The 5 millennial traits every employer needs to know

In our eBook The Millennial Mindset: How to Attract and Retain Millennial Employees, we explore what the future looks like for millennial employees, the challenges they’re facing right now and how employers can create a desirable professional environment for the first generation of digital natives.

Here we drill down into the five key millennial traits, and the influence they’re having on the way businesses cater to their employees’ needs and drives.


Millennial trait 1: Millennials seek a good work-life balance

Research from Willis Towers Watson in October 2016 showed that 69% of Millennials listed ‘work-life balance’ as one of their biggest workplace worries – second only to ‘heightened stress’ at work.

It makes good business sense for employers to respect and facilitate this wish where possible. After all, employees who feel valued, refreshed and fulfilled will be more productive and creative than those who are worn down by long hours in the office.

Healthy work-life balance practices can take many forms:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Remote working
  • Unlimited holiday
  • Subsidised leisure benefits, such as cinema tickets or gym membership
  • An on-site place for downtime, such as a cafe or outdoor space

If employees feel trusted and valued in this way, they will return this trust. It breeds loyalty.



Millennial trait 2: Millennials are digital natives

Millennials are digital natives. They have never known a world without technology. Even the oldest among this generation – those aged 35-36 – were entering their first job or starting University as Google emerged. That was 1998.

A year later was perceived to be the ‘tipping point’ for mobile penetration in the UK. In 1999 one mobile phone was sold in the UK every four seconds (Professor Nigel Linge, University of Salford).

Times have changed – and fast.


Technology has shaped millennials’ attitudes

It stands to reason that millennials have a different mindset from baby boomers or generation X. They have a different way of learning, communicating and engaging. Technology has given them, quite literally, a world of information at their fingertips. They expect speed, ease, efficiency and mobility in every aspect of their lives.

In the UK, 91% of millennials own a smartphone, according to comScore’s ‘Global Mobile Report’ (Jul 2015), while 87% of millennials use their smartphone daily.


Using social media to recruit and engage

Social media is a key battlefield and it is a fast changing area. A report from Wearesocial (Digital in 2016 report) suggests that millennials are shifting away from Facebook and towards more private social channels such as Instagram, Snapchat and mobile messengers like WhatsApp.

As the report says:


“Social channels continue to offer exceptional opportunities for those brands who are willing to invest the time to get to know their audiences, and find out what they care about.”


Snapchat reaches the parts that other channels can not reach

One channel which is seeing huge growth, particularly among younger millennials, is Snapchat, which has 10m daily users in Britain alone (source: SimilarWeb).

Snapchat also reaches the youngest audience among the major social platforms:

  • 83% of Snapchat’s users are under the age of 35
  • 61% of users are under the age of 35 on WhatsApp
  • 65% of users are under the age of 35 on Facebook Messenger


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Millennial trait 3: Millennials prefer ongoing feedback

In May 2016, the Chairman of research company, Gallup, Jim Clifton identified several cultural shifts that organisations can make to better engage millennials. Two in particular stand out:

  1. Millennials don’t want bosses – they want mentors. Clifton says, “The role of an old-style boss is command and control. Millennials care about having managers who can coach them, who value them as both people and employees, and who help them understand and build their strengths.”
  2. Millennials don’t want annual reviews – they want ongoing conversations. “The way millennials communicate – texting, tweeting, Skype, etc – is  real-time and continuous,” says Clifton. “This dramatically affects the workplace because millennials are accustomed to constant communication and feedback. Annual reviews no longer work.”


Millennials want to feel loved

The desire to be coached and receive ongoing feedback derives from one core need: to feel valued. Millennials crave this.

As Anna Donovan, PwC’s human capital transformation leader has said, millennials are driven by “how supported and appreciated they feel, and how much possibility they have.”


Leadership skills are a sought after offering

A key part of this also lies in the development of leadership skills. According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 63% feel that their leadership skills are not being fully developed. This follows on from 2015, when Deloitte revealed that 39% of millennials cited ‘leadership’ as one of the most prized skills. Businesses who invest in this area will clearly prove attractive to candidates.


Mentors are a worthy investment…

Providing mentors also has proven value. Deloitte research shows that millennials intending to stay with their organisations for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%).


“There really is no secret to success and there surely are no shortcuts. In my case, it was a pretty simple equation: hard work + some lucky breaks + great mentors.” – Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte Global.

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Millennial trait 4: Millennials respond to a lack of hierarchy

Millennials don’t tend to think in terms of hierarchies. This attitude and confidence is likely driven by the internet – by access to infinite information that empowers, enriches and fuels the belief that anything is possible.


“Don’t speak until you’re 35”

As Maxine Dolan, formerly Group Leadership Development Director at Tesco recently commented, “It’s a generalisation but, if you put the younger generation in a culture of an old-fashioned hierarchy where people say “be quiet because you’re not allowed to speak until you’re 35,” they just won’t stay. Enjoyment and belonging are two things key to long term retention.”

Millennials respond to a flatter structure where everyone contributes and works as a team and there is no monopoly on ideas, however junior you might be. Understanding how they contribute to the ‘bigger picture’ is of great importance. Many also thrive in an entrepreneurial culture where they are encouraged to think and explore for themselves, and are given creative freedom and diverse challenges.


An open, supportive environment is valued

Figures from the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey show that millennials are more likely to report high levels of satisfaction where there is:

  • A creative, inclusive working culture (76%) rather than a more authoritarian, rules-based approach (49%).
  • Open and free-flowing communication (47% v 26% where employee satisfaction is low)
  • A culture of mutual support and tolerance (42% v 25% where employee satisfaction is low)
  • Active encouragement of ideas among employees (38% v 21% where employee satisfaction is low)
  • Support and understanding of the ambitions of younger employees (34% v 15% where employee satisfaction levels were low)



Millennial trait 5: Millennials value experiences over material rewards

In February 2016, Bloomberg reported that the stock market was starting to reflect a shift in spending priorities as the millennial generation matures as an economic force. The shift is one from materialism to experience, something that has become known as the ‘experience economy’.

Bloomberg reported that while retail sales were struggling, shares in travel companies and pub and restaurant groups were soaring.


Live events make millennials tick

The research supports the fact that millennials increasingly want to spend on experiential activities, not on ‘stuff’ (Eventbrite, 2014):

  • 78% of millennials would prefer to spend their money on an experience than a possession.
  • 82% went to a live event, such as concerts and festivals, in the previous year
  • 72% said they plan to increase spending on such outings


Festivals cut it

Festivals embody all that millennials love about experiences, as J. Walter Thompson’s research into festivals in February 2016 highlighted…

  • 51% of millennials go to these events “to experience something new.”
  • Average annual individual spend on festivals totals almost £200 each year
  • Three in four millennials go to at least one festival every year
  • 25% go to four festivals or more each year
  • More than a third have travelled abroad to visit a festival.


Experiential rewards work in business too

This desire spills over into the workplace. As Debra Corey, group reward director at Reward Gateway says, “Experiential recognition is just what you’d think it is, rewarding and recognising employees with experiences. This is a growing industry, and will most likely continue to grow as studies show that experiences bring people more happiness than possessions.”


Personalised rewards make millennials feel valued

As Jeremy Boudinet, director of marketing at US sales performance software platform, Ambition noted in his blog post earlier this year, “If you can’t promote an employee, the next best thing is to give him or her a thoughtful, personalised reward that sends the message: ‘We recognise how well you’re performing. You’re going places with this company.’”


Don’t ignore what’s in front of you

While it is impossible to generalise about an entire generation, some clear traits have emerged from the extensive research carried out on millennials, and they can’t be ignored.

They do things differently from previous generations, that much is true – their attitudes, expectations and needs contrast sharply in some areas to those before them- but they are also keen to learn and are alive with ideas.

Empathise with your millennial workforce. Offer them an alternative to the traditional employment structure and you might just find yourself ahead of the game.

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