Employers: This Is What Millennials Really Want From You

July 8, 2016

The infamous “Millennial” generation has been a hot topic of conversation in organizations around the world. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, two-thirds of Millennials will express a desire to leave their current employer by 2020. AMA recently interviewed Alec Levenson and Jennifer J. Deal, authors of What Millennials Want from Work: How to Maximize Engagement in Today’s Workforce, to discuss some ways in which employers can make the workplace more attractive to this generation.

Q: Why do you believe the young workforce is getting a bad rep for being lazy, unmotivated etc., and what is the reasoning behind it?

A: Older people typically say this about younger people entering the workforce. We saw this pattern with Baby Boomers in the late 1960s, and with Gen Xers in the late 1990s, and now we hear the same complaints about Millennials.

Q: In previous years, it was thought to be better to stay at a company longer. Now, it seems that the current workforce is shifting so people typically gain their experience for a year or two and then move on. Is there a benefit to one over the other? What seems to be driving this shift?

A: In the 1950s and 1960s (and maybe the 1970s) it was better to stay at a company longer, but it appears that perception shifted substantially when the implicit work contract changed in the 1980s.  The amount of job hopping also depends on the health of the economy and labor market.  Since the late 1990s it has been pretty common for people to change jobs after a year or two of experience when there isn’t a next step in the organization.  In fact, young people changing jobs was much more common 1996-2006 than it is now.  You can see the analysis did on this.

Q: Have you seen issues arise when employers attempt to anticipate what Millennials “want,” and get it wrong?

A: Employers who focus on giving Millennials toys like new iPads and don’t provide the basics—good pay and benefits, workplace flexibility, interesting work, the opportunity to grow and develop, the opportunity to be promoted—misunderstand what motivates Millennials.  Sure, they’d like the new iPad, but that isn’t going to impress them as much as providing the basics.

Q: Have you noticed the impact of office design on younger workers?

A: Younger workers want what older workers want—a space where they can do their work efficiently and well, and not have their time unduly wasted.  There is a lot of hype about younger workers wanting open café-like environments, perhaps because of the impression it gives of community, which is important to Millennials.  Millennials do want a community at work, but that is about the people, not the space.  Millennials may like how some of the new office designs look, but if it interferes with their work, they get frustrated.  Both Millennials and older workers complain about the problems of open office environments when not enough space is created for quiet work and reflection.  They believe they are at work to get work done, and often open environments are not conductive to focus or productivity.

Q: What is your definition of a “good boss?” Do you think Millennials expect more from their bosses today than generations in the past?

A: Millennials want what people have always wanted… a boss who cares about them, pays attention to their development needs, acts as an advocate (rather than throwing them under the bus), gives them credit for their work (rather than pretending everything is their own idea), helps them find new growth opportunities, is trustworthy, works to get them paid well, and understands—and accepts—that life isn’t all about work.

Q: What are some helpful pieces of advice for hiring managers looking to fill new positions?

A: What people want from work is pretty much the same, regardless of generation. If you have an effective employee value proposition, you will be able to attract and retain more than your fair share of good job candidates.


alec levenson

Alec Levenson  is a senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.


jennifer deal

Jennifer J. Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.


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