What Millennials are Looking for in Their Careers

June, 2017

By Suan Gottlieb

The American office is changing dramatically and a lot of that change is being driven by millennials. The perks that motivate them are not the same perks that appealed to previous generations, and businesses need to recognize and adapt to the evolving needs of their workforce if they’re going to stay competitive.

For starters, millennials want more flexibility. They don’t want to be stuck at a desk with a manager constantly looking over their shoulder, and they don’t necessarily want to be working 9-5. They’re more comfortable with technology than any previous generation, which means they’re also more aware of the benefits and perks technology can offer them, like allowing them to work from anywhere.

For many people, working from home (or Starbucks, or their local library, or their kid’s soccer game) is much more relaxing and productive than the traditional office environment. If they can get their work done without having to worry about the stress and expense of commuting, they don’t see a reason to come into the office five days a week.

Paid time off is another factor millennial candidates tend to weigh more heavily than previous generations. While the traditional model is to work one’s way up toward earning more PTO, many millennials don’t want to wait months or years before they get two weeks of paid vacation and they certainly don’t want to buy vacation time from their employer.

This is especially true since most millennials aren’t sticking around long enough to earn extra PTO. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average young adult has had an average of 6.2 jobs by the time they’re 26 years old (source).

Family Oriented
Although we’re used to seeing moms demand more flexibility when they’re trying to juggle work and kids, millennial dads are increasingly making the same demands. Family life is converging with both men and women taking on more equal parenting roles. That whole paradigm of the woman staying home or making concessions around her career is really not the case anymore.

This doesn’t mean women are being treated as equals in the workplace, but it is turning PTO and the Family Leave Medical Act into a generational issue, rather than a women’s issue. Today, it’s more about the kind of workplace where men can also be able to say that they have a strong set of family values and they want that to be acknowledged. One in five men that are fathers say that their ideal career would allow them to take time off to be with their kids before re-entering the workforce (source).

That means companies that are less accommodating of parents who need flexible hours or time off to take care of their kids will lose both male and female employees.

If men step up when it comes to helping raise children and companies shift their priorities toward helping parents take time off when they have young children, women will undoubtedly benefit. In most cases, women are still expected to do the majority of the housework, including childrearing, which often requires them to sacrifice their careers. Even women who go back to work when their children start school, or who work part time while raising their kids, still fall behind their childless peers as a result of the time spent raising their children.

But if more men take time off work to help raise the kids, then they will also start demanding better re-entry programs from companies. Employers will need to recognize that retaining top talent (and making sure their highest-performing employees stay at the top of their game) will mean helping their employees to work around parenting time.

This could mean providing on-site daycare, allowing parents to work from home and/or part time until their kids are old enough to go to school. They should also consider providing training programs during and after maternity/paternity leave to keep parents up to date on what’s going on so they’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as they get back to work. Some new parents might also want to keep working for their employer, but move to a different department where they won’t have to travel as much or work long hours.

Work-Life Integration
Instead of asking employers to consider work-life balance, millennials are more concerned with work-life integration. They know that technology can help them bring the office home and vice versa. They also want to be working for a company and assisting on projects that align with their personal values. For example, companies that allow employees to take PTO in order to volunteer and do charity work are very popular among millennials.

Lateral Career Moves
Prioritizing family life is just one reason millennials are more inclined than their predecessors to make lateral moves and why employers need to accommodate those kinds of moves if they want to retain great talent.

It’s also a result of millennials having entered the workforce at a time of anemic wage growth with high student debt, all of which has come together to create a generation that’s less concerned with making as much money as they can as they are with other aspects of their lives.

Rather than focusing on climbing the proverbial ladder, millennials tend to put more emphasis on the kind of work they’ll be doing and the connections they’ll be making. Some are even prepared to take a lower-paying job in order to get the experience and connections they think will ultimately help them move forward in their careers.

The Work Matters More Than the Pay
Contrary to the assumption that this means millennials are less interested in their careers, millennials are increasingly looking for jobs in which they’re going to be able to meaningfully contribute to the company, and they want to be able to see the results of their work.

When asked about the most important criteria they consider when evaluating a prospective employer, most millennials cite the type of work they would be doing. You’d think it would be money, but it’s really the opportunity to learn and grow.

The other thing millennials often mention that is very important to them is who they work with. They want to have someone around who’s going to mentor them and they don’t want to be working in a toxic environment.

It says a lot about a candidate if they’ve followed a mentor from one company to another. When someone says to me, “Yes, my old boss left and went from Company A to Company B and called me up and said, ‘Hey, I have a job for you,'” that’s very telling. It says that candidate does good work and they’re valued.

New Attitudes Toward Employers, Both Past & Present
When companies don’t provide millennials with the things they’re looking for in a job and/or fail to challenge them, millennials don’t hesitate to leave.

“Millennials’ parents were the first generation that regularly switched jobs, so company loyalty does not come naturally to millennials,” said Gloria Basem, Chief People Officer of MediaMath, Inc.

The challenge for employers then is to find out what they can be doing to attract and retain their millennial workers. “It’s about, what is the contract,” said Basem. “What are we doing for you and what are you doing for us? And being more explicit about those things.”

The challenge for employers then is to find out what they can be doing to attract and retain their millennial workers. “It’s about, what is the contract,” said Basem. “What are we doing for you and what are you doing for us? And being more explicit about those things.”

That means that, when it comes to what they do for their workers, employers need to include things other than the paycheck, which doesn’t mean as much to millennials as other aspects of their job. Instead, companies should focus on creating a constructive, collaborative environment in which employees have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully and are made to feel like a valuable member of the team.

When millennial workers do leave a company, it’s important for managers to remember it’s nothing personal.

“Because millennials are not as loyal to the companies for which they work, they’re also not necessarily leaving with a negative attitude,” said Basem. “I’ve worked with managers who thought that if an employee left, that employee was being disloyal and they might be quick to write them off. And I think a millennial manager today knows the relationship is going to wax and wane over time.”

They say you should never burn any bridges and millennial managers take that to heart in how they treat employees who are leaving. If they treat their former employees well when they’re on the way out and when they’re gone, it creates a potential for that worker to come back when they’re at a different phase in their life. It pays to avoid looking at an employee’s decision to leave as the end of a relationship.

Why Should Companies Care What Millennials Want?
The older generation criticizing the new generation is a story as old as time, but it’s not productive. By 2020, millennials will make up a full 40% of the workforce, which means baby boomers don’t really have any option but finding ways to work with millennials.

Assumptions need to change (or be eliminated) and that starts with communication. Older generations complain that millennials don’t know how to communicate because they’re always on their phones. But the fact is millennials are communicating more than any generation before them because technology has made communication so much faster and more efficient, not to mention almost completely unaffected by distance. It’s just that the type of communication has changed, and it’s changed so rapidly that some of the more established generations are having trouble keeping up.

Staying Competitive
Employers need to recognize that, in order to have a successful workforce, they need to make an effort to understand what millennials are looking for and how employers can help them learn and grow. Given millennials’ tendency to move around, employers need to invest time and effort in order to ensure a successful relationship with their employees.

Given millennials’ tendency to move around, employers need to invest time and effort in order to ensure a successful relationship with their millennial workers. Alienating millennials cannot only lead to an extremely high turnover rate, but it can mean working with subpar talent. “Millennials are in their prime right now,” said Basem. “They’re still growing their careers and coming to the table with new ideas.”

As with everything else, diversity in the workforce is a strength, and that goes for age diversity as well. “Having the perspectives of different groups so that you can connect with your customers is critical,” said Basem. “Millennials are going to use technology differently than Xers or boomers, and they’re going to view purchasing decisions differently. Being able to really understand your user is critical.”

The companies that get ahead will be the ones that succeed in recruiting the top talent, and in many cases, that will mean millennials.

It’s About More Than the Hours
As in other aspects of life, millennials are changing expectations and creating a cultural shift as to what constitutes a good employee. Rather than defining an employee by the number of hours they work, millennials are more interested in the specific contributions workers make to their company. Not just the amount of work they get done, but how they go about doing their work, the kind of work they do, and the new and innovative ideas they bring to the table. They recognize that sometimes working smarter is better than working harder and employers need to get on board with that idea.

If you want the best talent, you have to implement a culture and policies that will attract the best and make them stick around long enough to prove their value to you. Other companies are already starting to cater to millennials’ wants and needs, especially companies founded by millennials. Employers who refuse to keep up with the changing times will be left with second-rate talent, which will make them less competitive in their industry.

Some of the companies that have been listed as the “Best places to work” are offering a lot of the things millennials are asking for and they’ve achieved success because of it. Google, Facebook, Evernote, Best Buy, and Bain & Company are all examples of companies that have been successful in recruiting and retaining millennial talent. They offer things like free food, competitive vacation/PTO, and maternity/paternity leave.

Millennials also tend to look for things like on-site gyms, and if you’re talking about someone in the technology space, they like the whole free food/free meals thing. Some companies have margarita machines and all kinds of interesting additions to the office. It just depends on the sector.

“I know in our company we get a lot of kudos from our millennial population about the autonomy they have, the perks we provide, and the work environment we have,” said Basem. “All our offices are gorgeous spaces with big pantries and lots of great opportunities for people to work together in a very collaborative way, which we hear repeatedly are things that are appealing to our millennial population.”

But millennials care about much more than just the free stuff.

“It’s about creating the space where people come together and get to know each other, as opposed to just being thought of as workers, working at their desk around a certain project,” said Basem. “I can tell you the ping pong tables are well used in every location we have.”

To millennials, a job is more than just a paycheck – it’s an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their community. But, as important as millennials expect their jobs to be, they also don’t want to be spending all their time in the office.

Flexible hours, generous PTO packages, and telecommuting are a must for many millennials who are starting families and want to spend time with their kids as they grow up. On the other hand, employers can entice millennials into the office with things like on-site daycare, gyms, free food, etc.

Millennials are in their prime right now, both in terms of the work they do and the insight they provide into the changing landscape of the workplace. Companies that fail to attract and retain millennial workers will invariably fall behind their competitors.

What Millennials are Looking for in Their Careers

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