by Julie Smith

Today’s Environment

Millennials make up one-third of today's U.S. workforce, and their preferences and needs increasingly affect the work culture and success of companies across all sectors and industries. With the oldest members of this generation now in their late thirties, millennials are proliferating throughout the organization—from early career roles to middle management and leadership. Knowing what matters to the millennial workforce is essential to building an organizational culture that attracts and retains top talent and delivers for your customers.

Point B’s Perspective

Point B works with organizations to understand millennials and build healthy, productive cultures that attract and keep them. Beyond the popular stereotype that millennials have "entitlement issues" is a deeper and more nuanced reality worth understanding. We think it's worth noting that much of what matters to millennials also matters to other generations of employees who simply were not as vocal or influential during their early work years. Today's tough competition for talent is part of the reason millennials are able to speak up—and be heard.

What matters to this generation of workers? How can your organization address their needs? Point B has been researching these questions for the last several years as well as working with millennials across hundreds of companies. Here are a few of the answers:

Millennials want a sense of purpose. They want to see how their work helps the company, its customers and the world around them. The vast majority of this generation see themselves as "activists." They expect to spend much of their lives at work, so it's important to them to have an impact there. If your organization finds it tough to recruit or keep millennials, look at ways you can help connect the dots from your mission and vision to the work they do. Connect their purpose to the big picture. And demonstrate your company's commitment to the community and broader world issues.

Millennials want to feel valued. This is a common source of frustration in the workplace. Non-millennials are frustrated because they came up at a time when they were expected to "invest" in their careers or "pay their dues." Millennials are frustrated because they feel they have the knowledge and ideas to contribute right now, even though they haven't been around long.

The good news is that these views don't have to be in conflict. You can recognize the value millennials bring by providing diverse opportunities for leadership. Balance opportunities for tenure and experience with opportunities for knowledge and ability. Avoid lumping employees into generational siloes or stereotypes. Define clear roles in work groups to foster understanding and respect based on each individual's knowledge and insight.

Millennials want to learn and grow. They expect to continue to develop and advance throughout their careers. Give them opportunities for formal and informal learning. Connect them to mentors inside and outside your company. Provide "stretch" challenges that give them on-the-job learning opportunities. And make their growth trajectory clear; we help companies develop competency models that show millennials what they need to do to gain greater responsibility.

Millennials crave immediate response. They want to receive and provide feedback in real time. They expect acknowledgement and action. It's often said that this generation grew up getting a trophy for everything. It's true that they were raised to expect a high degree of recognition. One way to provide more immediate response is as good for the company as it is for employees: Move away from the annual review. In today's work world, a year is far too long to wait for any meaningful feedback. Instead, look for ways to give ongoing feedback on performance and outcomes, and tie them to business objectives. Likewise, welcome feedback from them. Look for ways to celebrate both individual and team success.

Millennials see technology as a way to increase both productivity and connectivity. They grew up with technology. They expect to use it to do their work and are used to employing it in new and different ways.

Millennials expect their employers to adapt organizational practices to keep up with technology advances. This is healthy pressure; technological change is not slowing down any time soon. Your entire organization will benefit from embracing the opportunities that new technologies present and developing timely communication practices and standards to take advantage of them.

Millennials want to participate in company growth and operations. They want a seat at the table—to share and exchange ideas to improve the company, including its policies. This is huge opportunity for your organization to tap into their energy and add creativity to your corporate development. Find ways to include them in forming company principles and practices.

Millennials emphasize output over process. They want clear, objective measures for success. And they want to be able to take their own path to achieve that success, with the space to find creative solutions to business challenges. Provide clear expectations of what success looks like—then offers lots of flexibility in how to get there, with respect to individual work styles, backgrounds and schedules. This is the most diverse generation in American history; make it one of your strengths.

MIllennials respond best to sincerity and authenticity. Don't we all? But research shows that millennials are especially sensitive to authenticity. They grew up with an unprecedented deluge of advertising talking at them, which has given them a healthy skepticism of hype. They value companies and leaders who walk their talk. If your company lives up to its commitments and values, millennials will take notice.

The Bottom Line

At a time when companies are fiercely competing to attract and keep the top talent in their industries, understanding what matters to the millennial workforce is vital to the future of your organization. In the process, your company can become more responsive and flexible, more adept in adapting to rapidly changing technology, and maybe even more focused on getting business results. Understanding what matters to them can make a real difference to you.