Millennials in the workplace: How to manage Gen Y successfully


How can organizations successfully manage millennials in the workplace?

The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y (Gen Y), includes anyone born between 1981 and 1996. Currently they represent about 25% of the US population, but will make up 75% of the US workforce by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

They come after Generation X (born 1965-1981) and directly before Generation Z, with whom they share many characteristics. Notable millennials include prominent sportspeople, from Serena Williams to Lionel Messi, entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and performers including Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.


Focus on Generation Y


What are the main characteristics of millennials?

There are a lot of misconceptions about millennial characteristics, impacting how millennials in the workforce are seen. However, four things do define them:


1. Digitally skilled, but not digital natives

Millennials have been labelled as digital natives. However, while they are up to speed with technology they were not born with a smartphone in their hands like Gen Z. Instead, they been early adopters of everything from social media to iPhones and streaming services. Demonstrating their commitment to technology they allegedly check their phone 150 times a day. However, that doesn’t mean they are naturally adept with technology as they have learnt as they developed.


2. Ambitious and with high expectations

Millennials were raised by Baby Boomer or Gen X parents. According to researchers, in the case of many they were encouraged to feel special, that anything they aimed for was possible, and were rewarded liberally just for participating.

This has led them to being self-confident and having high expectations about what they can achieve. They question everything. On the flipside many have labelled them as arrogant, spoilt, self-centered and even narcissistic. In 2014, Time magazine called them the me-me-me generation.


3. Consumer-driven mindset

Millennials are natural consumers, always looking for new experiences and products. This means they are continually open to change – and this applies to jobs as much as expensive coffees. They behave as consumers in the workplace and will happily move company if they dislike the experience from their current employer.


4. Focused on purpose

Before the rise of Gen Z, millennials were the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, the most urbanized, holding the highest educational attainments and with the largest percentage of women in the workforce. In their lives they are looking for meaning and purpose, supporting causes such as sustainability and demanding that the companies they buy from or work for are acting responsibly. They are happy to boycott those that they feel are not ethical or operating transparently.


What values do millennials focus on?

Millennials have strongly held values – and are determined to live by them. Across the globe, studies show they are determined to make a difference, and are optimistic about the long-term, if pessimistic about the short-term future. They are generally left-leaning in terms of politics and often focused on experiences such as holidays or eating out, rather than material products such as houses or cars.

They value:

  • Family, personal connections and loyalty
  • Genuine companies/experiences/products/people
  • The environment, social justice and commitments to sustainability
  • Tolerance and diversity
  • Teamwork rather than individualism
  • Spirituality, meditation and inner peace
  • Achieving a balance between work and play


What does the millennial generation think about work?

Millennials have a different perspective on work to the generations that came before them. Their desire for being purpose-driven means they are motivated by more than money when selecting and staying with employers. Unlike Gen Z, millennials at work will happily be paid less if their job is meaningful and contributing to society.


Impacted by recession

However, their attitude to work has also been impacted by global events. Millennials that entered the job market in the 1990s were able to rise quickly in a buoyant market. However, it is different story for younger millennials who began their careers after the global crash of 2008. They’ve experienced a widening of the wealth gap to older generations, meaning many face declining pension provision, a reliance on the gig economy for jobs and an inability to get onto the property ladder.


Want to drive change

Unlike their parents, millennials are not satisfied with the world around them and are ambitious and want to achieve their goals. This is manifested in a desire to work for employers that share their commitment to fairness and change. Companies that fail to effectively align and communicate their core values will see millennials leave. Millennials also want to develop their skills, meaning they want opportunities to learn and be trained in new areas – although they favor self-directed digital channels and video above traditional classroom learning.


Ambitious and want to work in different ways

Perhaps due to their upbringing, millennials have strong self-belief. They will question everything and expect to be promoted rapidly. They won’t necessarily follow old ways of working or complete tasks by following standard methods, preferring to use technology to accomplish them more effectively and efficiently. It is therefore important to offer them flexibility in their roles, rather than proscribing how they work. This will tap into the millennial work ethic and millennial work preferences.

Flexibility extends to the rest of their working lives. For example, they want flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely to achieve millennial work/life balance.


What are the main differences between millennials, Gen Z and Gen X?

Gen Y wants:

  • To work for a purpose-driven company that enables them to make a difference
  • To build a career, even if it means working long hours
  • Rewards, praise and feedback
  • To be able to work flexibly, from wherever they want
  • To work collaboratively in teams where they have a defined role


Gen Z wants:

  • To work for a purpose-driven company that enables them to make a difference
  • To be well-paid for their work
  • To be supported, especially around mental health and have a good work/life balance
  • To be able to work flexibly, from wherever they want
  • To work through a mix of human and digital interactions


Gen X wants:

  • To be independent, and self-sufficient in the workplace
  • Not to be micro-managed or hemmed in by rules
  • Supported with the latest technology when at work
  • Willing to work hard and be resilient, while valuing work/life balance
  • Openness and feedback on their work


There are clearly many overlaps between what Gen Z and millennials want. However, there are also subtle differences:

  • Millennials want job flexibility, while Gen Z wants job stability.
  • Millennials value purpose above salary, while Gen Z wants high salaries and career advancement too
  • Millennials prefer encouraging feedback while Gen Z wants feedback to be straightforward
  • Millennials respond best to written and visual communication while short-form video is best for Gen Z


Managers and HR professionals must therefore look at Millennials and Gen Zer individually and understand what they really want.

Get to know all generations in today´s workplace. Understand what Generation X, Y and Z really wants and what you should focus on as a company. Our deep dives will help you.


Reach Generation Y with Tivian’s Communicate XI.

Communicate XI gives them the opportunity to provide your employees with tailored video, email, and SMS campaigns – all at the right time with the right content across the right channels. So while you’re delivering video to Gen Zer, you’re simply emailing or texting Millennials.

The global view in Communicate XI makes it easy to manage, measure, and scale your campaigns – and target each generation in your organization the way they want to be targeted.


Leadership – the key challenge facing millennials in the workforce

Millennials have been a part of the workforce since the early 2000s. That means that many are now managers or team leaders, often working with multigenerational teams. According to Harvard Business Review 60% of millennials now have direct reports, with a Pew Research study predicting that there will be between 5-11 million millennials in senior management roles by 2028. There are now growing numbers of millennial CEOs and members of congress.

Organizations therefore need to understand and nurture the right leadership styles within millennial managers. The positive news is that many of the traits of millennial leaders exactly match those required to create agile, open, and effective organizations:

  • They are strong communicators and believe in building relationships
  • They are collaborative and listen to others, seeking out feedback
  • They set high standards, starting from themselves and are constantly learning
  • They believe in servant leadership, empowering teams to succeed
  • They prefer flat management structures that enable fast career development


How can companies target and recruit Gen Y?

To successfully recruit millennials, organizations need to appeal to their values and preferences.

Rather than solely focusing on money, the millennial generation in the workplace values:

  • Working for an organization with a clear purpose that aligns with their own. This means companies should focus on developing and communicating their employer brand, particularly on digital channels
  • Opportunities for further development, such as through learning, courses and new skills
  • New experiences, such as opportunities to work internationally and experience new cultures
  • Flexibility around working hours and tailored benefits that meet their needs
  • A good working environment with colleagues that share their passions and interests


That means recruitment should be heavily driven by digital and word of mouth channels, with millennials able to quickly research and compare potential employers online. Companies that are the best places to work for millennials communicate around being an open, purpose-driven organization with strong technology and a working culture based around listening, acting on feedback and providing opportunities for growth. Building a strong network of advocates within the millennial generation (such as current and former employees) will also help attract top talent to the organization.


What do millennials expect from their employer?

Millennials in the workplace have very different expectations compared to previous generations and need to be managed differently. They want work to be interesting and worthwhile, both to their own development and wider society. They dislike hierarchies and titles, instead valuing traits such as humility, openness and support from their managers. Managing millennials in the workplace should revolve around trust and providing autonomy, rather than micromanagement.

Essentially, they want to be listened to and valued, creating a two-way feedback conversation with managers and the wider business. Just as in their daily lives they expect personalized communications and a positive, seamless experience at work, across everything from the technology they use to their interactions with managers.


How can companies successfully motivate millennials?

Achieving this requires employers to understand and adopt some millennial ways of thinking around openness and purpose. These include:

  • Demonstrating a clear vision and purpose
  • Creating a flexible, inclusive, diverse and psychologically safe culture
  • Developing employees by tapping into their passions and providing them with stretch projects and training to keep them stimulated
  • Making it easy for them to have their say and contribute their ideas
  • Recognizing employees through rewards and praise
  • Demonstrating genuine care for employees as individuals


Essentially, millennials want to do interesting work, with like-minded people, receiving regular feedback and with opportunities to develop, while ensuring flexibility. The millennial work environment has to match these needs.

Why do millennials quit their jobs?

According to Gallup, 21% of all millennials have switched jobs in the last 12 months, a 3x higher figure than other age groups. More importantly the majority (60%) say they are open to new opportunities.

The main reasons given for quitting include:

  • Employers failing to meet their expectations around development/career opportunities
  • Employers failing to provide the working environment, culture and flexibility that they are looking for
  • Employers being solely focused on their own good, rather than reflecting the values and purposes of millennials


Given the dominant position of generation Y in the workplace this means that employers need to focus hard on understanding, motivating and engaging their millennial employees on an ongoing basis.


How can Gen X, Y and Z work together?

Every organization today is likely to have a multigenerational workforce. Each generation, and each individual, will have their own needs when it comes to the employee experience – and their own strengths and weaknesses as employers and managers. Our new blog explains how companies can successfully manage the multigenerational workforce through feedback insights, tailored communication, and leadership development.

Read all about the advantages of multigenerational teams and learn how to lead them successfully in our blog “Multigenerational Workforce“.


How Tivian helps you successfully lead multigenerational teams

Managing teams comprising Gen Z, Y and X requires leaders to take a personalized approach. They must meet the individual needs of every team member, providing them with the right experience that motivates and retains them.

Tivian’s employee experience platform provides the foundation for success. It enables you to regularly listen to every employee’s feedback and then understand and act on their insights. This builds a strong, productive working environment that meets everyone’s needs and drives greater engagement.

Ensuring that leaders at all levels have the skills to manage multigenerational teams requires a commitment to constant development and improvement. Tivian’s Leadership 360 empowers leaders through 360 degree on-demand feedback on their performance, uncovering areas for growth and development. It enables high-performing leaders to accelerate organizational success.

An open, supportive culture is an essential part of recruiting and retaining high-performing, diverse individuals. Transform your culture with Tivian’s Diversity & Inclusion tool, a straightforward diagnostic solution that gives a clear picture of your current culture and any required changes. Identify the specific behaviors that will drive transformation and measure progress against objectives, ensuring you become the employer of choice for top talent across every generation.