The business world continues to puzzle at “the millennial mind” — whether it is conflating their love of avocado toast with financial insecurity, or advocating for unorthodox office arrangements to capture their attention, companies remain perplexed by the youngest generation in the workforce. The simple answer may be that, like the Gen Xers and Boomers before them, there are general trends rather than defining traits. And for those who wish to attract millennial and millennial-minded workers, we will explore those general trends that appear near and dear to millennials’ hearts.
First, to define the parameters of the millennial generation: A 2014 article1 from The Atlantic described millennials as persons born between 1982 and 2004. They are preceded by Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1984) and baby-boomers (born 1946–1964). The generation after millennials (now being called Generation Z) includes those born after 2005, who will begin entering the workforce in about 10 years.
General Trend #1 — Urbanization
Millennials appear to embrace more of an urban lifestyle — more so than Gen Xers or baby-boomers. The reason behind this urge for “re-urbanization” may vary, from environmental consciousness to financial constraints. Regardless of the motivators, many millennials abjure the suburban sprawl for smaller abodes, close proximity to mass transit, and an emphasis on walkability.
The business world’s recognition of this re-urbanization was demonstrated by Amazon’s HQ2 Request for Proposal. One of Amazon’s seven core requirements for their second headquarters was access to mass transit routes. While Amazon articulated a number of other factors to be considered, demanding meaningful mass transit access as a core requirement demonstrates the company’s understanding of the younger workforce’s focus on urbanization. The New York Times hypothesized and narrowed down the field to Boston; Washington D.C.; and Denver because of the efficient (and improving) mass transit systems already in place. Of course, when Amazon chooses HQ2’s location, we will see just how committed the company is to re-urbanization.
Millennials’ tendency toward an urban lifestyle may be a product of the New Urbanism movement, which is pretty millennial itself. Begun in the early 1980s, New Urbanism strives to reduce car dependency and create interconnectedness among the community. The movement itself is a reaction to the rise of suburbia, and the overtaxing of vehicle infrastructure systems. New Urbanism promotes environmentally friendly and sustainable communities by creating walkable population centers containing a variety of housing and job types. The tenets of New Urbanism are (1) walkability, (2) connectivity, (3) mixed use and diversity, and (4) a strong emphasis on community, encouraging a traditional neighborhood structure with open spaces and community gathering areas, as well as the necessity for community life (residential, retail, green space, commercial, etc.).
New Urbanism’s emphasis on connection and community appears to fall in line with many millennials’ priorities and lifestyle. Many millennials eschew the larger suburban homes and picket fences for urban lifestyles, conveniently located to public spaces, retail operations, and transportation hubs. Companies attempting to attract a large millennial workforce would do well to consider facilities located within mixed-use developments that may fit within their employees’ urban lifestyles.
General Trend #2 — Need for General and Specialized On-the-Job Training
Regardless s of educational background, almost all millennial employees place a high value on on-the-job-training. This need for specific and general training is felt both by the employee and the employer. Today’s clients and consumers demand highly specialized products and services, requiring every company’s workforce to be specialized in each company’s unique business line, and oftentimes its resources and equipment.
Companies looking to hire blue-collar laborers may employ workers with certain vocational training; however, many industrial operations utilize custom equipment, requiring specialized training to operate and repair, which cannot be obtained in a general classroom setting. Furthermore, finding a candidate with any formal industrial experience is becoming increasingly difficult, as public education is primarily focused on graduating “college-ready” students. Organized and efficient on-the-job training programs enable industrial companies to hire dependable and intelligent candidates who may not have the desired industrial work experience.
Corporations needing office workers also need robust training programs. New college graduates, whether liberal arts majors or STEM graduates, often arrive out of college knowing how to think, but needing guidance on the particular skills to successfully execute their job functions. Few colleges focus on skills-based training. Many graduates obtain a degree without proficiency in customer service, spreadsheet manipulation, or technical writing. Companies and workforce development organizations need a plan to train new hires, regardless of experience level, for these general and transferrable skills.
Additionally, like their industrial counterparts use custom machinery, so too do many office functions employ custom and perhaps even proprietary software. One of the biggest challenges companies are facing is how to efficiently and effectively train their employees on their equipment and software. Workforce development organizations that possess the flexibility to support company-specific training will better position themselves to companies needing assistance closing the knowledge gap.
To complement formal on-the-job training curriculum, companies may implement mentorship programs. By pairing less experienced employees with senior workers, the new employees will receive individual attention to achieve their best abilities. A mentorship program allows millennial employees to further their training by focusing on the areas in which they most need development while recognizing their strengths. On the flip side, a mentorship program grants millennial employees face time with more senior company members and strengthens internal relationships. This arrangement may even provide an opportunity for the millennials to provide new ideas or “disruptions” from their perspective and areas of strength. A mentorship program not only offers an opportunity to strengthen multigenerational ties, but it also offers a collaborative atmosphere to complement formal training programs.
General Trend #3 — Flexibility
As millennials grew up with the advent of the Internet, a common critique of the generation is that their attention is difficult to hold. In more polite terms, millennials excel at multitasking. As such, in order to attract millennial workers, companies must become more flexible, both in workspaces and in schedules.
Many millennial-minded companies eschew cubicles for open workspaces. Not all industries can offer collaborative workspaces, as some job functions require privacy and solo concentration. However, hybrid offices — which include a combination of private offices, cubicles, open floor plans, and public spaces — enable employees to select the workspace that is most effective for them. The backlash from the “cost-effective” cubicle, which felt like a trap to many office workers, now pushes companies to invest in their office layout and workspace. The concern is not just how to efficiently house employees, but also how to create offices where workers want to be.
Millennials, and millennial-minded employees crave not only flexible workspace, but also flexible schedules. Among innovative companies, there is recognition that individuals’ peak performance times differ, and individuals may have external obligations. The challenge is to balance this recognition with the necessary collaboration and “face-time” created by traditional work schedules.
Millennials have begun rising through the ranks of corporate hierarchies and will soon overtake the baby-boom generation. Companies looking to hire millennial employees and retain those existing in their current workforces will weigh the desires of this generation with the traditional practices. Some companies may need a complete overhaul of their approach to millennials, while others will just tweak their existing practices. Regardless of where a company is on the millennial spectrum, the only thing that is certain is that we will have to undertake a new understanding of the next after-millennial generation …a.k.a. Generation Z. If all indications continue, Generation Z will be larger than either the baby-boomer or millennial generations, really giving us something to puzzle about.