The millennial generation as a strategic business advantage

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a presentation by Ashira Gobrin, SVP, People and Culture at Wave. It was delivered at the Elevate SaaS Masterclass in September 2018.

By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials, that generation of people born between 1981 and 1996. Unfortunately, they’ve gotten a bad rap. They’re often portrayed as self-centered, entitled, lazy, and narcissistic. In fact, back in 2013, a Time magazine cover identified them as “the me, me, me generation.” That’s particularly true at the office. Underscoring the point, 40 percent of millennials think they should be promoted at least every two years, regardless of their performance.

Yet it’s the very things that make this generation difficult to manage that also make them great and precisely what today’s businesses need to transform and thrive. Millennials challenge convention, aren’t afraid of finding new and better ways of doing things, and are far more comfortable with change than the rest of us. Simply put, there’s a lot that we can learn from them.

The question becomes how do we keep this generation happy and engaged in the workplace? It’s a tricky thing to pull off. Just consider the facts:

  • Most millennials define loyalty as staying with a company for just seven months
  • 37 percent see themselves being in an entirely different career within five years
  • Many expect to have had 12 different jobs by the time they’re 38

The reality is that given millennials’ expectations and ways of thinking, retaining them can be incredibly difficult. To meet the challenge, companies are trying to redefine themselves in lots of different ways. For example, they’re moving from hierarchies to networks of teams, focusing on culture and employee experience, and applying agile design thinking to jobs and work. Yet even with these and other initiatives, very few companies have cracked the code.

When you actually ask millennial workers what they want, however, they say faster change, more direct feedback, and the opportunity to share their opinions much earlier. That’s difficult for companies to deliver when they’re used to giving performance reviews once a year and to only seeking opinions after an employee has cut her teeth and earned their respect.

To ensure that your millennial workforce is happy and engaged, companies have to change their approach. One of the most important changes that they can make is to give millennials the opportunities that they’re looking for to grow.

Unfortunately, many companies fail to do this. In fact, 45 percent of them report that they get no leadership development and think that their current skills will be inadequate within three years. And while giving them product training and new technical skills will always be important, the real thing they crave is personal development and the opportunity to become more confident leaders, better human beings, and more impactful contributors at work.

In fact, according to Glassdoor research, learning and development, along with leadership and alignment to purpose, are the three most important factors that determine whether or not a millennial is going to stay with a company. Not only are these the things that millennials value most, they also far more important to them than things like work life balance or having a good manager.

So what’s the secret to turning your millennial workforce into a strategic business advantage? It’s making sure that they’re engaged by constantly challenging them with new opportunities to grow and develop on both a personal and professional level. When you do, what you’ll find is that they’re not only more engaged, but also willing to put more discretionary energy into their work. And that, in turn, will result in huge dividends for your business.