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The best and the worst of hiring millennials

Millennials at work

Written by Amela Bajric
Feb 09, 2020

We look at the common myths about hiring millennials. Why do these misconceptions exist and why does hiring and retaining them within your existing workforce make good business sense?

Narcissistic, self-absorbed, arrogant: Millennials are often tarred with a heavy brush. Still, recruits under 35 have a lot of tremendous skills and abilities to offer dynamic companies – but only if employers are ready to reassess their preconceptions and switch their perspectives.

Misconception #1: Millennials are demanding

Millennials are demanding and want the work they do and the company they work for to be interesting and aligned with their values. They will get on their high horse at the slightest hint of what they see as 'corporate misbehaviour'.

The positive: Millennials will help you safeguard your reputation

The most diverse generation ever, millennials witnessed or even took part in movements like Occupy in the UK, or Podemos and Syriza elsewhere in Europe.

Consumers and the public in general are demanding more and more transparency from companies. Enron was created in 1985 and went bankrupt in 2001 – if it had survived, it would be a “millennial” too. This is just one of the companies that were exposed for wrongdoing on a massive scale. According to research by PwC, “52% of millennials would deliberately seek out employers whose corporate social responsibility values matched their own”.

As a result of numerous scandals like this one, millennials have a very strong sense of needing to be faithful to values beyond profit. The most diverse generation ever, millennials witnessed or even took part in movements like Occupy in the UK, or Podemos and Syriza elsewhere in Europe. As consumers, they know the impact a company's reputation can have on purchasing decisions: 89% said they were very likely “to buy from those companies that supported solutions to specific social issues”.

In the Asia Pacific region, millennials are driving the demand for fair-trade, ethical consumer products: 64% of consumers said they are willing to pay extra for products from ethically responsible companies. They can help you see your company through the eyes of your customers, and possibly avoid tone-deaf communication in a crisis.

Tips for employers: 

To build loyalty, showcase your CSR initiatives. The civic-mindedness of millennials is also a wonderful opportunity for team-building: let them lead a project that will benefit a good cause, a mini-marathon, a coffee morning or an innovative sponsored activity. Let millennials tell you what causes they are interested in and personalise their CSR journey. You will learn a lot about their character and their own respective leadership style.

The civic-mindedness of millennials is also a wonderful opportunity for team-building.

Morgan McKinley launched its own CSR initiative to engage employees and contribute to social causes globally. The Morgan McKinley Million is a company commitment to raise the value of one million euros by collectively pooling all employee contribution to charitable causes. To launch the programme each office location has self-nominated CSR champions who are driving the programme locally, many of whom fall into the millennial demographic. 

Misconception #2: Millennials are “job-hoppers”

"They feel no loyalty to their employer and are prepared to move on every few years." Millennials are clearly telling companies how to engage them – why not oblige?

Millennials grew up during a time of heightened economic uncertainty, where one recession followed in the footsteps of another (based on IMF criteria, five global recessions in their lifetime: 1980–1983, 1990–1993, 1998, 2001–2002, and 2008–2009). They were hit hard by the last recession just as they were leaving college and entering the workforce: 72% of millennials had to make compromises when looking for work, mostly around their preferred location and benefits.

They have taken that uncertainty and instability on board. They know that it’s not enough to work hard and be loyal to your company; in a time of economic hardship, that will not protect you from layoffs. In fact, “many European millennials say hard work and education do not pay off”. In Singapore, millennials are pessimistic about finding a new job and worried about job security. Still, their deep awareness of uncertainty is incredibly useful for organisations that might be set in their ways. Millennials might be canaries in the coal mine when it comes to lightning-fast, disruptive change that could threaten your industry.

They want to make the most of their time at any company. In a time when sluggish economic growth can mean frozen raises and limited career advancement options, they're looking for gratification elsewhere. This gratification can be pride in meaningful work done well, as well as good relationships with co-workers and bosses.

Tips for employers: 

Isn't it great that millennial employees expect to find self-fulfilment in their workplace? 

Explain why the tasks they are asked to do are meaningful and the wider context in which they fit, take a few minutes to give encouragement and highlight what you like about their work. There is no task too small to be insignificant; answering the phone to a new lead creates the first impression on important customers and contacts.

Misconception #3: Millennials are never satisfied and crave novelty

The positive: Millennials are open to moving laterally in an organisation

Their thirst for new experiences reflects their desire to see the bigger picture of what their company does. Fuel that desire, and you can develop versatile, agile, highly adaptable co-workers.

It turns out that millennials are not so much job-hopping as craving new experiences.

For 52% of millennials, good opportunities for career progression make an employer attractive, and 66% of them think international experience is needed to further their careers. They are open to lateral, horizontal moves in an organisation - they want excitement and novelty. 

Putting in the time and paying their dues might not appeal to them, but that’s also because working their way up the corporate ladder might not attract them as much as running with new, innovative ideas. They are curious about what is happening in other departments at the company as well. If your millennial recruits can see that they are not stuck in the same old grind every day, but that there are many things left for them to explore within your organisation, they won’t want to leave.

Tip for employers:

Companies need to focus more on offering different internal opportunities. If somebody leaves because they want to work on a new project, develop a new skill and interact with new people, then is that possible within the company? Rather than be taken by surprise by this, open up this conversation from the very outset with your new recruit.

Think of what career options you can offer millennials. Don’t get stuck in the 'up, always up' mindset.

Straight promotions are not always what millennials are after. They want to develop more skills, they are open to lateral, horizontal moves, to the point that some HR professionals speak of the career “lattice” rather than the career “ladder”. The more options you open up to millennials, the more excited they will be. Highlight how they help their own career opportunities with training, networking, contributing ideas, adding value etc.

Misconception #4: Millennials need constant feedback and hand-holding because they lack autonomy and initiative

The positive: Millennials want to make sure that they do good work and that their bosses are happy with their output

Re-frame this as conscientiousness. Millennials have become accustomed, through social media, to having everybody chime in and give an opinion on their every move. They are afraid of failure and want to avoid it at all costs.

Tip for employers: 

Clearly explain:

  • The rules of the assignment
  • The intended output
  • The metrics against which their work will be measured
  • Who it’s for
  • What it should achieve

If possible, give past examples of successful similar projects, and point out what worked and what can be improved. 

Yes, it takes more time in the beginning, but a stitch in time saves nine – the last rule you explain to them should be: “Now that you have all this information, I am expecting you to figure out the rest on your own. Get back to me if you run into a difficulty, but know that first I will ask you what you tried to overcome it.”

Don’t fall into the trap of tarring all millennials with one brush or attaching a label with negative connotations without considering how you’re personally viewing them and, more importantly, managing them.

Susan HayesCulleton, co-founder #SavvyTeenAcademy, quotes: “The next generation, namely Gen Z, joining our workplace has so much to offer. They believe that richness is not your bank account balance, but your bank of experiences. They are intensely value-conscious and want employers to be ethical across the board from profit, to people, to planet. They have a global outlook and infectious enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to employing them in years to come!”

We all know that human resources are the richest type of asset in a company so invest in patience and draw out their rounded value.

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