May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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Next-Generation Leaders: What They Want and Need From the Workplace

Have you ever wondered what makes millennials tick? So did we, so in the fall of 2011, we interviewed millennials and their managers to learn more about this generation. Because many organizations struggle with how to best integrate millennials into the workplace, we interviewed millennials and their managers through face-to-face and telephone interviews. The people we interviewed came from a variety of organizations and industries, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small companies. The survey spanned different industries including the drug industry, engineering, biotechnology and financial services.

Just Who Are the Millennials?

Born between the years 1977 and 1997, the millennials are the youngest generation to enter the workplace. Millennials grew up with school shootings, terrorist attacks, AIDS, the Exxon Valdez spill and the internet, which influenced their view of the world. As children, they experienced everyone getting awards for playing sports and went to school at a time when gold stars were handed out freely. As a result, millennials want frequent feedback. Millennials grew up with Baby Boomer parents, many who are self-professed workaholics, and therefore desire more work/life balance than their parents had.

They are resourceful and able to multi-task. They can Google, e-mail and write a report at the same time; they can comfortably find information through the internet. They work well in team environments and are comfortable speaking up. They also want to make an immediate impact in their jobs and move up quickly.

According to the managers we spoke with, their millennial employees are energetic and creative. They also are flexible, technology-savvy, resourceful, can retrieve information quickly and efficiently and are open minded. Millennial employees are not afraid of discovering new things; they want to learn and are eager to try something new.

What Do They Want?

Millennials report that they have a great vision of the world. They consider the world as something positive with a lot of opportunities. Millennials told us things like, “The world has endless possibilities” and “There are so many things to learn and to be exposed to and not enough time to do everything.”

Their attraction to fast-paced environments and their self-confidence allow them to handle multiple tasks without a problem. However, it is important to find a balance regarding workload. Too much of a workload could turn them off, but not enough could reduce their enthusiasm. Also, workplace flexibility is a benefit that millennials value. We heard comments like, “I usually work 11 hours a day but I am satisfied by the fact that my boss doesn’t demand a strict 9-5 schedule.”

One thing that stood out is that many of the millennials we spoke to are interested in working for an employer whose corporate ethics match their own. We heard comments like, “I want to work for a company that has the same values that I do” and “I would like to work in a company helps the world and uses green technologies.”

What Frustrates Them?

Something we heard over and over again in talking with the millennials we interviewed is that they want to hear the truth from their bosses, they want feedback and they want it right away. One millennial commented, “I want honesty, respect, open communication, to be informed constantly and to learn my manager’s expectations.”

The time to leverage the talents and welcome the millennials into organizations is now. More-experienced workers are rapidly nearing retirement age and their accumulated wisdom and expertise could soon be walking out the door. In addition, millennials are actively asking for more training, coaching and mentoring opportunities. Bringing together older workers’ experience and millennials’ creativity can lead to groundbreaking innovations. Here are a few ways to provide mentoring for millennials:

Create an open mentoring culture where people learn from each other in a wide variety of formal and informal relationships.

Use technology to help people sign up and get connected.

What Gets in the Way?

Managers tell us that millennials prefer communicating through e-mail; they do not like face-to-face meetings as much. Millennials tend to lose concentration easily because of technologies, spending time checking texts, e-mails etc. One manager told us, “They are distracted by technologies and social media.”

Millennials may choose the fastest path to the solution and think they deserve to be promoted quickly. The energy and enthusiasm they can generate can be considered a challenge by their managers. One manager said, “They are highly ambitious, but they have short-term goals. They want to reach management quickly and need to be managed very carefully with career paths that keep them from jumping to other companies.”

They are inexperienced at understanding the complexity of politics and process, underestimate them and focus on the short term. A manager said, “They need to understand company policies and work within them as opposed to making up their own rules.” A millennial said, “I want to understand and manage politics and learn effective project management strategies.”

What Do Managers Need to Know to Support Them and Help Them Develop?

Millennials have a real desire to learn and grow, which is advantageous to organizations because as Baby Boomers and others retire from the workplace there will be a need for millennials to take over leadership positions more quickly than generations before them. There’s a perfect match between the millennials’ desire to make an immediate contribution, to be leaders and to learn and grow in their organizations, and the need for them to quickly take over leadership roles. This means that frequent performance appraisals, mentoring programs, coaching and training will be essential for growing and sustaining leaders. A millennial said, “I want to know when my manager is happy with the work that is done and if he is expecting more.” Another commented, “I want the opportunity to shadow others and learn about areas outside my scope of responsibility.”

How Can Human Resources Support These Emerging Leaders?

As millennials move into management and leadership positions, we predict that there will be an emphasis on them asking others for their opinions as opposed to “It’s my way or the highway.” There will be respect for different points of view and different opinions. There will be greater teamwork, a lot of creativity and a lot of having fun as well as working hard.

Some tips for attracting, retaining and growing your millennial workforce include:

Articulate your employer brand—communicate internally and externally what it means to work for your organization.

Have a clear statement about corporate responsibility—make this part of your employer brand and be committed to deliver the promise.

Think creatively about how technology can be used to engage millennials, e.g., avatars, internal networking sites etc.

Create an on-boarding experience for millennials that helps them learn your company culture.

Be crystal clear about company policies such as those regarding social media.

Set clear performance expectations and explain why something needs to be done.

Use e-mail and voicemail as primary tools when you cannot meet face to face.

Don’t force utilization of the chain of command.

Don’t talk down to them—they will resent it.

Provide them with feedback—early and often.

Hold them accountable and let them know when they have screwed up.

Tell them what they do well.

Judge them by what they accomplish rather than the number of hours they put in.

Encourage them to share their ideas with you.


Invest in personal development and training—explore coaching/mentoring programs.

Provide variety and fresh challenges—consider promoting cycles of experience in other parts of the organization.

Teach your millennials to become problem solvers.

Tell stories, share your wisdom or teach them something you wish you would have known when you were their age.

Think creatively about reward strategies and what motivates millennials. For example, is it time to shift from cash bonuses and cars to other things?

Organizations today need to understand and support each generation. Providing training on the differences between the generations will reduce conflict and improve communication and interaction. Offering mentoring programs will help grow all of your employees. Don’t delay. Your success depends on it.

By Terri Klass, Judy Lindenberger and Jean-Baptiste Marchais

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