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The Myth of the Millennials

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I recently attended a conference on shared services, and throughout the 3 days, there were multiple sessions focused on the millennial workforce: hiring them, motivating them, retaining them, and developing them. 

The current thinking about the millennial generation is that they are akin to “high-maintenance” itinerant workers, bouncing from place to place looking for the right mix of compensation, social and value-creating organizations.  But is this a myth or reality? 

To support the myth, many studies cite US Bureau of Labor Statistics ("BLS") data showing that the typical worker aged 20-24 has been in their current employment for about 16 months. For those people aged 25-34 (the general definition of millennial), it was 3 years. When compared with the data for all workers aged 25 and older, this group yielded a 5.5-year median job tenure, and an “Aha!” moment occurs.  “See, it’s true!  Millennials are changing jobs more frequently than other workers.  We have to focus more on motivating and retaining them!”

And then the new, work/life balance programs start coming: Work-From-Home, Flexible Schedules, Family Integration Programs, More Social Interaction at Work, etc. 

But the BLS has been compiling this data for more than 30 years, and when you dig into the vault of historical data, the facts are interesting.  In 1983, when the BLS first started issuing these reports, the median tenure for workers aged 25-34 was … (wait for it!) ... 3 years.  No difference from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation!

So what is an employer to do?

This is not to say that work/life balance programs aren’t necessary or are a waste of time.  That door has been opened, and it would be very difficult to close it now (nor should it), without an employee backlash.  But since when is work/life balance limited to people ages 25-34?  As someone who has passed through that age group and is firmly settled in the tail end of the Baby Boomers, I can say from personal experience that a little “work/life balance” is good for everyone. 

But is that what attracts and retains your best employees?

I don’t think so.  Let’s look at some data from a 2015 Deloitte Millennial survey: 

  • 60% of millennials stated that a “sense of purpose” was a key reason that they chose to work for their current employers
  • Most millennials stated that there was a “leadership gap” between their priorities and how senior leadership teams are currently focused, specifically highlighting a greater emphasis on:
    • Employee wellbeing - +20% (that work/life balance thing)
    • Employee growth and development – +14%
    • With less emphasis placed on personal income and short-term financial goals (-18% and -17% respectively)
  • When rating individuals as leaders, the attributes cited most by millennials included:
    • Strategic Thinker – 39%
    • Inspirational – 37%
    • Inter-Personal Skills – 34%
    • Visionary – 31%
    • Decisive – 30%
    • Passionate – 30%
  • Unpopular attributes included:
    • An “autocratic” approach (6%)
    • “Driven by financial results” (10%)
  • Only 28% of millennials feel their current organizations completely utilize the skills they currently have to offer, but less than half (43%) believe that they will have to work elsewhere in order to achieve this. 

Millennials also expressed concerns over the gap in the skills that they brought to the table after graduation, and those required by businesses today. When asked to estimate the contributions that their education made to the achievement of an organization’s goals, they stated 37%. In other words, 63% of the skills required to meet an organization’s needs must be gained on the job. 

So what does this data tell us?

Millennials seek strong leadership and professional development in their jobs. They recognize their limitations in terms of the need to gain more “hands-on” experience and be developed in their roles (contrary to the notion of entitled and unrealistic millennials).  More than half did not think they needed to look elsewhere to gain it.  Contrary to their itinerant reputation, millennials appear to be looking for a home where they can grow and develop professionally, be guided by strong leadership, and perform meaningful, fulfilling work. 

These attributes and objectives transcend generations. Who amongst us has not sought these things out of our jobs? It really highlights the difference between a job and a career. Typically, people ages 25-34 are trying to find themselves professionally, and that likely explains more the job changes that the age group goes through, than the “softer” issues (work/life balance, social interaction, schedule flexibility, etc.) that they are seeking. 

For companies seeking to attract, motivate and retain millennial workers (or any worker for that matter), the data suggests that an increased focus on building a strong management infrastructure, monitoring employee performance and positively addressing weaknesses, and establishing a clear professional path forward are the keys to motivation and retention. 

And good workers will be more attracted to organizations that are known for these attributes, with good “word of mouth” meaning more than a well-stocked kitchen or even higher compensation.

10/19/16 11:31 AM

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Eric Liebross

Written by

Eric Liebross

Eric brings more than 30 years of experience and a proven track record of success helping CFOs modernize and achieve peak performance in their back office to become more scalable, innovative and strategic oriented. He joined Auxis in 2002 and serves as Senior Managing Director, overseeing all Finance Transformation, Process Automation and Business Process Outsourcing services at Auxis. His areas of expertise include financial operations performance, shared services strategy, organizational and operating model design, process automation (e.g. RPA), and systems integration.

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