Millennial employment: Do we finally understand them (us)?

August 12, 2021 - 20 min read

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Millennials: The biggest workforce right now

The many myths about millennial employees

What does a millennial employee look like?

Explaining the millennial work ethic

Attraction and retention of millennial employees

Leaning into millennial employment

In recent years, the topic of millennial employment has left some leaders scratching their heads in confusion. 

What makes them so different from previous generations? Are they disloyal employees? How do you effectively work with millennials?

One thing is clear — millennial employees have disrupted the workforce like no other generation before them. This change often means that millennials are met with confusion, resentment, and even stigma. They’re often described as an entitled, tech-obsessed, self-centered, and job-hopping generation.

But is all of this (or any of it) true? Or should managers, executives, and previous generations consider a different perspective? 

To recruit and retain this rising generation of young adults, leaders should adopt a more inclusive approach. Let’s debunk some common misconceptions and understand what the millennial workforce is really like. 

Millennials: The biggest workforce right now

When you think of a typical millennial, what image comes to mind? Is it a wide-eyed graduate with high aspirations? Or an experienced employee with a thriving career? 

In reality, it’s both. Millennials are a diverse group of people that were born between 1981 and 1996. Today, they can be anywhere between 25–40 years old and represent ⅓ of the U.S. workforce

As of 2019, the millennial population surpassed baby boomers in the U.S., becoming America’s largest generation

By 2025, they’re expected to make up 75% of the labor force. Learning what it takes to attract and retain this growing workforce has never been more important for leaders. 

According to a recent Deloitte survey, 44% of millennials choose to work for an organization that aligns with their values

They believe in their individual power to make a social or environmental impact on the world and want their employer to share this desire as well. Their eagerness to make a positive impact has increased even more due to the effects of the pandemic. 

Once they’re part of a company, they expect a diverse, inclusive workplace and a stimulating work culture and environment

Opportunities for development and upskilling are also important to millennials. When organizations can meet these needs, millennial employees’ loyalty increases

Based on data collected by Gallup, other important expectations millennials have of their future employer include: 

Many companies today are adding benefits that put employee well-being and mental health at the forefront. 

Millennial values and expectations are actually very similar to those of Baby Boomers and Gen X. As we’ll see later on, this isn’t surprising at all. 

Millennials have more in common with previous generations than you think. So why do they get a bad reputation? 

The many myths about millennial employees 

There’s no shortage of misconceptions when it comes to millennials working today. 

Let’s briefly look at some of the myths about millennial characteristics and why they’re not always true. 

Entitled 

The biggest millennial stereotype is their sense of entitlement. 

According to recent empirical research, millennials do tend to be more entitled than their generation x and baby boomer peers. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. 

The study explains that young, well-educated, and often over-qualified millennials have entered a job market dominated by several recessions and an older workforce that’s reluctant to retire. 

This resulted in millennials feeling disillusioned. They have fewer opportunities for advancement and are paid less for doing the same work as their older superiors. 

On top of that, 14.8 million millennials carry student loan debt. That is more than any other generation. 

In other words, millennials don’t feel like they’re owed more than other generations. They’re trying to come to terms with the (not so great) hand that they were dealt. 

Need constant feedback 

Millennials don’t seek and expect regular feedback from their leaders because they’re “needy.” They want to make sure they’re doing the best possible job and make a real impact at work. 

Asking for and receiving feedback regularly should become standard practice. 

Gone are the days of the yearly performance review. A 2019 Workhuman study found that 85% of employees are more engaged when they have weekly check-ins with their manager

Tech obsessed 

Millennials are the first generation of digital natives. 

They grew up with revolutionary tech like smartphones and personal computers. Naturally, they’re more tech-oriented and tech-savvy than previous generations.

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The ease with which they use it and their ability to adapt to emerging technology is a major asset to employers. 

The job-hopping workforce 

Millennials have also been dubbed the job-hopping generation. Not particularly loyal to any organization, they hop from one employer to the next, always in search of greener pastures. 

Is this really true, or just another myth? 

It turns out, there is a misconception about millennials being disloyal employees. 

College-educated millennials have longer tenure with their employers than Gen X did when they were the same age. Similarly, baby boomers did as much job-hopping in their 20s as millennials, making them no different. 

According to 2020 Zapier millennial employment statistics, millennials plan to stay with their current employer for an average of 10 years. Many consider their job a part of their identity, so they want to be in it for the long haul. 

But even though they intend to stay put, their actions contradict this. 

Gallup reveals that 21% of millennials have changed jobs within a year of being there. More than half of those surveyed said they’re open to new job opportunities, and 36% will look for a new role if the market improves. 

If millennials want to stay with a company long-term, why are they job-hopping? 

The reality is, millennials are unwilling to settle for a mediocre job that can’t give them a compelling reason to stay. 

They want to be engaged in what they do and work somewhere that feels worthwhile to them. The main reasons employees jump ship, according to a Gallup poll, are: 

In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey, insufficient opportunities to advance and develop were also a top reason for jumping ship. The other major factors were: 

The conclusion we can draw from these findings is that millennials don’t have unreasonable demands. They want what every other employee does. They’re just more willing to take risks and not settle until they find an employer that can meet all these needs. 

What does a millennial employee look like? 

The perceived shortcomings of millennials have been discussed plenty in recent years.

Instead of focusing on what millennials are not, managers and leaders need to change their perspectives. This generation brings valuable skills and strong moral and work ethics to the workplace.

Let’s take a look at eight positive qualities millennials tend to have that can contribute to your organization:

1. Purpose-driven 

When IMB asked why they changed employers in 2021, 27% of respondents said they wanted to find more purposeful and meaningful work. A quarter of those were younger employees, like millennials and Gen Z. 

These young generations are looking for more than a paycheck. Sure, fair compensation (and quality benefits) are important, but a work culture that gives them a sense of purpose is a millennial’s real priority. 

If you want to win their loyalty, your organization must have a clear mission and purpose. 

2. Impact-oriented

Millennials aspire to make a positive impact on the world, and there are many things that weigh heavy on their minds. 

Climate change, income inequality, corruption, and unemployment are some of this young generation’s top concerns, according to The Deloitte Global Millennial 2019 Survey. 

Ideally, they want to work for an employer that puts the well-being of people and the planet above their profits. Unfortunately, only 37% of millennials think leaders make a positive impact on the world. 

3. Tech-savvy

Technology isn’t just embraced by millennials — it’s demanded. Out of those surveyed by Zapier, 1 in 6 have left an employer that didn’t provide them with the right technology to do their job. 

Keeping up with technology is a basic requirement for any employer that wants to retain its millennial workforce. 

4. Aspirational 

Millennial employees have high career aspirations. They expect their employer to offer them opportunities for personal and professional development. These opportunities include:

5. Inclusive 

Millennials expect a culture of diversity and inclusion when they enter an organization. They are a generation that’s accepting and inclusive of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, and gender identity. 

Beyond that, they also define inclusivity as a combination of different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences within a team. 

Businesses like Apple understand this and foster a culture that’s inclusive of all groups. They also believe that “diversity is critical to innovation,” and they’re not wrong. 

In a 2019 survey, millennials ranked Apple as the leading brand for innovation

6. Collaborative 

While they were in school, millennials were taught the importance of collaboration and working as a team.

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Today, they bring this mindset into work and value others’ diverse ideas and input when making decisions. 

7. Innovative 

Are millennials tech-obsessed, or do they know how to use technology to their advantage? 

If they can figure out how to perform a task more efficiently with the help of their tech-savvy ways, they will always work smarter, not harder. 

Working more efficiently improves your productivity, boosts your time-management skills, and drives innovation. 

8. Resilient 

The pandemic has been the most recent of many hurdles millennials have faced in their lifetime. 

Despite the challenges and uncertainty, Deloitte revealed that the majority of millennials showed exemplary resilience. They became more purpose-driven, sympathetic to the needs of others, and adaptable in the face of rapid change. 

Explaining the millennial work ethic 

Lazy millennials? More like workaholics. 

According to recent data, 73% of millennials work more than 40 hours a week, and 26% juggle two or more jobs

Because many carry large student debt and are less financially secure than previous generations, they expect to work longer and harder. 

How long exactly? Globally, more than half believe they will work past the age of 65, while 12% think they will work until they die. 

As hardworking as they are, millennials also value a healthy work-life balance

Millennials plan to take breaks for relaxation, holidays, and hobbies. They put in the work, and in return, they expect their employers to offer them the flexibility to enjoy the things they’ve worked hard for. 

Attraction and retention of millennial employees 

As the older generations eventually retire, millennials will begin to dominate the workforce. The long-term success of your company will depend on your ability to integrate, motivate, and retain this young generation

Recruiting these highly-skilled, educated millennials will give you a competitive edge. It will also bring a new perspective and fresh ideas to the workplace. 

If your business recruitment patterns are outdated and don’t consider what millennial employees want, someone else will step in and steal your top talent.

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Once you’ve managed to attract millennial employees, it’s equally important (if not more important) to retain them. 

As we’ve seen, millennials can be loyal if you give them the right opportunities. Taking the time to listen to their needs and offer them what they’re looking for can improve your retention rates

Having a high retention rate has many benefits:

In contrast, a low retention rate can seriously cost you. Gallup data reveal that millennial turnover costs U.S. companies $30.5 billion per year. 

Leaning into millennial employment 

Millennials represent a massive change in the traditional way other generations work and view work. And change isn’t always easy. 

That’s why employees and even leaders have often met millennial employment with criticism and confusion. 

But in reality, millennial employees are ambitious, have a strong work ethic, and want to leave a positive impact on the world. Most of all, they want to be loyal to a company that can give them the right opportunities. 

To win their loyalty, managers and executives should create a culture of inclusivity that embraces them and what they bring to the table. The future of your organization depends on it. 

Need help building a work culture where every generation feels like they belong? 

BetterUp would love to help you do just that. Request a demo to get started.

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Published August 12, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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