Ping pong tables. Beer o’clock Fridays. Pizza parties. If you were to listen to the media hype, millennial workers are shallow, fickle workers who want to be coddled and catered to. Or they’re idealists, who want nothing more than to “make the world a better place.” Or they’re [insert stereotype here] or [insert next stereotype here].
These misconceptions about Millennials don’t come out of nowhere. There’s some truth sprinkled in here and there, but as studies of the Millennial generation start to come in, such as those put out by Deloitte and IBM, respectively, there’s much evidence indicating that what Millennials want isn’t all that different from what peers in the elder generations want. And when there are differences, they tend to be the same as those that Generation X had with the generation just above them.
For instance, Millennials tend to have a high turnover rate, but evidence shows that Generation X workers may have actually turned over more quickly when they were the same age Millennials are now.
That said, the workplace culture is changing right along with technology and the times, as are worker expectations — just not necessarily in the broad ways that many media outlets and armchair anthropologists claim. Knowing what Millennials need and want is an important part of growing a thriving and profitable workplace. To help you create the right workspace for you, we grilled six Millennials to see what they’re really looking for. Here’s what they think you should offer.
An Autonomous, Collaborative, Interdisciplinary, and Communicative Company Culture
One of the biggest themes we saw across all of our millennials was a call for autonomy. They want to be trusted to make the right decisions with the support of management.
Said Toni DeCristofaro, a Marketing Program Manager at Dell, “I prefer managers who allow employees to be autonomous and manage their work with minimal oversight. Trust, ultimately, is a key element between management and their employees for me to feel comfortable.”
Agreed Dallas Tester, a Developer Programs Manager at Twitch, of his last company, Atlassian: “Their company values exemplified both action (be the change you seek), transparency (open company, no bullshit ), and also safety and support (play, as a team). It was a great mixture of getting work done as well as supporting the human.”
That “team player” part can’t be ignored. According to one study conducted by Intelligence Group of the Creative Artists Agency, 88% of surveyed Millennials were looking for a collaborative environment.
“I think collaboration is essential for innovation, organizational learning and growth,” Ellie Levine, an Administrative Coordinator at a university, said after mentioning a need for independent work as well. “Collaboration is essential precisely because people bring unique perspectives to the table. That’s why I think it’s still important to maintain that independence and individuality within a team environment.”
Added Erin Pitts, Founder and Creative Partner at the Austin, TX design firm, The Label Collective: “There are teams that don’t collaborate and are workhorses. Instead, I love working on a team that has all parties involved in the big decisions and appreciates everyone’s opinions without undermining them because of their written roles.”
In more traditional academic settings, collaboration takes the form of interdisciplinary work. Said Greg Witkin, PhD, Clinical Neuropsychologist, “I prefer an interdisciplinary setting with multiple colleagues from within my field and from allied fields. I find that it helps foster collaboration while simultaneously encouraging me to expand my thinking [and] push myself for the betterment of my patients.”
Work With a Purpose
The term “make the world a better place” has become a cliché in Silicon Valley, but it does have some legs amongst Millennials. At a minimum, Millennials want work that is in some way fulfilling and gives them a sense of purpose.
“It’s not important to make the world a better place, necessarily, but I enjoy [a workplace] that has a goal that is not related to financial gains,” said Pitts.
For others, that bigger mission and having an impact on the world around them matter more deeply — even if that impact means, say, cutting down on the amount of paper used in the office, or switching to an electric delivery fleet.
Said Witkin: “I want to feel like I make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. I also enjoy teaching and training students.”
To other Millennials, a mission is a motivating and organizational tool. “It’s nice to have a defined mission so that during those days that are stressful or frustrating, I can hone back in on why I’m doing what I’m doing,” said Levine. “It allows me to re-center, like a theme to a book or a thesis to a paper.”
However, missions shouldn’t be “set and forget.” Added Levine: “With that being said, I think it’s crucial to regularly revise that mission as a team. If a mission never evolves, I think that could get a company into a rut.”
And, as can probably be expected, as it’s exactly what happened to older generations, that mission becomes a little less important as older Millennials have children.
“[A mission] used to be important to me,” said DeCristofaro. “I want to feel satisfied that I’m doing something that makes a difference. However, as I’ve gotten older and had children, I’m more ok with a solid paycheck even if I’m not saving the world.”
Engagement is important for all workers, but for Millennials, who have fewer qualms about switching roles, it’s really key. In fact, according to a Harvard Business Review study, a full 47% of Millennials who reported being disengaged at work indicated they would change jobs just as soon as the economy improved.
That’s should come as no surprise when you listen to Millennials like Clarisa Ramirez, Principal at Small Coffee PR, who reported that “creativity through problem solving is important to me.” In fact, rather than needing to work at the very hub of innovation, Ramirez said that she put greater value on “having the freedom to come up with ideas.”
Echoing these sentiments, Bridey Monshaugen, a Corporate Security Senior Adviser at Dell, said that it was important to her to work somewhere “where I don’t feel that my ideas and personality are stifled.”
This was repeated across our Millennials, and was often what lay beneath other values such as autonomy. They desired freedom not just for the sake of it, but so that they could properly give their ideas a fighting chance.
Flexible Hours and Remote Working
The term “life work balance” has largely become irrelevant to Millennials. This isn’t at all because they don’t want it, but because they’d largely prefer to set the terms of when and how they work. This is in contrast to previous HR approaches to the term, in which “being in balance” generally seemed to mean that hours were more traditionally set, but workers were allowed to leave at a certain hour and be done with work.
“I’ve been a remote worker for almost 4 years now and set my own hours and schedule,” said Tester, who chooses to work remotely even though his companies offers perks like catered meals, snacks, and video games. “This lets me go to doctor’s appointments, work out, and generally keep balance. I couldn’t imagine going back to sitting in traffic and then sitting in an open floor plan where I would be less productive and constantly distracted. I get more work done at home than I do in an office.”
Added Ramirez, “Being a professional communicator means you’re usually on for most of the years, and at non-traditional work hours, so the flexibility to take a vacation, to work at home and to create my own hours is very important for my sanity. At my previous 9 to 5, I worked about the same amount of hours per week I work now (55+), but I’m a lot happier because I’m not trapped in a windowless room, forcing myself to work without taking any breaks.”
As Millennials become parents, flexibility has become even more crucial. Said Pitts, “As a mother, flexibility is insanely important. I don’t really care what the hours are called — vacation, sick time, whatever — as long as I can get my work done and won’t feel guilty about ducking out if my daughter all of a sudden has to go to the pediatrician.”
“Flexibility is probably the highest priority for me when looking for a position,” said DeCristofaro. “I currently work from home 75% of the week and only go into the office for key meetings. I create my own schedule and what works for me. It’s fine with my manager as long as my job gets done. I prefer an unlimited vacation policy b/c it’s annoying to track it, but ultimately, if my manager knows what I’m up to and I need a day off here or there for a sick kid or moving houses, and it’s no big deal, then I’m good. Having me shackled by a specific number of days really doesn’t help anyone.”
Even those who work in more traditional environments value flexibility highly.
“I need a workplace where I am able to work from home or really, work from anywhere,” said Monshaugen.
Added Witkin, whose work doesn’t lend itself naturally to remote working or flexible hours, “I do appreciate a team environment where people are supportive and willing to pitch in if a coworker needs a day off, wants a vacation, [or] is overwhelmed for whatever reason.”
That said, our Millennials were keenly aware of the hazards of flexible and remote working, and strongly articulated a preference for not getting emails after a certain hour and leaving work at work. They just wanted more control over what exactly that meant.
Said Tester, “I do think that there should be a clear delineation between working and non-working hours. I don’t believe in always being on the clock.”
They also advocated for a greater differentiation between work and play when it came to company culture. Said Pitts, “I look for a company culture that is inclusive of all types of lifestyles. A culture where you don’t have to go to happy hour every day to feel “part of the club”.
Ample Benefits to Parents
Parental benefits are becoming increasingly important to Millennials, who want the perks of today’s more flexible working style without the downsides.
Pitts called parental benefits such as parental leave, flexible hours, and on-site daycare, “Very important. Not necessarily deal breakers, but a BIG plus.”
Said DeCristofaro, “As it stands now, the role of being a parent is undervalued by many companies and it shows in their policies. We need better time off for maternity AND paternity leave that is more equal. We need an understanding that when moms come back they might need limited hours for a bit as they transition in. We need flexible schedules to allow for pick up [and] drop off, doctor’s appointments and sick days that you’re forced into because of your kids and not even because you’re sick. Society needs to understand that we have to nurture our children; the future instead of looking at it so short term for what you’re getting out of your employee on any given 8 hour work day.”
Parental benefits matter even to Millennials who don’t plan on or aren’t sure about having children.
“I definitely think that parental leave, flexible hours and on-site daycare is very important to have a more productive workforce,” said Ramirez. “Diversity in the workforce is important, so you don’t want to lose out on talent just because they have young children. In my experience, new mothers who have had to come back to the office right after having kids have been distracted and more stressed at the office than if they were actually working from home.”
Added Tester, “I absolutely think those perks should be available for those that choose to have children. Most companies focus on young, single folks when they think about their perks, which is a huge disservice to working parents.”
Opportunities for Learning and Growth
As should be expected of those early in their career, Millennials are looking for opportunities to learn and grow (take that, stereotype about Millennials being entitled and lazy). They want to be challenged and to have the opportunity to move up.
“I would eventually like to be the boss,” said Monshaugen. “I am still early in my career and have lots of opportunities ahead of me.”
To get where they want to be in their careers, Millennials appreciate good mentorship and coaching.
Said Levine, “I think regular one-on-one check-ins with a direct supervisor [or] mentor are key to professional growth. Having that relationship set in stone with a supervisor allows structure for reflection and accountability on the job. Knowing each week that I’ll be checking in with a supervisor allows me to keep track of my short term goals and continue to relate them to the bigger picture. It also sets up opportunities to feel proud of accomplishments.”
Even those who are on their own like mentorship. Said Ramirez of her time working in more traditional roles, “I like working on teams that have a lot of communication, and working under bosses that can help coach and mentor me.”
However, those on the older end of the Millennial spectrum don’t just want mentorship for mentorship’s sake. “There’s a different kind of mentorship needed at our level,” said Pitts.
Good Pay and Benefits
Contrary to popular misconceptions, Millennials do care about their salary and traditional benefits, and they don’t feel entitled to it just because they’ve shown up to work.
“I think fair pay is important,” said Tester. “The amount of revenue generated by a worker is often not reflected in compensation.”
“It’s important to me as I’m the breadwinner in our family,” said DeCristofar. “We need to ensure I make more and more to cover high childcare costs. If we could do away with that, it maybe wouldn’t be as important.”
When Millennials are concerned about money, it often has to do with deeper issues, like their experiences in the recession, which made it difficult to get those important first jobs out of college, and the generation’s unprecedented levels of student debt.
“I was in school for a long time and still have some debt from undergrad and graduate school,” said Witkin. “It’s hard to be in your 30’s without any real income or savings. I feel like I have to make up for lost time due to the length and cost of my training.”
However, none of our millennials identified salary as being so important that it overrode other factors, such as a sense of mission, or that oh-so-crucial flexibility factor.
Said Ramirez, “Having free time to recharge my batteries is more important than just having a lot of money because if I don’t have time to do more than work, the money doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t make me happy.”
“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” added Pitts. “I prefer to have a salary in my means, and that is comparable to the cost of living in the city.”
A Chance to Have an Impact and Control Over Their Careers
By and large, Millennials don’t want to just sit back and watch their careers unfold. They want their voices to be heard, to have an impact on the organizations they’re a part of, and to be in the driver’s seat.
“I like a more open culture where employees are encouraged to have a voice,” said DeCristofaro. “[Employees should] feel empowered to make decisions and provide direction to leadership that they’ll actually listen to.”
Doing so is important, because they also have a strong entrepreneurial drive, meaning that your competitors when it comes to attracting Millennial talent are not just other firms, but also your employees themselves.
Said Tester: “I would love to be my own boss someday mostly for the flexibility of it all.”
Echoed DeCristofaro, “It’s something I dream about one day. I naturally take the reins of any program [or] project put before me. I like to own it from the top and see how everything is coming together.”
Those who are already their own bosses, echoed those sentiments: “I love the flexibility to mold it into something that grows organically,” said Pitts.
Added Ramirez: “What I like about it is I can choose to a certain degree who I want to work with, I can choose when I want to take time off, and I get to meet a ton of people.”
As a general rule, Millennials are a little less trusting of institutions than other generations. Accordingly, Millennials tend to hold their employers to high standards. They want you to be ethical and fair, they don’t accept unfair or substandard policies, and they prefer companies that are open, whether about their business practices, what’s said about them online, or how they portray themselves in their job postings.
And no, they don’t care about ping pong tables.
When asked where she would rate those famous Millennial perks on a scale of 1 to 10, Monshaugen chose 1 or 2, reporting, “I would prefer to have a higher salary and less ‘perks.’”
“Can I say 0?” asked Pitts. “They’re all a distraction!”
“The game rooms and what not are kind of ridiculous to me,” said DeCristofaro. “I get the need to take a break, but folks can find their own ways to do so.”
Millennials don’t even necessarily need to be at the hot new place.
“I’ve worked at the places that are deemed ‘cutting-edge,’” said Pitts. “Those places are no different than any other office other than working insane hours to get there, and having no more benefit than a line on the resumé. I find more value in businesses who care about their employees feeling like they’re worthwhile, that they can own their own work, and feel pride in their jobs.”
So, what can you do as a manager to attract Millennial workers? More than anything, it’s important to give your workers flexibility. Trust that if you felt they were good enough to hire, they’ll get their work done how and when it works for them. Just as important is giving Millennials plenty of room for growth, and ways to have an impact on your company’s work and mission. Which you should have, in order to give your Millennial workers a sense of purpose.
Your first mission? Trashing that game room in exchange for the things that matter.