What do Millennials want from work?

Sensible people know that classifying an entire generation leads to dead ends and the wrong conclusions, especially when the formula is applied to individuals. But this generation does have unique attributes that distinguish it from what came before.

The group, whose name derives from the fact they became adults during the millennium and immediately afterwards, were the first proper digital natives. Before 2000 the consumer internet was embryonic. Many Generation X’ers remember first jobs with an ashtray instead of a computer on the desk; not so Millennials.

The arrival of the internet and with it global communications, ecommerce and social media, has given Millennials their own generational thumbprint. Baby boomers are tourists in the internet arena, Millennials are homegrown.

This distinction is not lost on recruiters, who understand that subtle differences in life experience can have a big impact on what someone expects from their job. They want the same things as everyone else: enough money to live on, career prospects and work they can be proud of, but their priorities in these areas are subtly different.

“In many ways, the demands are similar to those of generations before: a desire for interesting work and a well-structured training programme,” says Suzy Style, head of UK graduate resourcing at BP.

“We have found that millennials and younger job hunters tend to be less concerned with starting salary than their predecessors. Research has shown they place a high level of importance on company culture.

“We know that they can be less swayed by prestige and instead want to make sure that the work they are doing is meaningful, and that they are working for a company with a strong social purpose.”

This magnified focus on purpose means companies must work harder to define what they are, as well as what they do. What you do is make trainers, what you are is an aspirational sports brand that wants people to live fitter, happier lives.

But what about the cultural relationships between people and teams within the business? Both employers and job hunters are responsible for getting the fit right when it comes to building a group of individuals with complementary skillsets.

Samar Birwadker is CEO and co-founder of Good.co, and app that allows job hunters to evaluate their own attributes and motivations, and compare these with the working culture at prospective employers.

The business uses aggregated data from existing employees, who answer questions about the approach of their organisation to ‘decode’ it, allowing prospective employees to see if they are a comfortable match.

Mr Birwadker argues that technology has solved the problem of finding job candidates and getting them to apply for roles fluidly, but until now it has missed a vitally important ingredient of what makes a successful, productive hire.

“The internet has over-solved the sourcing problem because it’s now so easy to apply for jobs. It’s one click, so recruiters are overwhelmed with CVs. Now the challenge is to find people who are a good fit for the business.

“People’s expectations are changing, they want keep learning and growing, but that’s not necessarily represented in the way we communicate about companies and their cultures. Apart from the pay cheque, everything that people want from a job is culture related – not ping pong tables and free lunches, but the dynamics of the teams and how people get along.”

Sue Little, CEO of McCann Manchester, agrees that technology is both a help and a hindrance in getting good candidates through the door.

“Channels such as LinkedIn make it easy to find lots of potential candidates, but really good potential candidates are still thin on the ground and finding them takes skill and expertise, just as it has always.

“All LinkedIn and other social platforms allow you to do is fill the top of your funnel very quickly, but you still have to work through the list in detail to find the potential winners,” she says.

Miss-hiring is therefore always a risk and perhaps explains why data from Accenture suggests that 70% of Millennials entering the workforce leave their first job within two years. To engage them, offer a flatter hierarchy and an internal ‘gig’ experience, says Payal Vasudeva, managing director of Accenture Strategy.

“A number of organisations are providing opportunities for graduates to experience their organisation’s environment first-hand as an effective method for talent attraction, because today’s graduates value early exposure to their potential employers through internships, apprenticeships and on-campus programs.”

In summary, Millennials aren’t all that different to the rest of us and they should not be approached as a Borg-like mass who all think the same. But equally don’t discount the stroke of fate which led them to be born in the 1980s and 90s and exposed them to circumstances Boomers and Gen X missed out on.

The best advice is to respect the individual while creating a general sense of belonging, opportunity and social impact throughout the organisation. Culture is key, so make sure yours chimes with the Millennial mindset.