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As Millennials March into the Workforce, How Ready Are You?

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Last month, after the graduation festivities and celebrations concluded, another class of college graduates marched into the workforce with skills, confidence and high expectations. Employers who stay informed about the attitudes of these Gen Yers — also known as “Millennials” — will be better able to attract and retain their future leaders.

The Millennial Generation, commonly defined as those born between 1976 and 2001, is now 80+ million strong (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). By 2014, 36 percent of the U.S. workforce will be comprised of Millennials. By 2020, Millennials are projected to make up nearly half of the U.S. workplace.

See also: 7 Statistical Snapshots: The Millennials

Cornerstone Management Institute, in a December 2011 blog post, provides this description of Millennials:

The members of this generation are being raised at the most child-centric time in our history – the ‘My kid is an honor student’ generation. Perhaps it’s because of the showers of attention and high expectations from parents that they display a great deal of self-confidence to the point of appearing cocky. As you might expect, this group is technically literate like no one else. Technology has always been part of their lives … you’ve got to adapt to their communication style or they will find someone who will.

Not all of the gripes about Millennials’ sense of unreasonable entitlement may be warranted. The very same arguments were used to criticize Gen X when they were the age Millennials are today. Sometimes, older managers’ grievances about their younger employees may be a natural tension in the workplace between those on their way out and those on their way up. The 2009 study Millennials Ahead conducted by The Futures Company (Henley Centre Headlight Vision and Yankelovich) and co-sponsored by Securian Financial Group, shows that while Millennials expect promotions, pay raises and time off, their expectations are not out of line when compared to other generations.

See also: Infographic: Meet Joe Gen Y

In late 2011, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) surveyed 4,364 university graduates across 75 countries about their attitudes toward work. To help you adapt to the attitudes of Millennials, here are the key findings of its Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace study:

Loyalty “lite.” Over a quarter of the respondents now expect to have six employers or more during their careers, compared with just 10 percent in 2008. The recession forced many Millennials to make compromises during their initial job searches, but as the economy improves, Millennials will look for new roles. Only 18 percent expect to stay with their current employer for the long term.

Development and work/life balance are more important than financial reward. Personal development is the benefit Millennials want most from employers. Flexible working hours came in second, while cash bonuses ranked a surprising third.

Work/life balance and diversity promises are not being kept. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said work/life balance was worse than they expected upon entering the workforce, and over 50 percent of Millennials do not feel workplace opportunities are equal for all.

Avoiding face time? According to the study, technology is often a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace, and Millennials feel held back by outdated working styles. Forty-one percent said they prefer to communicate electronically at work rather than face to face or over the telephone, and use their own technology.

Moving up the ladder. A majority (52 percent) said career progression was the main attraction of an employer, coming ahead of competitive salaries (44 percent).

The power of employer brands. Millennials are attracted to brands they admire as consumers. Yet, over the last three years, the importance they place on working for an employer with values that matched their own has declined to just over half (down from 88 percent in 2008).

Wanderlust. Millennials want to work overseas. Seventy-one percent reported they expect and want an overseas experience during their career — but they are picky about the location.

Generational tensions. Millennials enjoy working with older generations and like being mentored by them, but 38 percent said older senior management does not relate to young workers.  Another 34% said their personal drive was intimidating to older employees. Over half said their managers did not always understand the way they use technology at work.

Why Millennials matter

In a December 13, 2011 Forbes article, Lauren Rikleen, who runs the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, released an executive briefing called Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders: the Expanding Role of Millennials in the Workplace. It echoes many of the key points of the PwC study. Rickleen explains:

…it is about leveraging the strengths of Millennials to create a better workplace. Millennials seek: training opportunities, leadership development, ongoing feedback so they can continually improve their job performance; transparency so they can understand how they are contributing to the bigger picture, whatever their own role may be; and the opportunity to do meaningful work. The difficulty is that these take time and effort on the part of the employer to implement successfully. But there is no doubt that the end results of such efforts are a more engaged workforce.

Beyond engagement, Millennials matter simply because of the inevitable generational shift currently underway. As Boomers retire, employers will face a leadership gap; there simply won’t be enough Gen Xers, a much smaller cohort, to fill senior positions.

For more on the Millennial market, see:

7 Statistical Snapshots: The Millennials

12 Retirement Planning Tips for Millennials

Understanding the Gen Y Prospect


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