Inside the minds of Millennials

I may be one of the few bloggers who falls into the “Millennials” category, so I’d like to share stories that will help you understand how this group fits into your workplace.  

If you aren’t familiar, Millennials were born between 1976 and 2001, and currently between the ripe age of 11(!) and 36. We’re a demographic that by 2014 will make up 36% of the U.S. workforce, and 46% by 2020. But instead of sharing too many facts about Millennials, I’ll share some stories from friends so you can see how their different character traits and values may change the way you strategically recruit, develop and retain them.

Recession or RECESSisON?

When the recession hit, most people cried. Morgans Hotel Group said, “[email protected]*% the Recession.” It was a plea to take a break on the trading floor, and get on the dance floor. While it wasn’t a campaign for everyone, it was brilliant. Watching it two years later makes me realize how much it speaks to Millennials, whose values are very different — though no better or worse — than previous generations.  

So yes, when the recession hit, my friends nervously anticipated the day they’d be let go. Two years later, many who were lucky enough to regain employment and financial security happen to be the same ones considering the option of quitting. Why would individuals who were so scared of unemployment be the same ones ready to welcome risk? Simply put, life is short. While the recession took away their jobs, it gave them the time to reflect on what really mattered to them. Perhaps they want to work for someone else or for themselves, do something entirely different or go back to school. Maybe they love what they do, but didn’t feel their employers were quite right for them.  

We’re a generation that values diversity, flexibility, support, mentorship, growth, meaningful work, cheesy team spirit and a sense of accomplishment. We’re sensitive. We want to be nurtured. And unfortunately for employers, if we don’t get that, we’ll leave. But this isn’t a bad thing. If employers know how to nurture us, challenge us, build us and support us, we’ll value loyalty for a company more than we will a paycheck. What a concept.

My friends 

Friend #1: Age 33, loves working with his boss, and loves to lead his team. He’s been with the company for two years and has taken on leadership roles that are above and beyond his call of duty, but certainly within the realm of what he loves to do. He works with clients, manages a team, presents to board meetings, etc. When his annual review came up, he asked if the company would consider a promotion (in job title) to one that matched those in the company who were doing the same thing. While his employers acknowledged his hard work and were happy to see his desire for more responsibility, there were employees in the company with more seniority, and the answer was no. To compensate, they gave him a raise that was reflective of the promotion, but without the title. After two months of feeling deflated and somewhat underappreciated, he quit.

Friend #2: Age 27, just took on a new role at a company he likes. He’s challenged and has a strong relationship with his colleagues. He appreciates the company’s open-door policy, is encouraged to develop initiatives that aren’t directly related to his core job, meets frequently with his superior about growth and gives his company 150%. He’s staying for the long run.

Friend #3: Age 28, worked in a dream job with a dream company. As far as profile went, he couldn’t have had a better job for a cooler company. Unfortunately, he advanced too fast and too soon, and stopped being challenged. He later quit and took a huge pay cut just to learn something new and different.

Friend #4: Age 28, works for a company he loves. When he asked about growth opportunities, his HR manager couldn’t be more discouraging: “Promotions are available, but when the time is right. How you get there is something you have to figure out.” It wasn’t the lack of immediate opportunity that prompted him to update his CV — it was the lack of direction. Through the grapevine he later learned of a “secret” mentorship program the company offered, but didn’t advertise. When he heard about the program, he returned to the same HR manager, asked if he could have a mentor and specifically requested a particular director he looked up to, respected and felt he could learn from. The HR manager said yes, and the program now allows them to meet once a week for an hour to discuss work, growth, etc. This mentorship has given him an entirely new appreciation for the company and the role he plays in it, though he still doesn’t understand why the company would keep the program a secret. 

Friend #5: Age 23, university business student who’s heavily involved with helping social enterprises. When I asked if he was dying to graduate so he could get out there and make some changes in the world, he said he wanted to be a student forever. Why? “Because as soon as I graduate, I have to stop doing what I love.” Yes, even students out there are aware that most employers don’t value social awareness as a core strategy for business development.

Friend #6: Age 35, had a great job in a well-respected company. He got paid very well, would likely grow within the company and live well (financially) for the rest of his life if he wanted to. Unfortunately, the job consumed him. He had no work-life balance, and his job, while important, wasn’t one that involved any sort of social responsibility. He quit his job and went on a sabbatical to rediscover himself, and is now looking for a job that allows him to “do well (financially) and do good (ethically).”

Friend #7: Age 29, worked in consulting, then decided to go to law school. After finishing four years and just before taking her bar exam, she decided to switch into marketing.  

Friend #8: Age 34, grew up in Mexico, works in both fashion and marketing, moved to Hong Kong and Beijing for cross-cultural and international experience, and now lives in the United States. She thought her global experience and knowledge of both trade and marketing would be assets companies would value. While there are certainly jobs out there that she’d be perfect for, the common use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that scrape applications for keywords means her resume — impressive but non-traditional — isn’t on anyone’s radar.  

Friend #9: Age 35, is interviewing companies to see which is right for him (!).

Friend #10: Age 33, doesn’t like her job, but goes through the motions so she can build her resume. She’s loyal in that she isn’t going anywhere, but I promise you she isn’t giving it her all.

Friend #11: Age 35, has a great job and gets paid handsomely. He claims he’ll continue for two more years and then stop so he can open a coffee shop.

Friend #12: Age 32, when she announced she was pregnant, some of us thought she’d stop working to embrace motherhood — not to mention the fact that her husband can financially take care of their family and then some. But we were wrong. The company gave her a flexible work schedule and has supported her in every way, and because she enjoys the people she works with and the challenges at work, she’ll stay.

Friend #13: Age 35, has worked for his company for three years and works daily via Skype with the company’s office in another city. He asked for cross-training in the other office so he could build his core competencies and improve his working relationship with the other team. The company said no — not because they don’t have the time or budget, but they just didn’t see it as necessary.

In a nutshell 

Some people call us a fickle bunch — spoiled by opportunities and blind to what real hard work is. But we aren’t lazy. We just want to work in the right environment.   

  • It isn’t all about pay. 
  • We want challenges.
  • We value companies that support our growth. 
  • We value work that is meaningful.
  • We value work-life balance and may even opt for more vacation time in lieu of a raise.
  • We seek creativity and innovation.
  • We yearn for feedback.
  • We want to know what the rest of the team is up to.
  • And more.

Things to think about

You don’t have to try to understand why we are this way, but you should understand our different values and use them as a tool to better recruit, develop and retain us. It’s as important for employees as it is for employers.  

  • Do you need to change the way you approach recruitment? Are Applicant Tracking Systems that scrape digital applications for keywords instead of characteristic traits the best way to hire someone who has the greatest potential, and want, to grow within your company?  
  • Should you integrate formalized mentorship programs into the employee journey as a means to retain, support and develop rising stars?
  • Should you provide more feedback and increase transparency in the workplace so we know where we stand?
  • Is a flexible work environment necessarily a bad thing, or can it improve productivity and employee satisfaction? My creativity gushes when I’m at a restaurant with a placemat. Here’s my “wall of ideas”:
  • Should you encourage us to be creative, innovative and think outside the box for a few hours a week?
  • Should you look at perceived attention-deficit disorder as a strength? After all, some of the most successful entrepreneurs exhibit this.

There are a million questions to ask and a million strategies to employ. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, and if you need more insight, just let me know. I’m all ears and happy to help. Why? I do what I like, because I love what I do. I’m a Millennial.