Attracting and Retaining Millennials in the Modern Workplace: A Primer on the Latest Trends from the Biggest Demographic

Millennials are now officially the largest generation in the workforce and are projected to make up 75 percent of employees in the U.S. by 2025.

In the modern workplace, understanding millennials’ values and motivations is essential to building an effective talent pipeline. Despite this, many employers are uncertain of their ability to effectively recruit and retain this demographic.

Every new generation to enter the workforce brings new values, attitudes, and behaviors to the table, but millennials in particular have been shaking things up with their changing communication preferences and high expectations for collaborative technology. Employers may find that their tried and true methods of attracting and retaining top talent are no longer effective.

On the other hand, when it comes to millennials, real trends are sometimes overshadowed by myths and stereotypes.

Although the millennial generation has been a driving force in some important changes to the recruiting process and workplace culture in general, exaggerating the fundamental differences between millennials and previous generations makes it difficult to identify what information is true and useful.

Here a few common negative stereotypes about millennial workers that have been debunked numerous times:

  • Millennials don’t want to commit and are always looking for an excuse to jump-ship.
  • Millennials have a need to be rewarded with constant praise.
  • Millennials are obsessed with their phones and don’t value face-to-face communication.
  • Millennials want a job where they don’t have to work hard.

Each of these stereotypes is masking a real, useful insight about millennials in the workplace. In reality, millennials bring a valuable viewpoint to the workplace and tend to approach challenges on the job with an open mind and innovative perspective if given the right environment to thrive.

Below are some of the latest trends in what works in recruiting and retaining millennial workers. These insights have applications for both attracting top millennial talent and for giving existing employees the tools and support to succeed in the workplace.

Emphasize Company Culture

While compensation is important, millennials place a particularly high value on company culture. They are more likely than previous generations to explicitly ask about a company’s work environment or team culture during the interview process.

In addition to questions like “Am I qualified for this role?” and “Will these benefits work for me?”, millennials tend to be looking for answers to the following questions during the recruitment process:

  • What are the people here like?
  • Will I enjoy being part of this team?
  • How will I fit into the culture here?
  • Is diversity a priority at this company?
  • Does company leadership share my values?

Job postings that highlight a company’s unique culture are more likely to appeal to millennial talent than postings that stick to responsibilities, requirements, and compensation. In addition to understanding the vacancy, millennials want to know what makes an organization special and understand how they will fit into the bigger picture.

Information about team dynamics, company values, or community outreach will help candidates connect with an organization right away. Even something as simple as including a mission statement can make a difference.

Driving the need for information about company culture are millennials’ declining perceptions of business ethics. A 2018 Deloitte study found that less than half of millennials believe that businesses behave ethically or that business leaders are really committed to helping improve society.

According to the study participants, they realize profits are important but believe that most businesses put too high of a focus on making money at the expense of the wider society. Millennial participants expressed a belief that corporations should put a higher priority on objectives such as:

  • Having a positive impact on the environment and society
  • Generating innovative ideas and services
  • Creating jobs and providing opportunities for career development
  • Emphasizing inclusion and diversity in the workplace

Many millennials are concerned about being associated with an organization that does not share their fundamental values. Because of this, an emphasis on corporate social responsibility tends to resonate with this generation.

In addition to addressing these issues in job postings and the interview process, many companies have had success connecting with millennial candidates through social media. Public company social media accounts can be a great platform to express company values, show pride in employee successes, and highlight fun or meaningful events.

Increased Flexibility

Millennials are increasingly concerned about their work-life balance. This is sometimes misunderstood by employers, who perceive millennials’ strong emphasis on work-life balance as a lack of work ethic or unwillingness to take full responsibility for their role in the organization.

The reality is that it is not about a willingness to work hard, but rather a globally changing culture about what working hard means. PwC’s NextGen study of more than 40,000 employees found that millennials believe that their productivity should be measured by how much they are able to accomplish rather than how many hours they have worked.

With this perspective, millennials are likely to leave an organization that they perceive as forcing them to sacrifice their personal time and commitment to activities outside of work. Although they are just as ready to work hard as previous generations, millennials are looking for employers who share their definition of productivity and are willing to work with them to increase flexibility where possible.

The increased autonomy and flexibility presented by teleworking and other flexible time arrangements can be very appealing to many millennials. If their organization is unwilling or unable to offer increased flexibility, millennial employees may begin looking for other options.

Technologically-savvy millennials may feel less pressure than previous generations to stay in their current position due to their awareness that there are other options out there. With hundreds of job boards at their fingertips, it’s easy to come across a position where the grass looks greener.

The rise of the gig economy also presents an appealing alternative to millennials who are craving more flexibility in the workplace. Although leaving the traditional employer-employee relationship comes with greater risk, it’s a risk that a growing number of millennials are willing to take in exchange for the freedom, flexibility, and autonomy of contract work.

Keep Up with Technology

Millennials expect their organizations to take full advantage of technology that could improve efficiency, flexibility, or communication. If they feel like leadership or their peers in the company are resistant to change or hesitant to implement new technology, it can be extremely frustrating.

For many millennials, their first interaction with a potential employer is through an online job application. One of the most common complaints from millennials about the job application process is antiquated or unintuitive online application systems.

Application pages that aren’t optimized properly or time out too quickly can quickly convince a millennial candidate to look elsewhere. On the other hand, an online application that functions properly and is easy for candidates to navigate can leave potential employees with a positive impression of the company’s technological resources and attention to detail.

Making the effort to reach out through social media or online job boards is an important part of attracting top millennial talent. The majority of millennials now use social media as one of their primary research tools during the job hunt, and it makes a difference to them whether potential employers seem to understand the value of online outreach.

Within the workplace, millennials view collaborative technology as essential to the efficiency and flexibility that they crave. They appreciate when their company takes full advantage of videoconferencing technology like Skype to allow eligible employees to telework while still actively participating in team discussions.

The integration of file-sharing resources such as Google Drive is another must-have for millennials, who generally have been regularly using this kind of technology for years and hate to take a step backwards.

Map Out Potential Career Paths

Millennials are significantly less likely to accept or stay in a position where they can’t see themselves growing or advancing in the company. Because of the value that millennials place on collaboration and support, millennials candidates often see it as a bad sign when potential employers fail to mention opportunities for growth.

Rather than an impersonal and static employer-employee relationship, millennials would rather view their relationship with their company as a partnership. They are more likely to make a commitment and take responsibility for their role in the organization when it is clear to them that doing so can provide a path to fulfillment and self-improvement.

Taking a few minutes during the recruitment process to ask candidates about their career goals and discussing ways that those goals be accomplished or supported over time within the company can have a big impact on potential millennial employees.

Personalized Communication

Millennials place a higher emphasis than previous generations on the amount of support and feedback that they receive in the workplace. They want to know that their contributions to their organization are valued and appreciated by supervisors and teammates.

Despite long-running stereotypes, this does not mean that millennials expect to receive a trophy for each task they successfully complete. Instead, millennials highly value teamwork and collaboration, and are much more likely to be engaged in a workplace that makes time for regular communication.

Millennials who meet with their managers regularly are much more likely to be engaged than those with managers who are less hands-on, even when the feedback they receive is sometimes negative. Millennials want to view their managers as coaches who value their contributions, understand their strengths, and want them to succeed.

This same concept has applications to the recruitment process as well. Millennials tend to welcome contact through sites like LinkedIn even if they aren’t actively looking for a new job at the moment.

Millennial candidates are also much more likely to respond positively to personalized communication than an overly formal or standardized message. They want to get the feeling that there is a real person behind the message. A formal, scripted response may give millennials the impression that the company would give them the same impersonal treatment as an employee.

Pick Up the Pace

Well-accustomed to the fast-paced digital age, millennials expect quick response times. Submitting a job application without receiving any kind of message in return can be a big turnoff to millennial talent. If it takes days or weeks to hear anything in response to an application, millennial candidates may have already moved on.

Of course, the selection and screening process takes time, but a simple short email from a recruiter acknowledging and thanking candidates for their applications can be very meaningful. Millennial candidates also respond well to receiving an estimated timeline for when they can expect to hear back about their application.

Millennials on the job market may send out hundreds of applications in a short period of time. When they receive multiple offers later on, they are likely to remember which companies were responsive and communicative to their application right from the start and which ones left them in the dark.

Although not all the stereotypes about millennials being glued to their phones and computers are entirely accurate, they do tend to value the speed and convenience of texting and email over phone calls.

Most applicants tend to want to hear the final good news about a job offer over the phone, but many millennials view over-reliance on phone calls as slowing down the process unnecessarily.

Increasing numbers of candidates are selecting texting as their preferred communication style when given the option during the application process. For millennials, fast response time is much more important than the method of communication.

Final Thoughts

The best two words to summarize what millennials are looking for in an employer are communication and authenticity. As the millennial generation continues to grow in the workforce in the following years, the most successful employers will focus not only on attracting top millennial talent, but also on how to integrate various generations into the work environment with a focus on successful teambuilding and celebrating diversity.

Millennials highly value diversity in the workplace, but they believe it has to be about more than just filling quotas. To millennials, diversity is about embracing individual differences, including generational ones, in an authentic way. Making it clear that you appreciate the unique skills and perspectives that each generation brings to the table goes a long way toward connecting with this generation.


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