Idealistic, self-absorbed, unfocused, impatient, internet-obsessed, noncompliant, and demanding. Meet the Millennials, coming soon to a cubicle near you. Never before has a cohort of people triggered as much exasperation as this generation.
Typically identified as those born after 1981, the Millennials, or GenYs, have come of age and are entering the workforce in a big way. By 2020, nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce will consist of Millennials, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics1. By 2025, it is projected that Millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce2.
Even today, Millennials are already the majority of employees in some companies. Price waterhouse Cooper, the world’s second largest professional services network, reports that 2 out of every 3 PwC staff is a Millennial3. At EY, the global firm that includes Ernst & Young LLP, Millennials already make up 60% of the workforce4. In Asia, the Singapore Armed Forces has identified development and management of the Millennial soldier as a key priority in a 2013 report on the future of military service5.
Yes, we are indeed entering the age of the Millennial workforce. Corporations around the world are starting to realise this, and notice that this is a different, more demanding type of employee than what they have previously encountered.
Advice on how to manage Millennials is becoming increasingly prevalent. Although well-intentioned, some of this advice sounds like awkward suggestions by a bewildered parent on how to reach out to an inexplicable teenager.
“Give them a structure to follow, since they can’t do it themselves.”
“Give them some community projects outside of work to spend some of their energy on.”
“Don’t squash their enthusiasm, encourage it.”
“Listen to them, pay attention to them, make work fun for them.”
Despite our growing awareness of Millennials as a unique group, it seems that we still struggle to understand them. What really makes them different? Are these just stereotypes about the young or are there genuine interpersonal differences at play? How can organisations truly engage and motivate the Millennial worker?
TalentLens Singapore decided to investigate further to examine what the data says about Millennials.
Between 2012 and 2013 TalentLens Singapore administered Sosie, an internationally renowned personality and values assessment, to a broad sample of over 250 people in Singapore, encompassing over 15 major occupational groups, including Engineering, Marketing, Finance, Human Resources and IT professionals.
As an in-depth assessment of individuals, Sosie measures both behavioural preferences (i.e. personality) and deeply held beliefs about what is important and personally fulfilling to an individual (i.e. values). 49% of the sample were women and a majority were ethnically Chinese (85%). Most importantly, 45% of the sample were Millennials (born after 1981) and 55% were Gen X (born from the 1965 to 1981).
We compared the personality and value scores of the Millennials and the Gen X-ers in our sample. In many ways, the results were remarkably consistent with popular conceptualisations of Millennials. But a deeper look reveals some surprising insights on why Millennials behave the way they do and what is driving this behaviour.
A Decline in Work Ethic
For better or for worse, it seems that Millennials indeed score lower on personality and value scales that relate to work ethic. As the below table illustrates, the Millennial employee tends to be less diligent and persistent in seeing tasks through to completion. They are inclined to place less value on rules, hierarchy and social convention. Moreover, structured organisations and systematic work processes are likely to be viewed as less important and motivating to Millennials.
If traditional, structured, hierarchical businesses hold less appeal to the Millennials, what then are they looking for? Based on their highest rated values, Millennials want Variety, Support and Recognition (see Table 2).
They are motivated to seek out varied, novel, sometimes even risky situations that will challenge them. Routine, repetitive work is likely to be disengaging for them. Instead, they are looking for new, unfamiliar experiences that will enable them to distinguish themselves and gain the esteem and social recognition from others. In line with this, they value a supportive and nurturing environment that will help them get there.
So it is not so much that Millennials are unmotivated to succeed and achieve – they value achievement as much as the Gen-Xers. But instead of a structured, targeted, goal-driven approach to success, Millennials are more likely to pursue success with a dash of flair and a sense of adventure.
Millennials… a more profound employee?
Moreover, Millennials may be due more credit than they are currently getting. Comparisons on Sosie suggest that high on their values priority is a sense of conviction and steadfastness to their beliefs and passions (see Table 3).
Compared to Gen-Xers, Millennials are more likely to have a strong sense of right and wrong, form a strong personal attachment to the perspectives, and commit to putting their beliefs into practice.
Not only do Millennials take their convictions more seriously, they are also less likely than the Gen-Xers to value material and financial goods. As evidenced in their lower scores on the Materialism scale, Millennials are less concerned about short-term tangibles. They feel less attraction towards short-term profitability and are less motivated to produces immediate results.
This eschewing of the material and valuing of intangible beliefs is a theme that can be seen in other studies on Millennials. A recent Deloitte survey6 of Millennials highlight that 50% of Millennials around the globe want to work for businesses with ethical practices. Millennials also want to make a positive impact on society and contribute to public life actively – 63% of Millennials gave to charities, 43% actively volunteered or were a member of a community organization and 52% have signed petitions.
It is possible to speculate that this is what contributes to the generational tension in the workplace. Grounded, practical Gen X managers who are perplexed at the high-minded ideals of the Millennials; Millennials who are discouraged by the lack of major social impact in the world of work.
So what can we do about this? says the ever-pragmatic Gen-Xer.
For a start, there seems to be some truth to laments about “kids these days”. Certainly if organisations expect a high level of punctiliousness from Millennials, they will be disappointed and may even face resistance. But those who just stop there may be missing out on the bigger story.
In today’s knowledge-based economy, where digital technology has repeatedly proven its ability to upheave established markets, and the march of change beats at an accelerating pace, it is the more agile, adaptive and flexible employee that organisations need more than ever before. Millennials and their appetite for change, willingness to operate without clear boundaries and specifics, may be just what companies need.
Perhaps we should also recognise that the sense of conviction that Millennials show is something to be welcomed, even celebrated. That the idealism and optimism of this generation is a tremendous source of energy and dynamism, and a clarion call for organisations to step up.
Ultimately, it is also vital for organisations to recognise that there is a shift taking place in the perspectives, beliefs and values of its people. On some level, any analysis on a group as wide and diverse as an entire generation of people will be an over-simplification. And yet the data speaks to a powerful underlying trend on how people’s values are changing, how their priorities and motivations are changing and how we need to change in tandem.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012, February). Employment outlook: 2010–2020. Retrieved May 2014, from www.bls.gov
- Barrett, K. N. (2011). Gen Y Women in the Workplace. Retrieved May 2014, from www.bpwfoundation.org
- Pricewaterhouse Cooper (2013) PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study 2013. http://www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/hr-management-services/pdf/pwc-nextgen-study-2013.pdf
- Holland, K. (2013). Gen Y managers perceived as entitled, need polish, CNBC, retrieved May 2014, http://www.cnbc.com/id/100997634
- Fu, W. & Nah, J. (2013). Understanding the millennial generation: Developing a more effective workforce for the future SAF. Pointer, 39 (1), 1-9.
- Deloitte (2014). The Millennial Survey 2014 – Big demands and high expectations. http://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/2014-millennial-survey-positive-impact.html