Every generation is shaped by the historical events and technological advancements that occurred during its childhood years. Millennials, as we all know by now from the endless chatter around the topic, have been shaped by a childhood of quickly evolving technological advancements, on one hand, and economic instability, on the other. These two heavy-weight factors have greatly influenced their relationships with work making them distinctly different employees from their predecessors.
Specifically, these technological advancements have bred a generation of workers who have different expectations from their jobs than older employees and who bring new skill sets to places of work.
Moreover, to survive financially in today’s difficult economy, young workers are choosing non-linear career paths with shorter employment tenures per employer.
The changes Millennials are bringing to the workforce are making obsolete many well-accepted human resource methodologies regarding employee compensation, organizational structuring, and employee motivation. To build new concepts and methodologies, managers and administrators need to first understand what sets Millennials apart from previous generations of employees.
Technology: A Connected Workforce
Millennials grew up digitally connected – their relationship with technology has changed their relationship to almost everything and everyone in their environment. As adults, Millennials are constantly connected (through cellphones, tablets, laptops, etc.) and quick to adapt new technologies for socializing and working. This gives them an advantage in the workplace when it comes to learning and implementing new technologies.
Teamwork and collaboration, unhindered flow of information and constant feedback through and with technological devices, are what Millennials expect in their work environment. They are adept at working together, sharing knowledge and leveraging groups to get results. This is quite different from the more individualistic, hierarchical approach to work that Baby Boomers and Gen X workers are used to.
Finally, Millennials’ affection for technology has also made them multi-taskers. Growing up doing homework while simultaneously playing a video game and watching TV has its advantages.
Money: The Economic Recession and the Constant Search for Personal Development
The worldwide economic recession has caused a weakened job market making it much harder for young people searching for a job than previous generations. Young adults joining the workforce are forced to compromise in terms of wages, status, and interest. In addition to the difficult economy, job markets are further restricted by delayed retirements of workers from the Baby Boom generation. Millennials are not only incurring wage losses but also taking jobs that are not a good match for their skills or career ambitions. According to a PwC survey, 72% of the Millennials say they made a trade-off to get in their present position.
As a result, Millennials have more personal financial issues. They take any job to pay their bills, return to live with their parents and take unpaid jobs to gain work experience. Nevertheless, job benefits are important to Millennials but slightly different ones than previous generations. In additional to health and retirement benefits, Millennials value work-life balance, including flexible work schedules, advancement opportunities, and professional training programs. They are especially looking to work in organizations that support their professional and personal development. Millennials also aim to work for companies whose corporate values reflect their own personal values. When corporate and personal values are aligned, Millennials are more loyal to the organization.
This means that Millennials are switching jobs more often in search of higher wages and career development opportunities and choosing a less traditional career track. The amount of time employees are remaining with any one employer has been shortening. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years an employee has been with his or her current employer is 4.6 with younger employees employed for even shorter periods of time. With Millennials making up a growing percentage of the workforce, corporations are looking for more creative ways to increase employee retention in line with Millennials’ preferences. Fostering commitment has been seen as an important goal for many corporations. However, traditional incentives such as partnership opportunities are less attractive to Millennials who value flexibility and work-life balance.
What This Means for Employers
Technologies are changing the way we all communicate and work – bringing many new ways to collaborate and freeing information to flow throughout an organization. Difficult economic times have forced organizations to become more flexible and agile – and with that, their employees as well. Millennials appear to be better adjusted to this reality.
Millennial employees value organizations that prepare them for their next employment opportunity through employee development and training initiatives. I believe companies would benefit from shifting their human resource goals from employee retention to employee development. This shift, however, demands the creation of new human resource concepts and methodologies and the implementation of new systems so that company goals can be achieved with a more transient workforce.