 54%. Over a quarter now expect to have six employers or more, compared with just 10% in 2008.
A time of compromise: Tough times have forced many millennials to make compromises when finding a job – 72% feel they made some sort of trade-off to get into work. Voluntary turnover is almost certain to increase as economic conditions improve. 38% of millennials who are currently working said they were actively looking for a different role and 43% said they were open to offers. Only 18% expect to stay with their current employer for the long term.
Development and work/life balance are more important than financial reward: This generation are committed to their personal learning and development and this remains the most essential benefit they want from employers. In second place they want flexible working hours. Cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place.
Work/life balance and diversity promises are not being kept: Millennials are looking for a good work/life balance and strong diversity policies, but feel that their employers have failed to deliver on their expectations. 28% said that the work/life balance was worse than they had expected before joining, and over half said that while companies talk about diversity, they did not feel that opportunities were equal for all.
A techno generation avoiding face time? With technology dominating every aspect of their lives, it is perhaps not surprising that 41% say they prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face or even over the telephone. They routinely make use of their own technology at work and three-quarters believe that access to technology makes them more effective at work.
However, technology is often a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace and many millennials feel held back by rigid or outdated working styles.
Moving up the ladder faster: Career progression is the top priority for millennials who expect to rise rapidly through the organisation. 52% said this was the main attraction in an employer, coming ahead of to competitive salaries in second place (44%).
The power of employer brands and the waning importance of corporate responsibility: Millennials are attracted to employer brands that they admire as consumers. But while in 2008 88% were looking for employers with CSR values that matched their own, and 86% would consider leaving an employer whose values no longer met their expectations, fast forward three years and just over half are attracted to employers because of their CSR position and only 56% would consider leaving an employer that didn't have the values they expected.
Millennials are also turned off by some entire sectors - 14% said they would not want to work for an oil and gas company.
Wanderlust: Millennials have a strong appetite for working overseas and 71% expect and want to do an overseas assignment during their career. This is great news for many employers looking for global growth.
However, the bad news is that millennials are attracted to destinations like the US, UK and Australia at the top of their wish list, and only 11% were willing to work in India and 2% in mainland China. Despite this, over half said they would be willing to work in a less developed country to further their career.
Generational tensions: Millennials say they are comfortable working with older generations and value mentors in particular. But there are signs of tensions, with 38% saying that older senior management do not relate to younger workers, and 34% saying that their personal drive was intimidating to other generations. And almost half felt that their managers did not always understand the way they use technology at work.
What can employers do?
In reality, there are strong similarities between millennials and the generations that have preceded them: they want security and variety in their career; they want to be stretched and challenged; they want to work for a company of which they can be proud; and they have every intention of being loyal.
But there are many ways in which this growing proportion of the workforce is different. They have strong beliefs and expectations that extend to the workplace. There are a number of key steps employers can take to address the concerns that have been raised through this research:
Understand them: It’s particularly important to understand and address generational differences and tensions. Use metrics and benchmarking to segment your workforce in order to understand what millennials want and how these desires might be different from older workers. Think about this in the context of your Talent Strategy and Strategic People Plan.
Get the ‘deal’ right: It’s important for employers to explain what they are offering a potential employee, but also what they expect in return. Think creatively about reward strategies and what motivates millennials. For example, is it time to shift focus from cash bonuses to other things?
There is also significant gap between perception and reality when it comes to the promises made by employers on diversity and work/life balance. If employers want to continue to attract millennials, this has to be addressed – companies should review the messages they are sending out and test them against the reality of the employee experience.
Help them grow: Managers need to really understand the personal and professional goals of millennials. Put them on special rotational assignments more frequently to give them a sense that they are moving toward something and gaining a variety of experiences. Challenge them to come up with new ways to streamline processes and to exercise creativity.
Millennials have a strong desire to work overseas and this is a rich potential resource for organisations focused on global growth. Less desirable locations could be positioned as an important career path milestone. Every opportunity should also be taken to mix teams generationally.
Let them know how they're doing: Millennials want and value frequent feedback. Unlike the past where people received annual reviews, millennials want to know how they're doing much more regularly. Give them honest feedback in real time – and highlight positive contributions or improvements on key competencies.
Set them free: Millennials want flexibility. They work well with clear instructions and concrete targets. If you know what you want done by when, why does it matter where and how they complete the task?
Give them the freedom to have a flexible work schedule. Does it matter if they work from home or a coffee shop or wherever if that’s where they are most productive? Set deadlines and if they meet them, don't worry so much about their tactics and the time they clock in and out.
Let them learn: Millennials want to experience as much training as possible. If your organisation is more focused on developing high potentials, or more senior people, then you could risk losing future talent if you fail to engage millennials with development opportunities. Build and measure the effectiveness of mentoring programmes alongside other learning and education.
Let them advance faster: Historically, career advancement was built upon seniority and time of service. Millennials don’t think that way. They value results over tenure and are sometimes frustrated with the amount of time it takes to work up the career ladder. They want career advancement much quicker than older generations are accustomed to.
So for the high achievers who do show the potential to rise up the ranks quickly, why not let them? A relatively simple solution, such as adding more levels, grades or other ‘badges’, could be enough to meet their expectations.
Expect them to go: It’s inevitable that the rate of churn among millennials will be higher than among other generations, especially since many have made compromises in finding their first job, and this should be built into your plans. Do you have a 21st century Strategic People Planning approach?
About the Author
PwC is a network of firms in 158 countries with close to 169,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax and advisory services. Click here to download the “Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace” report.