What millennials want from work: 7 research-backed truths

A lot has been said and written about millennials over the last decade and, as you may have noted, not all of it has been complimentary when it comes to attitudes and expectations of the workplace.

Millennials, classified as people born between 1981 and 1996 (now aged 23-38) according to a recent classification from Pew Research Center, are the first digitally-native generation to enter the workplace, and in some numbers too. In fact, by 2025 it’s expected that 75% of the global workforce will be classed as a millennial.

One of the challenges for organizations is how they adapt working practices, environments and cultures to fit the demands of this age group. Where baby boomers were once settled and happy with working for a paycheque and being singled out for thanks maybe once a year or after a major years-of-service milestone, millennials are after something more. More instant gratification, more job purpose and even organizational values that fit seamlessly with their personal viewpoints.

But one of the big misconceptions about millennials is that they desire after-work socials, ping-pong tables and free coffee machines, when in fact what is desired is an environment where they can learn and thrive. HR (and organizations as a whole) need to really get to grips with what inspires, motivates and retains the best and brightest talent in the market.

So, to help, here are seven research-backed truths about millennials and what they really want from their work.

A culture fit

It’s extremely important for millennials that they feel a culture fit, as well as a general sense of organizational belonging.

Thruue reports that, on a scale of 1 to 10, millennials rate the importance of work culture at 8.5.

And as an indication as to what types of culture millennials prefer, Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey reports that millennials are happier working in creative and inclusive cultures (76% satisfied) compared to authoritarian, rules-based ones (49% satisfied).

Working to ensure a culture fit falls on the desks of both recruitment and HR, but the benefits are wide-ranging. Enhanced performance, greater job satisfaction, higher employee retention and stronger strategic alignment to name just a few benefits of ensuring new hires are a culture fit.

Aligned personal and organizational values

It’s not just cultural alignment that’s important for millennials – feeling that their organization’s values align with their own beliefs is also important.

Research from LinkedIn found that 86% of millennials would take a pay cut to work at a company that holds the same values as their own, which compares to just 9% of baby boomers.

Yet aligning corporate and worker values is just one challenge HR faces. The other is promoting those values and ensuring employees know what they are and, in some instances, that the organization has them in the first place.

Research from the Aspen Institute found that 89% of organizations globally report they have corporate values in place. However, another study’s findings are that only around one in five HR professionals report that more than half their employees are fully aware of what those values are. So, it’s not a big leap to conclude that having corporate values, and actively working with them, are not the same thing for many organizations.

Timely and regular recognition

Millennials are the generation that requires the most regular positive feedback from colleagues and management, even more so than Gen Zers.

This age group is also the most likely to jump ship and find new employment should they feel that their efforts are underappreciated, of which 76% according to research from Office Team would be on the hunt for a new job.

And a study from the Incentive Research Foundation found that the preferred form of recognition for millennials is peer-to-peer, whilst the least preferred way to be recognized was in private.

Ability to learn and rise through the ranks

A comprehensive study from Docebo entitled Millennials in the Workplace found that opportunities for career progression were the most important aspect that can make an organization an attractive employer, with over half of those asked listing it as their number one factor when considering a new job.

Further research from Gallup confirmed this, finding that 87% of millennials had expressed that professional growth and development opportunities were among their top priorities.

But it’s not all about career progression without the ability to learn the skills required to make a successful step-up within an organization. Further research from Docebo has found that nearly half the millennials they asked would quit a job if it didn’t provide learning opportunities.

And whilst 32% of millennials rank career advancement opportunities as the most important factor about their work, besides pay, that doesn’t necessarily mean this age group are ready to jump ship as soon as a better opportunity and loftier job title at another company come along.

In fact, a study commissioned by Bridge has found that 90% of millennials want to grow their careers with their current companies – it just requires training and personal development opportunities to be available.

Work-life balance

Millennials are the always switched-on generation. The instant and constant nature of chat tools and social media mean that this age group are always talking and always on the go. And that always switched-on attitude often overlaps into work, too.

The blurring lines and crossed boundaries between professional and personal time means that many millennials are now seeking employers who offer a true work-life balance, respecting personal downtime and promoting activities away from the workplace.

In fact, further research from Docebo found that 95% of millennials note a healthy work-life balance as a top priority when searching for a new job – a percentage that HR simply cannot ignore.

Flexible working

As part of achieving a positive work-life balance, one strong desire for millennials is to have the option to work flexibly and even remotely, either some of the time or fully remote.

And the desire to find more flexible working arrangements is a big pull and a major reason why this age group considers moving jobs. A survey from FlexJobs reported that 70% of millennials have considered leaving a job for another boasting more flexible work options.

However, it’s not just achieving a work-life balance that’s a pull of flexible working. Wanting to cut out daily commutes, have more family time and even feeling more productive whilst working from home are all reasons as to why millennial employees are wanting to spend more time working away from a traditional office.

Purpose over profit

Lastly but by no means least, millennials want to work for organizations with a purpose and a reason for being that goes beyond merely making a profit.

In general, across the workforce, employees who believe that their company has a higher purpose over money-making are 27% more likely to stay. But for millennials specifically, 43% feel like their company only cares about profits.

As Study.com CEO Adrian Ridner notes: “Millennials want to feel good about their work and make an impact on society at large. Highlight the way your company gives back at the forefront of your initial conversations with talent.”

The role recognition can play

The wider picture on how organizations can look to attract, motivate and retain millennials requires input from several business areas. However, one aspect that can greatly contribute towards an engaged millennial workforce is employee recognition.

Recognition, especially a peer-to-peer social model, can begin to tackle the challenges that HR faces. For example, timely and regular positive feedback can be tracked and delivered through a social recognition platform, whilst removing managerial sign-off processes can empower colleagues to recognize each other’s efforts more frequently.

Read more: The 20 benefits of peer-to-peer recognition

Embedding recognition within a workplace culture can also say a lot about an organization from a recruitment front, including a level of transparency and trust in current workers.