Millennials: The Misunderstood Generation

Lazy, entitled, demanding and disloyal. These are stereotypes commonly used to describe the millennial generation.

As a millennial myself, I was interested in attending the two concurrent sessions about the maligned generation at last week’s Talent Management Conference in Nashville, Tenn. During these sessions, I was curious to learn: What are employers’ biggest pain points with millennials? And what do people think millennials want?

Brad Karsh, president of Chicago-based JB Training Solutions, led and spoke at both millennial sessions. Karsh emphasized that the way millennials were raised has shaped their behaviors and perceptions of a desirable work environment. He further explained that millennials and previous generations value different things in the workplace, which has only added to the problem.

Millennials, defined as those born during 1981-2000, are quickly infiltrating the workforce and are estimated to outnumber Baby Boomers as early as 2015. With seasoned pros leaving the workforce and newcomers entering it, companies and HR professionals are scrambling to find solutions to bridge the skills gap.

Additionally, employers are frustrated by the high level of turnover among this generation and the high cost incurred to then replace them.

In his second session, Karsh reported that millennials will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their careers and, additionally, 91 percent of them are expected to stay in a job for less than three years.

These statistics alone are enough to make anyone believe that millennial disloyalty is more than just a stereotype.

But keep in mind that millennials were one of the hardest hit groups in the Great Recession. They most likely did not get jobs straight out of college. They saw friends get laid off. They saw parents, uncles, aunts and family friends who worked hard and were loyal to their employers lose their jobs just as easily. This “disloyalty” does not mean they do not want to excel at their current jobs—they just know company loyalty is not what it used to be.

So what do millennials want, and how do you keep them happy? Through research and a series of one-on-one interviews and focus groups, Karsh found that millennials are looking for their jobs to be:

1)      Meaningful: Karsh reported that millennials were willing to take a lower paying job in order to do more meaningful and rewarding work.

2)      Collaborative: Millennials get professional fulfillment from working with co-workers on assignments. They did group projects throughout high school and college and, therefore, are used to working in this capacity.

3)      Open and Communicative: No news does not necessarily mean good news to millennials—praise and recognition are very important to them. Millennials received trophies and ribbons for first (and last place) growing up and received feedback on just about everything. While it does not mean that mediocrity should be rewarded, millennials prefer to have routine check-ins (daily or weekly) with their supervisors and to receive recognition for a job well done. Millennials also prefer open floor plan workspaces.

4)      Flexible: Flexible work arrangements are appealing to millennials who may prefer to work from home one, two or several days a week. Karsh encouraged employers who have not yet put these arrangements in place, to launch a “pilot” program and see how it works.

5)      Challenging: Millennials are eager to learn and welcome challenging opportunities or projects.

6)      Fun: Millennials are typically more eager than their Gen X or Baby Boomer coworkers to participate in social work activities such as after-work team-building activities, happy hours or work retreats.

7)      Structured: Contrary to what some people may believe, millennials actually like structure. They like being told what to do and want individualized career development plans.


Vanessa Gray is a media affairs specialist at the Society for Human Resource Management.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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