The Millennials are coming – and going

In a decade, the ‘Millennials’ will represent 75% of the global workforce. So how should your workplace be adapting to accommodate them – and to keep them?

Everyone’s talking about their generation – the Millennials, that is.

Otherwise known as Generation Y, and classically defined by their status as the original ‘digital natives’, these are the children born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. And they are about to overrun your workplace.

Within five years, they will make up more than half of the workforce; in a decade, that figure will rise to 75%. Any business planning on a future, therefore, will need to be prepared to handle the special needs of a generation with a rather difficult reputation. In a nutshell: a May 2013 cover of Time magazine famously declared the Millennials to be the “ME ME ME Generation: Lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” Ouch.

The reality, however, is clearly not so accommodating of stereotypes (and nor was Time, which ultimately declared the Millennials’ more positive traits of resourcefulness, optimism and adaptability will, in fact, “save us all”).

Now, in 2016, with Generation Y currently spanning the age group of 15-35, we’ve been hit with a wave of research that has illuminated the qualities, motivations and staying power of the soon-to-be dominant demographic cohort of the workforce.

First shocking finding: NextGen, a two-year study conducted by PwC, “shatters commonly held myths about Millennials in the workplace, uncovering attitudes and behaviour that largely mirror those of their more senior colleagues”.

In other words, the kids aren’t monsters. But the research of PwC and others does reveal telling generational differences that do hold important lessons for the businesses that will be striving to attract and retain talent in the years to come.

Take the headline finding of Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2016: almost half of the 7,700 Millennials surveyed would like to leave their current employer in the next two years, and two thirds want to be gone by 2020.

Deloitte believes this “remarkable absence of loyalty represents a serious challenge to any business” – but it also suggests “lack of loyalty may be a sign of neglect”: 71% of those likely to leave in the next two years expressed dissatisfaction with how their leadership skills are being nurtured; 63% of all those surveyed said their “leadership skills are not being fully developed”; and only 28% “feel that their current organisations are making ‘full use’ of the skills they currently have to offer”.

This apparent impatience of the Millennial generation is further explored by Motivating Millennials: Managing tomorrow’s workforce, today, a study conducted by Galaxy Research for workforce management software group Kronos.

Their findings suggest Millennial employees swap jobs more than twice as quickly as their Baby Boomer and Generation X colleagues: Millennials averaged 3.4 years across their last few roles, compared to 5.8 years for Gen-X and 7.3 years for the Boomers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the relatively early stage of their careers, two thirds of Millennials said they would stay at an employer as long as they are acquiring the skills and training that will leapfrog them onto the next role – compared to a third of Gen-X and 27% of Baby Boomers.

And furthering Deloitte’s hypothesis of neglect (or is it neediness, I hear you say?), 65% of Millennials said they would stay longer if managers showed an interest in them as an individual.

But perhaps the biggest message from the Kronos study concerns the apparent propensity for Millennials to pull up stumps and move on when “they felt they were no longer giving their best” – 60% left within a year (a third of those within three months). These figures dwarfed those of the older generations (40% of Gen-X; 21% of Boomers).

The question is: what is the trade-off between the benefits of staff loyalty and retention, and the sliding productivity of those whose interest and engagement may have passed its peak? Perhaps the Millennials can teach us a thing or two about the value of ‘giving out or giving up’.

Kronos certainly believes this is the case, proposing a re-take on the traditional “attract-and-retain thinking”. We all know how expensive staff turnover can be, but perhaps the workplace of the future is going to have to adapt to the Millennials, rather than the other way around.

“We wanted to understand whether organisations need to get more comfortable managing higher attrition and rotation levels,” writes Kronos MD, Peter Harte, in his Foreword.

“When the average Millennial employee clocks up just over 40 months on the job, we ask whether ‘retention at all costs’ is the right approach, or whether companies need to adapt to a new ‘hiring half-life’ rewarding peak performance alongside – or even instead of – long service.”

Are the Millennials the dominant generation in your workplace yet? Or have you considered adjusting any of your policies and procedures in anticipation of their arrival? Share your experiences and ideas, or start a conversation below.

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Graham Turner is the former Editor of Ai Group's Industry magazine, which ceased publication in 2014. He now edits (and moderates) this Blog, together with Ai Group's weekly Email newsletter.

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