Oct 9, 2019 - by Diane Soucie

How many of us have heard these types of comments?

“Workers today feel entitled”
“They want constant praise”
“Young workers are disloyal, reckless in their approach and make aggressive demands”.

How many of us have thought it or, perhaps, said something similar?

The age cohort most often portrayed negatively with these types of statements are millennials. But is this a fair assessment? Let’s take a look at the myths and realities surrounding millennials, why it matters and strategies to tap into the talent of this generation.

Why understanding millennials is important?

Quite simply, millennials now make up a significant segment of the workforce. While the definition of millennials varies, generally they are viewed as people born between 1978 and 1994 making them now 25 to 41 years old. As of 2019, approximately 30 per cent of today’s workforce in Leeds and Grenville and 38 per cent of the workforce in Frontenac can be defined as millennials. They now exceed the numbers of workers age 55 plus and are rapidly moving into management roles. Understanding the values and motivations of millennials will enhance productivity within the work environment and alleviate frustrations.

Let’s take a look at some myths and realities

Myth: Millennials are lazy.
Reality: Millennials have one of the highest employment rates in the region. Statistics Canada Census data (2016) identifies 16,180 individuals age
25 to 34 were in the Frontenac County labour force or 84 per cent of the total population in the same age group. In Leeds and Grenville, of 8,950 people age
25 to 34 years old, 7,620 individuals or 85% were in the labour force.

Myth: Millennials are demanding and seek constant praise.
Reality: According to a study by IBM, millennials are not so much looking for constant praise, but for an ethical and fair boss who shares information. Thirtyfive
percent of Boomers and Millennials listed this as the top quality they seek in a boss. Last on the priority list for Millennials? A boss who asks for their input.

Myth: Millennials are obsessed with technology.
Reality: Millennials are the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology. However, they are able to use technology as a means complete tasks more
efficiently. Despite their ease with technology, a 2016 global study of more than 4,000 millennial and Gen Z workers (those 24 years old and younger) found that
39% preferred “in-person” communications versus email (16%), telephone (11%) and instant messaging (10%).

Myth: Millennials are disloyal.
Reality: Millennials stay with their employers longer than the preceding Generation X workers did at their age. 5 (Gen X is defined as individuals born between 1965 and 1977). The disloyalty myth may stem from the fact that many millennials are chronically under-employed meaning their job is not in line with their education and skill level.

Remember, many millennials entered the job market while baby boomers were still actively engaged in the labour market making it tough for younger workers to carve out a place for themselves. Millennials are also challenged by a dramatically different workplace where employment within what is often referred to as the ‘gig economy’ can be much more precarious.

As reported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, over 30% of jobs in Canada are either part-time or generated through self-employment. As a result, millennials are looking to their current employment to provide them with the skills and experience that will help them to step into their next opportunity as they build their career.

The challenge and opportunity for employers is to facilitate career-building within their company. An international study of millennials conducted by Randstat in 2016 highlighted that 25% of millennials expect to work at their current company between 3 and 4 years and 49% expect to work in their current industry for their entire career.

Myth: Millennials are demanding, reckless and impatient about their careers.
Reality: Again, there is no clear evidence that millennials are any more demanding than others. They are, however, more willing to speak up for themselves and express their opinions. Perhaps because of their tendency to suffer underemployment, millennials are looking to their current employment to help them build the skills and experience necessary to move to their next opportunity.

What do millennials value?

Randstad’s 2016 global study exposed some underlying values of millennials including:
• High regard for a diverse workplace. 39% most valued “different points of view” while 37% valued “different fields of study”.
• One in three believe that communication is the most important quality of a leader followed by support and honesty.
• “Co-workers who like to collaborate” was most often cited as a top factor in helping them do their best work. 56% indicated the workplace attribute that helped them do their best work was “the people I work with”.
• 19% of millennials place “workplace flexibility” as their top priority, followed by health care benefits (17%) and training and development (15%).
• Top incentives that motivated millennials to work hard and stay at the company longer were: more money (32%); opportunities for advancement (20%); meaningful work (12%) and a good benefits package (10%).

So, how do you attract, retain and promote millennials?

After reviewing the myths of ‘disloyalty, entitlement and recklessness’ surrounding Millennials, having considered the realities they face and having given some thought to what it is they value, it would appear that one of the greatest challenges to cultivating a cohesive and productive workplace is a simple disconnect in communication between generations.

Boomers have long been the reigning demographic shaping our society. Their value equation focused on exchanging hard work for employment security within the company, opportunities for advancement and long-term benefits like a retirement fund or pension. As baby boomers continue to exit the labour force, it is critical for business owners and managers to understand what millennials value and what motivates them.

The Human Resources Professional Association of Canada (HRPA) provided the findings of their 2016 survey assessing over 1,000 members’ views regarding understanding, attracting and retaining millennials. These human resource professionals identified factors that contribute to what they term as “the loyalty challenge” and best practices that help to retain these workers including:

1. Providing a flexible and balanced work environment.
2. Strengthening and promoting training and skills development.
3. Implementing a mentoring program.
4. Embracing collaboration in your organization.
5. Ensuring competitive salary rates.
6. Ensuring millennials have an opportunity to grow within your organization and that they know their career path in your company.
7. Offering flexible work options accommodating a reasonable work-life balance.
8. Ensuring technology is part of the workplace.
9. Considering reverse mentoring allowing millennials to mentor older workers.
10. Providing managers with training on how to lead the inter-generational workforce.

HRPA asked their members if their company had made changes in their workplace to better integrate millennials. Fewer than one in ten indicated that actions had been taken, however, of these, 95% reported positive results.

The competition to attract and retain highly-skilled workers has never been higher. As HRPA notes, maintaining a stable and talented workforce is becoming increasingly challenging. If companies do not adapt, they risk falling out of touch with their employees, falling further and further behind their competitors.

Ipsos Mori Thinks concluded their 2017 study most perceptively recognizing that millennials are not the “snowflakes, health freaks or brand purpose warriors” some may believe, but “a huge cohort with diversifying tastes and concerns .. with some distinct, generational characteristics heading towards their most economically powerful phase”. It is vital that business and governments understand and engage with them. 

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