Understanding How the Millennial Workforce Operates

Millennials aren’t just skipping school and driving social media growth anymore: they’re a growing part of the workforce, and will soon become the largest segment of workers in the United States. Technology, recession, and other changes in culture have shaped the way they view work, money, and life, and many older business owners struggle to understand how to engage them and leverage their talents.

The first step to successfully managing and working with a Millennial team is to understand their needs and priorities. Here are some insights on how Millennials view work, and how they tend to operate in the workplace.

Who Are the Millennials?

As with almost every generation (with the exception of Baby Boomers), there is some argument about when the Millennial generation begins and ends, but the general consensus is that a Millennial is anyone born between about 1982 and 2002. That means that some Millennials are now entering their 30s, while others are still in their teens.

Though Generation X and Boomers currently occupy most executive positions, many Millennials are responsible for creating tech startups, some of which have exploded onto the market and become massive companies. Soon, Millennials will become the largest part of the American workforce. They were raised as the Internet and technological advances became mainstream, and are deeply influenced by these forces.

What Does a Millennial Workforce Want?

While prior generations were often content to keep their head down and grind their way to the top (and the corner office), Millennials want something different from their workplace. They want to be engaged at work. They want to learn, grow, and find rewarding work that’s fast-paced, challenging, and varied. They want transparency in the workplace—they want to feel that communication from the top down is open and honest, and they tend to prefer a more flexible, informal environment.

Startups everywhere are catering to these needs by encouraging workers to wear many hats, offering rapid advancement opportunities for eager employees, and creating flexible work-life balance opportunities. Many of these companies allow flexible hours, unlimited time off, and work-from-home options to cater to the needs of their (mostly Millennial) workforce.

Finally, most Millennials want to work for companies involved in social and environmental initiatives, like organizations that are creating a sustainable supply chain, or fighting poverty in developing countries.

Strengths of Millennial Workers

Because most Millennials grew up with technology, they tend to integrate it naturally into their workflows. It’s easier for them to pick up the necessary skills to use technology in the workplace, and they’re comfortable diving right into new projects.

The recession required this generation to be scrappy and persistent; picking up new skills and pivoting when needed was a necessity to keep an income for many. As a result, Millennials are skilled at accepting change and contributing innovative ideas to the businesses they work for, solving problems creatively, and taking on challenges.

What Skills They Lack

Many people feel that parenting methods and access to technology have given Millennials some qualities that don’t lend themselves well to the workplace. Many Millennials are not skilled with basics like financial management, and 87% have sought help in money management from a social network.

Some still have a long way to go before they develop the “hard” skills needed to occupy executive positions successfully. Millennials also have a tendency to think about themselves without considering the bigger picture of their team, in favor of their own development.

How to Increase Millennial Engagement

Millennials have a strong desire to be engaged at work, but few of them are, in reality. Gallup’s report showed that only 29% of Millennials are engaged at work, causing stagnation, turnover, and low productivity. Employers can fight this by offering Millennial employees more challenging work, growth paths, and opportunities to pick up new skills.

Mentoring programs with employees of different generations can help everyone gain new perspectives and improve on skills they may lack. Compensation, though important, isn’t the most important aspect of Millennial engagement: making them feel like they’re part of something important and allowing them to grow is what’s key for long-term productivity and satisfaction.

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