Ignore millennial stereotypes and find ways to harness their potential


Simon Orriss, Taylor Vinters

Companies must ignore false pre-conceptions about millennial workers and instead, should implement strategies that harness the potential of the country’s future business leaders.

As part of our ongoing Zebra Project, we hosted an event with business leaders and a group of millennials – those born between 1984 and 1996 – to discuss perceptions of young people and work.

A recent CBI survey revealed the angst that some companies have about millennials, showing that nearly a third (32 per cent) of 344 firms were dissatisfied with the “attitudes and behaviours of self-management and resilience” of graduates.

Our discussion revealed that companies must not assume everything they read about millennials is true. The conversation also served as a reminder that regardless of age, we are all human beings with similar motivations, desires, and concerns in the workplace.

Participants deemed attracting and retaining the younger cohort a crucial factor in ensuring the long-term success of a business amid the rapid pace of change in employment structures and technology.

Some of the event’s key findings are set out below:

Millennials value work – of all kinds

According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018, 43 per cent of millennials expect to leave their job within two years.

The companies that are most likely to attract and retain such workers offer more diverse management teams and workplace flexibility. If these options are not made available, it is highly likely millennial employees will turn their backs on traditional employment and seek out opportunities in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

At first glance this implies that millennials strive for an easier working life or do not value the traditional employment ladder. However, research suggests that is incorrect. The real reason that young people are increasingly choosing alternative employment routes is the greater variety of opportunities available to them compared with previous generations.

The flexibility offered by social media and portable or cloud technology means younger workers can more easily set up their own businesses or engage in remote freelance work.

Nonetheless, many young people still see equal value in traditional employment. The Zebra Project’s latest event revealed that many millennials still value the opportunity to learn directly from senior staff members and to interact with colleagues in an office.

Job security not a priority

As the employment market is seen as fluid, the younger generation tends to worry less about job security regardless of which career they choose.

This is another reason why millennials are more likely to explore a few different employment routes before settling down. Historically, employers might have looked badly upon candidates who had regularly switched jobs but this stigma is far less relevant now.

Companies must recognise this because whether they are self-employed or working within an organisation, millennials have shown themselves to be ambitious and willing to work hard to achieve those ambitions.

Millennials share the motivations of other workers

Businesses of all sizes are already adapting to satisfy the different motivations of their employees. Employee engagement rises when a business offers flexible working, considers an individual’s needs, and makes a person feel valued by demonstrating a commitment to life beyond their job.

The consensus during the Zebra Project debate was that despite what the papers may say, this has not been driven by the millennial generation. People are not fundamentally different to how they were 30 years ago. Most workers have the same motivations and that the differential factor for this generation is the type of opportunity available.

Unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, it is now much easier for businesses to look at the bigger picture, ask the right questions and respond to the needs of their employees. The technology and systems are in place, which means companies can offer the flexible working environment that is desired. Similarly, leaders are more aware of workplace issues, such as the increasingly prominent issue of staff wellbeing.

New technology is a driving force but there is a flipside

Technology has created huge opportunities for businesses and their employees but it has evolved so quickly that the drawbacks are only just starting to emerge.

Millennials are digital natives, meaning that as adults they have never known a world without the likes of social media. On one hand, this means that this is the most connected generation ever. However, it is also becoming increasingly apparent that many millennials feel disconnected from their friends and colleagues because relationships are increasingly superficial and impersonal.

The right working environment, including a focus on individual needs, can help with this issue and underlines a need to make the younger generation feel valued and part of the team.

Cut millennials some slack

In 20 years’ time, today’s millennials will be the managers, chief executives and partners of UK businesses. Start-ups founded now could even be the new corporate giants. The world of work is changing so fast that these new leaders will be facing a whole new set of challenges that are difficult to predict.

In the meantime, current business leaders need to cut them some slack. This is not about ‘pandering’ to the needs of millennials - which are, in fact, the same as those seen in all generations - but embracing the change that they are creating; for the benefit of all workers.

This is a generation that may be more tech savvy than the older generation and willing to take a risk, but in the workplace, their motivations are likely to be the same as everyone else’s.

Simon Orriss

Zebra thinking

Nick MannMillennials