Strategic Insights │ Millennials in the workplace

Strategic Insights │ Millennials in the workplace

Published December 3, 2021
Never has a generation been subject to so much pushing and prodding.
But then… there are so many of them to push and prod: in fact, millennials make up the largest generation in the history of humanity.
The corollary of this is that a whole industry has grown up around analysing millennials and scrutinising their habits. They are the subject of numerous books and reports that detail all the ways in which they are different from previous generations.

A societal force

All over the marketplace, executives, politicians, managers and marketing specialists are talking about millennials, dissecting their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. They want to understand what makes them tick, what makes them happy and what makes them spend… so that they can create employees who are more engaged, consumers who are more satisfied and citizens who are more responsible.
Often, discussions and debates about generations descend into stereotypes: avocado-obsessed, narcissistic millennials are pitted against selfish, wasteful baby boomers. Instead of thoughtful analysis, we get doom-laden predictions about how millennials are “killing” everything from wine corks to the napkin industry and mix tapes.
A number of major players – including PwC and Deloitte – have recently released their own reports on how millennials are reshaping the workplace. For this week’s Strategic Insights article, we thought we would take a look at this generation which does not just represent change – it is change. And since they make up over two-thirds of the global employee base, getting to grips with millennials might not be such a bad idea.
Who exactly are they? That’s a straightforward question. The answer varies, but researchers and popular media suggest that anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s is a millennial. According to UK statistics, there are around 18 million of them – and they make up around quarter of the whole population.
In 2017, they became the largest generation in the workforce as a record number of baby boomers retired. And in about two or three years, millennials will account for some 75% of the global workforce.

Engagement and values

Millennials are good at staying in touch with one another and engaging with the world more broadly. It cannot be overstated: technology – everything from mobile phones and tablets to webcams and fibre-optic broadband – has revolutionised how people connect and interact with one another. While most other people still use a laptop or desktop to access the Internet either at home or at work, 85% of millennials use a mobile phone – more than any other generation.
  • They might be good at sending messages, sharing cat videos and staying in touch more generally, but by their own admission, millennials are not a particularly engaged generation when it comes to work. Only 30% of them claim to be engaged, while 55% are not engaged. 15% say that they are actively disengaged.
  • The notion of a job for life is pretty meaningless for millennials. They jump from job to job – more than any other generation. Around a quarter changed job in the last 12 months, and over half will actively embrace a new offer, if one comes along. Needless to say, this high turnover comes at a cost to the economy.
According to the 2021 Deloitte Millennial Survey, most millennials still believe that employers prioritise profits over employee well-being, society, the environment and broader ESG considerations. Since millennials tend to set significantly more store by such criteria, the result is that they feel little loyalty to the companies for which they work.
  • Fewer than half believe that corporations behave ethically – and that figure is falling.
  • Fewer than half think that business leaders have a conscious desire to improve society. In fact, the majority do not think that businesses want to do anything beyond make money.

Millennials and technology

Given the fact that millennials are far more likely to embrace innovative devices and technologies in their personal lives, it stands to reason that they are going to welcome strategies that encourage the use of such devices in the workplace.
Given the fact that millennials are far more likely to embrace innovative devices and technologies in their personal lives, it stands to reason that they are going to welcome strategies that encourage the use of such devices in the workplace. Far more of them are likely to have the very latest personal devices than their baby boomer parents and the Internet is very often the first port of call when they are trying to solve a technology issue. Around half of them use instant messaging and social media within a professional context, alongside cloud storage and data-sharing applications.

Loyalty and careers

Millennials believe that good workplaces are ones that give them the tools they need to succeed. They do what is necessary to retain talent and foster the emergence of the next generation of leaders. They are the ones who demonstrate that giving millennials jobs with purpose and meaning results in them doing their best work, benefiting the company more widely.
  • If millennials believe that their company fosters a high-trust culture, then they are more likely to want to spend a long time there. This holds true for baby boomers as well, but it is not nearly so important a criterion.
  • The vast majority of younger employees are more enthusiastic about staying long-term in businesses that are considered “good places to work in”.
  • If a company espouses ESG values, millennials are much more likely to endorse it among their friends and families.
  • Companies whose managers are sincerely interested in millennials as people enjoy higher levels of agility and innovation.
There is now a specific “millennial mindset”. Many commentators see them as a work-hard, play-hard generation with their gaze firmly fixed on the horizon and whatever is beyond it. They attach importance to meaning and purpose – they want jobs that will enhance their long-term employability… even their worth as human beings.
  • In all sectors, people’s top priorities when looking for a job are (in addition to salary) security, time off, a friendly working environment and flexible working arrangements.
  • Two-thirds will not stay in a particular job for more than two years before being promoted or changing companies altogether. A quarter will be looking for a change after less than 12 months.

The future

All of the above means that there are a few certainties as far as the workplace of the future is concerned.
Get ready for more workplace tech. If it hasn’t arrived yet, then it will do soon as millennials take over the workforce. Expect fewer and fewer in-person meetings and a whole lot more Zoom (a sentence that would have barely made sense only 18 months ago).
Collaboration will become the norm. Millennials prefer to leverage the power of social networks and other collaborative tools to work together in small groups.
Everybody wants more flexibility. And company culture will become less rigid to keep pace with growing needs for independence and employee/employer trust. According to Deloitte, some 75% of young people see having a “work from home” or “remote working” policy as a key criterion.
In the years ahead, our office tools will change. But so will workplace culture. The physical layouts of offices will be transformed. Some companies may completely eliminate offices. Change can be a good thing, though. And it’s how every organisation improves. Including ours. Including yours.