What Millennial Workers Want - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
09:06 AM
Toni Cusumano
Toni Cusumano

What Millennial Workers Want

Millennials seek more balanced and purposeful work lives. Here's how big companies can adjust to the desires of the young and tech-savvy.

As tech companies battle to attract and retain millennials, they would be wise to step back and consider how this generation is both similar -- and uniquely different -- to Baby Boomers and Gen X. 

They're similar in that the employee experience is what drives someone to work at a particular company, but different in that millennials want collaboration with coworkers and work-life balance to be a greater part of the experience.

Let's face it -- tech companies assumed, at their peril, that what satisfied boomers and Generation X would also engage millennials. Most millennials came into the workplace from an era of relative social, political, and economic stability and assumed employers would understand their generation's unique expectations. Why the disconnect? What does it really take to keep young talent happy within a technology organization?

[Build an enterprise app store, gamify your company, support consumer tech. Read How CIOs Can Build A Millennial Enterprise]

To answer those questions, we didn't need to look beyond our own walls at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Just recently, some young professionals left after working at the firm for only a few years. While this is a natural point for young workers to seek other employment, what was unexpected was that they seemed to lack interest in the traditional professional services career path -- one that requires an intense work commitment in the first few years with the goal of eventually becoming partner later in their careers. Why was this happening? What were they looking for that they weren’t finding within our firm?

Some would say the answer is more flexibility, a "millennial issue," but their definition of flexibility differs from older generations. Millennials want the ability to shift hours -- to start work days later and put in time at night. The younger generation is equally as committed to work productivity as other generations, but view work as a "thing," not a "place." 

Some would argue that the younger generation wants it all compared to their older colleagues who value autonomy and achievement. Does the younger generation really "want it all" though?

Don't be so quick to think so.

"NextGen: A Global Generational Study," a report from PwC, the University of Southern California, and the London Business School found that Baby Boomers and Generation X care more about money, while millennials are surprisingly willing to take a pay cut and be promoted at a slower pace if it means working at their dream company, especially one with a social purpose. 

The older generation prefers to work alone while millennials prefer group settings and collaboration, as noted in PwC's "The connected employee experience" paper. In fact, it's not surprising to find millennials now leading company programs such as community service and corporate social responsibility projects. These programs fit in perfectly with millennials' desire to have personal connections to a company and work in group settings. 

When people say that millennials “want it all,” it means that millennials are trying to raise the bar on work-life balance and redefine what work means. They share high standards for work quality, but they have equally high standards for the quality of their lives. 

So what does your business need to do to attract and retain these millennials? 

One size doesn't fit all -- create a flexible work culture
PwC found in its global generational study that 15% of male employees and 21% of female employees would give up some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion in exchange for working fewer hours. Adopting policies that promote work-life balance such as allowing a remote work location or flexibility in hours without having to execute a formal arrangement have been helpful in millennial recruitment and retention. 

Fully leverage technology, and invest in it
It's no surprise that millennials are comfortable with the rapid evolution of technology and some even choose not to join a company if they cannot use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn during the work day. Millennials want work to mirror their personal lives and expect to have access to the same technology experience in and out of the office. Companies should make it a priority to offer the best technology tools for collaboration, productivity, and flexibility.

Offer coaching and open dialogue
Who said the younger generation is too high maintenance? They're actually more open to feedback than their older colleagues. Millennials love working in groups, so emphasize teamwork and weave it into your company culture. Give them feedback face-to-face and in real-time. Appreciation and support from supervisors goes a long way. 

Too many companies treat digital and mobile strategies as pet projects. Here are four ideas to shake up your company. Also in the Digital Disruption issue of InformationWeek: Six enduring truths about selecting enterprise software. (Free registration required.)

Toni Cusumano is the People & Change Leader for PricewaterhouseCooper's US technology practice. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2014 | 2:19:37 PM
I am so tired of reading articles about Millennials written by Millennials on how they want special "work deals".  Who doesn't?  As a Baby Boomer, my focus was just like a Millennial - wanted a balance of job and life, good pay, good benefits, etc.  You have to compromise if you want certain things in life.

As to working at PwC or ANY of the Big 4 sweatshops, Millennials should realize that their Utilization rates are the only thing that's important to their boss. Balance between work and life? 

As a former Big 6 Director, years ago, people coming in were told that travel was maybe 30-40%.  That didn't seem bad but most big IT projects were really 100% travel.  Maybe they meant 30% travel across ten years and the first three were 100%.

I saw people come in and go like crazy.  If you were on the job for a year, you were considered a veteran.  People could not stand the travel or long hours and many left after 3-6 months.  This was 30 years ago so most - if not all -Millennials were most were not even born yet.  Many people had the same values as Millennials today but companies were not flexible. They didn't have to be then, and they don't have to be today.

What I see today that is very different is Millennials have a LOT more competition for that job.  With so many companies bringing in H-1B and other VISA (non-citizen) workers.  Any Millennials wanting too much are just replaced by a cheaper foreign worker.  All the talk about flexibility at companies is just that - talk.  If Millennials get too demanding, they will be replaced by someone more enthusiastic who won't whine every time they have to stay past 5PM to do some work.



User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2014 | 11:13:24 AM
Millennials are Wise to the World
This article echos what I've been saying for quite awhile now.  My age would classify me as a "Gen X'er", but my values have always been more inline with what the Millenials of today are going for.  I simply fail to see how the cookie-cutter American Dream of a house, car and 2.5 kids is fit to satisfy everyone on the planet.  I hold a satisfactory IT position, although there is likely something more fulfilling in the future.  I rent a modest home close to downtown, drive a well-maintained 15-year old car and happen to have 2 great children.  Even though these things may seem to incline toward the figures, all of these things have happened on the way to pursuing a bigger dream.
User Rank: Ninja
4/22/2014 | 7:57:21 AM
Real-time feedback
Yes, the only feedback worthwhile is real time feedback. So ditch the annual reviews, the annual goals that are outdated after the first quarter, and especially eradicate the utterly useless self-evaluation.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 7:34:47 PM
Re: PWC's conclusions
"I wonder how many millennials were focused on writing, which doesn't lend itself to collaboration, at least in a live setting."

As someone who's served as a TA for millennial undergraduates, I'd guess, "Not much." That said, I think it's an interesting academic question that could have real world consequences. 

In terms of proper mechanics, most people have abysmal writing skills. But I think it's a little difficult to characterize the extent to which collaboration is changing things for better or worse. Here's what is clear: Text-based communication is more ubiquitous, mobile, collaborative, and "real time" than ever. As a result, the majority of what we write for someone else's consumption exists in a new, unprecedentedly dynamic framework.

If more interactions occur via instant message and texts, for example, then abbreviations, shorthand and slang become more accepted in popular and even formal lexicons. Even in business correspondences, for example, I see a surprising amount of social media shorthand. It became so familiar in one common mode of writing that it translated to another, in other words.

I suspect this sort of mutation in our writing will only accelerate; over time, our collaborative tools have grown more multi-faceted, with greater support for mixed media messaging, and deeper integration into the Web. As a result, the sort of linguistic changes that were once confined to regional communities now have viral potential.

I find it difficult to say definitely whether all of this is good or bad. The English major inside me feels a twinge of horror at text message abbreviations, as they discourage young people from internalizing proper syntax, grammar and spelling. But some of these rules are more valuable than others. I tend to roll my eyes when professional writers use "less" when they mean "fewer," so I'm not the best judge.

Even so, it occurs to me that language's evolution can be judged at least two ways: In terms of craft and poetics, and in terms of efficacy. Society's new attitude toward writing skills undeniably threatens certain traditions in the former category, though one can argue that the new attitude also creates the potential for new forms of expression, as well as new conceptions of collective authorship. Regarding the latter, I think it's a mixed bag. The rate of change threatens standardization and causes confusion. But it also lets us communicate more, if often inanely. At some point, the sheer volume of information exchanged has to have a positive effect, right? It's hard to say. Something like Twitter, for example, enables one to absorb many more ideas than one could with a traditional newspaper. But then again, most of that information is absorbed at surface level, or within the context of pre-defined echo chambers. So while we're altering linguistic norms to facilitate this increased volume, we're not necessarily creating greater better or deeper communication-- just the conditions for it. So like I said, it's hard to characterize the effect on writing positively or negatively.

Also, just to be clear: I'm musing specifically on how writing skills could be impacted. I think millenials' attraction toward collaboration is positive on the whole, and that the writing question is only a subset of this article's larger themes.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 4:03:16 PM
PWC's conclusions
>The older generation prefers to work alone while millennials prefer group settings and collaboration...

I wonder how many millennials were focused on writing, which doesn't lend itself to collaboration, at least in a live setting.
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 1:52:50 PM
Millennials want flexibility to shift their hours, but my question is, who doesn't? Many people of varying ages want this option, perhaps to deal with caring for children or aging parents, or to pursue volunteer work. Are millenials pushing the matter harder? 
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 10:03:15 AM
Feed the Inner Entrepreneur
Several months ago, while editor of a (now defunct) sister site, I wrote a series of articles on millennials and their career goals and working styles. One stat that stands out was the high percentage of this generation who wanted to be entrepreneurs. Given that many won't actually follow through on those goals -- or at least won't do so yet, perhaps -- the PwC study supports how companies can attract and retain these younger employees by appealing to this entrepreneurial leaning within a corporation. I think, if we dug deeper into what "being an entrepreneur" means to millennials (which would be an interesting study in and of itself), we'd find it means all the things you discovered in your study: Creating a company that does social good; flexible work hours; forging a strong, collaborative team; working with new, top technology; being the boss, etc. 

Corporations, even large multi-nationals, already form smaller, more nimble groups. As PwC found, equipping these teams with collaborative, high-performing tech; perhaps allowing them to choose and support a non-profit; work toward a goal not hours at the office, and be a team, benefits millennials, Boomers/Xers, and the org as a whole. 
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