Best Practices for Managing Millennials in the Workplace

When the word “millennials” comes up in HR situations, it can sometimes be construed as “employees that are new to the workforce.” Today, this is far from true. Most millennials are in their 30s or late 20s, have been in the workforce for many years, and have long been considering career advancement or positions that benefit their work experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics once predicted that by 2030, 75% of the workers in the United States would be millennials. 

For a group that is quickly becoming the dominant labor force in the country, millennials have deep struggles with the workplace. A Great Place to Work survey in 2021 indicated that only 44% of millennials at U.S. businesses are having a positive experience at work. That’s the lowest figure of any surveyed generation. Around 67% of millennials do not believe that management’s actions match their words. That’s a steep challenge for HR in the coming years. Let’s take a closer look at what millennials look for, and the best leadership structures for their generation.

Focused coworkers discussing over laptop in a well-organized office space.

What are Millennial Values?

People often speak about millennials as though they have different values and different perspectives than any other generation before them. This is often true, and numerous studies have shown how millennials look at the world compared to others. The Millennial Impact report is a particularly thorough study of what organizations have learned about millennials in the past 10 years. Here are several conclusions from the report: 

Millennials Believe All Assets Are Equal: This means that millennials think everything they offer has value, not just specific capabilities. They ascribe equal value to the time they invest, the skills they learn, their innate talents, the money they have, their purchasing power, their networking abilities, and more. It’s all important to them. They do not prize one capability–the ability to spend more than others, for example–over alternatives, and this affects how they see peers and partnerships.

Millennials are Everyday Changemakers: There is a reason crowdsourcing became so popular with the millennial generation: They practice social good in small ways every day. Rather than making big donations every few years, millennials are more likely to make smaller point-of-sale donations, volunteer every week, gather friends for charity events, and look for products that have social benefits when purchased. 

Millennials Believe in Activism: This is not surprising considering the previous points. Millennials are more likely to look for ways to make a difference in society: That includes donating, voting, signing petitions, sharing on social media, participating in marches or protests–and changing their purchasing habits. Note that millennials prefer their own collective action and networking, pushing together for causes including education, civil rights, healthcare reform, job creation, immigration support, and climate change mitigation. 

Millennials are Passionate About Issues, Not Institutions: Institutional loyalty is a foreign concept to millennials. They act for the sake of an issue and apply or withdraw their trust accordingly. When millennials participate in a workplace charity event or donation, they do it for the cause itself, not out of loyalty to the company. Interestingly, millennials are motivated by their peers: They are significantly more likely to donate to a cause if co-workers do, compared to if their supervisors do–and they aren’t very interested at all in what the CEO may donate to. Peer influence is key to millennial engagement. 

Millennials are Sector Agnostic: Millennials can easily switch between institutions and platforms depending on their personal goals and which organizations they see as trustworthy. They consider a company’s record on causes and social good when applying for employment. They also receive information from a very broad number of outlets when making choices, including their friend networks.

Millennials Take an Innovative Approach to Creating Change: Millennials tend to create change in many different ways, both big and small. That can make them hard to categorize, as they choose multiple options to support what they like, including what content they post, what they purchase, and what they sign up for. They tend to be comfortable anywhere from micro levels of involvement to leadership positions, and may move across the entire spectrum as they see fit.

What Millennials Want in the Workplace

Fair Pay: Other studies at Great Place to Work have shown that at the highest-rated workplaces, around 85% of millennials say they are paid fairly, while the average at other workplaces was only 67%. Those numbers haven’t gotten any better since the “Great Resignation,” and it’s no surprise that millennials are much, much more likely to plan to leave their jobs than previous generations.

Transparency and Input: Millennials want to work for organizations that are transparent about everything, from pay levels and promotion decisions to overall strategy and plans for the future. Not only does this help millennials feel more connected to the company, but it helps them build valuable trust in their workplace, which can help reduce millennial turnover. The other side of transparency is input–millennials don’t just want to hear from the company, they want to be heard and know that their opinions and needs are making a difference.

Flexible Work Situations: After the pandemic, work from home and remote work situations have greatly increased in popularity, something each organization is finding ways to approach. Millennials in particular are likely to request flexible work options, and favor businesses that have remote work built-in and to rebel against businesses that end remote work options.

Organizations that Care About Employee Wellbeing: This came as the number one feature both newer and older millennials look for in a company according to a 2021 study from Gallup. This was only underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millennials want a workplace that helps protect them both physically and emotionally, especially when times are hard. Many of them have seen what happens when businesses don’t do this, and avoid those workplaces. They also tend to be wary of lip service and focus more on real policies,which brings us to another important point…

Real Assistance: Millennials care about direct benefits that are applied equally to all workers. That includes health insurance benefits, parental leave (and petcare leave, a rising benefit for the younger generations), generous overtime, health screenings, and pay increases that more than match the rate of inflation. This practical approach means that millennials may not be impressed with fitness centers, yoga classes, or other on-site benefits that may look flashy but don’t make much of a financial difference in their lives.

Ethical Leadership: This was also one of the highest-rated features in Gallup’s poll, with both millennials and Gen Z showing high interest in ethical behavior from business leaders, something related to how aware they are of unethical leadership in the news and their own life experiences. That’s not just for the C-Suite, either–millennials are looking for ethical leadership at all levels of management, especially those they report to. They can also embody that HR saying: “People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.”

Development: While millennials love their autonomy, they are also on the watch for ways to gain new skills and grow their current skills. They often appreciate being pushed into new competencies, as long as their ongoing efforts continue to be rewarded. This goes hand-in-hand with another popular millennial request: purpose. They want to feel like they have a purpose in the organization that grows as they do.

The Best Ways to Manage Millennials

  • Care About Their Personal Lives: Millennials are always looking for leaders who are ready to help in the moment, and really care about their personal lives, especially when they are having issues with work-life balance. That means that company policies should allow managers enough leeway to care about their millennial workers, and make adjustments accordingly. Millennials respond very positively when they feel like they are cared for as human beings.
  • Offer Opportunities for Long-Term Growth: Millennials thrive when they are given long-term ways to improve themselves. When these benefits are clear, millennials can be more willing to work current positions they would otherwise avoid, because they can chart a path forward in the organization. But career growth can’t just be a carrot on a stick–millennials need real evidence their growing skills are being rewarded.
  • Be Authentic and Create Real Change: Since millennials favor transparency and are allergic to lip service, it’s important to always be authentic when communicating with them. When implementing new policies, focus on the real-world results. That’s what millennials will be paying attention to.
  • Encourage a Diverse, Socially Conscious Workplace: Altruistic millennials look for diverse workplaces that have strong social awareness and a focus on community improvement. Leaders should be vocal in their support of inclusivity and making social differences.
  • Offer Flexible Work Situations: Flexible work doesn’t just mean offering work from home options. It also means a willingness to try new arrangements and organizational structures. As puts it, “Be flexible on rules and firm on results.”
  • Always Ask for Input: Millennials function well in workplaces that encourage collaboration, accept feedback, and gather employee perspectives before making important decisions. Make sure millennials feel heard in your organization.

Learn More About Managing Different Generations

A key step in creating a millennial-friendly workplace is understanding the important differences between generations. If you’d like to learn more about managing a multi-generational organization, KnowledgeCity has several excellent starting places. This brief introductory video on Generational Differences in the Workplace is a great place to begin, along with this short video on realizing generational biases that can creep up among employees. Learning these important differences can help you chart a plan going forward with changes that will make your workplace more friendly to all generations of workers.

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