Millennials vs. the World: How Our Workforce Needs to Evolve

by Joe Reardon

I recently attended an event that included a panel of speakers representing industry leaders and subject matter experts in the areas of recruiting and employment. The topic of the event was “How to Recruit and Retain Millennials” – a subject getting a lot of attention these days, and for pretty eye-opening reasons.

The reality is that companies now need to accommodate as many as four generations of employees in the workplace at the same time. Even more significant, it’s estimated that Millennials will represent almost 80% of the workforce by 2020 – just six short years away.  The corresponding challenges that all employers face include the incorporation of hiring practices, and the creation of genuine cultures that foster an environment of employee satisfaction.

Thinking back to the panel on Millennial influence in the workplace, my take-always included several noteworthy, yet not surprising, facts:

  • The average time an employee currently spends at any one company is about 3.5 years, down from almost twice that amount a few short years ago, and
  • More than 60% of all employees express remorse during the first 90 days of employment.

Clearly, something is fundamentally flawed if over half our workforce regrets accepting their job. Before we delve into this problem, let’s start by establishing a few definitions (Note: These can vary a bit depending on your source). The Baby Boomer generation includes those born between 1946-1964, Generation X between 1965-1984, and Millennials between 1980-2000 (there is some overlap and this generation encompasses most of the group formerly known as Gen Y).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a proud Baby Boomer and my wife and I have four Millennials as offspring (I can’t exactly call them children anymore). Furthermore, I’ve been in executive search for more than 12 years and have been almost entirely surrounded by Millennials, as colleagues, clients, and candidates. In general, Millennials are tech-savvy, well-connected, multi-tasking pros that thrive in social media platforms and demand flexibility with work-life balance.

Recently, on a trip to the airport with one of our Millennial daughters, we discussed the reasons her generation gets a reputation for not being engaged on the job and, therefore, transitioning from one position to the next much more quickly than previous generations. I asked her what she looks for in a job and specifically what elements need to be present in order to be fulfilled and remained engaged for a “longer” period of time. She suddenly became very thoughtful and responded with the following, stating these aren’t necessarily in order of priority and she can’t speak on behalf of an entire generation:

  • A collaborative team environment with all working together towards a common goal
  • A culture where everyone wants to get better at what they do, and that opportunities exist for self-improvement and skills development
  • An environment where you have to earn the respect of your co-workers, and it’s not just assumed because of title or position
  • Appropriate and competitive benefits are provided and effectively communicated, and if not provided, resources exist to provide direction
  • Systems and processes exist that are efficient and consistently followed, and well thought-out ones are added/changed as necessary

After being presented with the above, I noticed and asked why compensation wasn’t mentioned in any of her observations. Without hesitation, she responded, “If a company is doing all of that, compensation will take care of itself!”

This generation’s views and preferences are not surprising when you think about what has happened in our society over the past 20+ years. They’ve experienced the real estate bubble and burst, a 10-year war with unintended consequences, the skyrocketing cost of education and burdensome student debt, a financial sector melt-down and “too big to fail” mentality, political party polarization and an increasingly ineffectual federal government (to name a few in my opinion). Due to much of this, the Millennial generation is relying more on themselves and their own capabilities to establish their own lifestyles. It actually seems pretty reasonable to me.

It also seems to me the work preferences my daughter mentioned represent the elements necessary forany company to be viewed as a great place to work.Furthermore, these elements, and variants of them, should be timeless and cross all generational boundaries. It’s time for companies to get in touch with what their employees need, rather than guessing and repeatedly losing out on top talent.

Companies need to change the way they’re attracting and subsequently managing their workforce, and we had better get busy. In six short years, this generation is estimated to represent almost 80% of the global workforce and, without change, we might be in trouble.

Start with yourself as an individual. Pew Research has a short quiz you can take to see how much of a “Millennial” you are. I took the test, and to my surprise, scored an 89. As a Baby Boomer, I should have been less than a 20. Fact is, I would have scored a 95 if I had any tattoos and piercings in a place other than my earlobes.

Take the test yourself! You may just find you already have a link to the Millennial generation’s values in your leadership.

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Photo courtesy of Public Domain Archive

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