Who are Millennials and what do they really want? There are so many stereotypes and caricatures of Millennials, it’s hard to know what’s fact versus fiction.
In Jennifer Deal’s and my new book What Millennials Want From Work we take a look at the complete picture of what defines Millennials and their desires. The book is based on survey data from more than 25,000 Millennials and 29,000 people from other generations in 22 countries.
We find that some of what you’ve heard about Millennials is true – to a certain extent – but that most of the hype is just that: hype. What’s most interesting is the complex and seemingly contradictory picture of Millennials that emerges. This truly is a “both/and” generation that is both complex and much more dynamic than much of what you’ve heard.
Millennials are both Entitled AND Hardworking. One of the biggest knocks against Millennials is that they are spoiled and think that they deserve the corner office without putting in their fair share of what is needed to succeed on the job. We found that Millennials do think they are entitled, but it’s based on legitimate expectations of what organizations should do for them, and what they are willing and able to contribute.
Millennials feel they are entitled to speak up. If they receive performance evaluations or raises that don’t meet their expectations, they are not going to sit back and just take it without speaking up and wanting more information.
Millennials want to contribute. Millennials want to have a say in how things are done and contribute their ideas, which can be a good thing if channeled in the right direction to improve work processes.
Millennials are not lazy. Entitled does not mean lazy. Millennials are willing to work long hours and usually do. They don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office and are quite motivated to do whatever it takes to get the job one. At the same time, they want a life outside of work, and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments.
Millennials are both Needy AND Independent. Many people say that Millennials are very needy, relying on their parents too much and needing constant praise and approval. We found that Millennials can be needy at times but usually not as badly as the caricatures.
Millennials are needy for a good reason. What Millennials need most is feedback and support so they know that they are doing a good job, and mentoring to improve if they are doing it the wrong way. They know they need help, and usually aren’t afraid to ask for it. This doesn’t make them dependent. They actually are being quite strategic. They think about what they need to be successful, and that’s what they ask for.
Millennials need appreciation – just like everyone else. Millennials want to know that their contributions at work are valued, and to feel the appreciation for doing a good job.
Millennials are independent. The headlines simply aren’t true: Millennials don’t want their parents involved in their professional lives at work any more than you want them there. Millennials actually want clear boundaries between their families and their work lives – they want to be able to succeed or fail on their own terms, even if some of them were over-parented while growing up.
Millennials want to both Do Good AND Do Well. Do Millennials want to save the world? Many of them do, but not at the expense of professional success. On this point they truly are a “both/and” generation.
Millennials want to know that their work makes a difference, wherever possible. Millennials want to see that the work they are doing is contributing to society. But they also know there are limitations that depend on the business you’re in. Not every organization is in the business of saving dying patients or feeding the hungry, but Millennials nonetheless want to see a real contribution that goes beyond the typical efforts in your industry.
You can’t get something from paying Millennials nothing. Just because your business might be making a difference in the local community or contributing enormously to society, you can’t scrimp on compensation. And don’t think for a minute you can pull the wool over their eyes by trying to pretend that substandard pay is actually industry standard – they know where to go for comp information and will use what they find against you.
Millennials are both High Tech AND High Touch. Technology permeates the fabric of Millennials’ lives at work and with their friendships. But we found that they also highly value interpersonal connections and communication, especially when it comes to critical conversations at work.
Millennials love their tech toys and gadgets. Millennials love technology at work because it reduces drudgery and saves them time. If they complain about out-of-date technology, it’s often for good reasons because it’s holding them back from contributing more.
Yes they can rely on tech too much at times, but … Some Millennials text too much instead of picking up the phone, but the same can be said of older generations who send long strings of emails instead of walking into the next office or having a face-to-face conversation. Everyone needs to strike the right balance. Millennials’ inexperience at work means they may need more coaching on how to strike that balance, but don’t forget you were young once and made similar mistakes.
Millennials crave community and interpersonal interaction. Feeling like they have a community at work helps drive Millennials’ engagement and retention. And when it comes to having critical conversations about compensation, performance, and career planning, Millennials overwhelming want those conversations to happen face-to-face, not over email or text.
Millennials are Committed AND Leaving. Loyalty may be dead, but we found that Millennials are as committed to their organizations as any generation. At the same time, they have no illusions about who is looking out for them: they can rely only on themselves and not their employers.
Millennials want to stay and contribute. Millennials don’t want to leave. They want to stay, contribute, and move up in the organization. Young people job hop more than older people, but that’s a natural part of finding yourself in a career and figuring out what you want from work. Once they find a good match, Millennials want to stay as much as the next person.
We have sown the seeds of decades of labor market change. Millennials know that they can’t rely on companies to look out for them: they have seen the pain inflicted on older generations when the economy goes south and jobs dry up. They have heard the signals we have been sending them loud and clear: they know they have to be ready to jump ship if needed when times get tough. So they constantly assess the environment for better options, even while they prefer not to act on them – unless they have to.
Fundamentally, Millennials want to do interesting work, with people they enjoy, for which they are well paid — and still have enough time to live their life.
Which makes Millennials pretty much like the rest of us.