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November 26, 2019
Brad Jamison

What millennials want in the workplace: how millennial work habits define a generation

Despite what some headlines suggest, what millennials want in the workplace isn’t that different from previous generations. Here’s how to take advantage of millennial work habits to better your business. 

Debunking millennial stereotypes is now as common as the recycled stories about them destroying, well, you name it—and it’s old news.

There are too many resources refuting these pieces of clickbait; stereotypes about millennial work habits, their purchasing trends, and even why many put off (or completely forego) starting a family falls apart after one google search.

But we’re not here to revisit these stories. Let’s get into what millennials want in the workplace and how leadership can capitalize on this generation’s drive for self-improvement & a healthy work-life balance.

Purpose over pay: community is top priority 

Millennials are not enticed by subpar pay. But they are more than willing to pass on a larger paycheck in favor of a more purposeful position. 

So, what does this trade-off look like? 

Millennials gravitate towards businesses with a mission or purpose that aligns with their beliefs or what they want out of life. One-third of them from around the world agreed that an organization’s mission or purpose directly equates to whether or not they feel their job is important. 

This purpose is such a big deal that 81% see the companies for which they work as potential sources of societal impact and change. In fact, they expect businesses to play a positive role in their communities. 

Bluntly, most millennials care as much about their employer being a force for social good as they do its continuous growth; weighing whether or not a business is aligned with their beliefs is a huge part of their decision-making process. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a whopping 86% of millennials would consider a pay cut to work for an organization that more closely aligns with their values. Contrast that with the 9% of baby boomers who would weigh the same option.

What that suggests about what millennials want in the workplace

Millennials have been labeled many things, and idealistic is one of them. Many members of this generation graduated college staring down the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. 

Many of those who found jobs right out of college were underemployed or took whatever jobs they could to make ends meet—and to make modest dents in their record-breaking student loan debts. 

It’s no wonder this highly educated generation—the one that faced bleak job prospects in a world starkly different from their parents—is willing to earn less for a business that contributes more to social good. 

This may sound nit-picky to older generations that went to work for little more than a paycheck and job security. But for millennials—and their employers, who would be wise to take heed—finding purpose in work is a much bigger deal than it once was.

When idealism met pragmatism: a love story

Purpose over pay may be one of the greatest examples of their collective idealism—but they’re also a realistic—or pragmatic—generation.

These two traits may sound like they have little overlap. But “pragmatic idealism” is totally a thing, and not something unique to just millennials. 

The phrase was coined in the early 20th century, but millennials embody this notion more than any other generation.

Often a political term, pragmatic idealism is (loosely) a worldview that attempts to balance idealism with, well, pragmatism. Or, letting ideals guide one’s moral compass, but understanding that compromises must be made to stay along that path.

Remember the 86% of millennials who’d work for less if their employer was more aligned with their beliefs? Just 31% said they’d leave their employer if they were asked to do something they felt was ethically suspicious. As for baby boomers? Over half said they would leave.

They may be idealistic, but millennials understand that they must at times bend to move forward—or at least keep money coming in until they can find another job.

However, the fact that nearly 90% of respondents place greater values on values than on earning a higher income speaks volumes to their ideological alignment—and it’s reflected in millennial work habits.

Millennials are definitely willing to do their time

It’s not a new trend that older generations are skeptical of how younger generations behave. Still, millennials may feel this skepticism (or outright dismissal) more acutely because of the internet. 

Let’s dispel one of the most common millennial myths: that they’re lazy. And there’s data to refute this. A recent study by ManpowerGroup revealed some heavy figures:

  • Globally, 73% of millennials work over 40 hours per week
  • U.S. millennials work around 45 hours per week
  • Indian millennials outwork the rest at 52 hours per week, while Aussies bottom out at 41
  • 26% hold down two or more jobs

What may be more astonishing than the rise in working hours is that 12% of them around the world do not foresee being able to retire. Ever. 

Those who do believe they will retire well into their 60s, 70s, or later. 

But it’s not a total bummer. The good news is that many millennials believe they will ride career waves rather than climb career ladders. This is in contrast with previous generations who valued upward mobility over career flexibility. 

These career waves explain a few things about millennial work habits. While they’re developing their skills and getting a steady footing in their fields, they’re also forging a path that will allow them to take breaks in their careers for a number of life events, including:

  • Time to care for others, including their kids, older family members, and to volunteer in their communities (purpose over pay, right?)
  • Distancing themselves from work in general, prioritizing time to travel, develop other skills, pursue hobbies, go back to school, or just disconnect from a career-focused world

Embrace the millennial work-life balance 

We’ve established that millennials work well over the normal 40-hour workweek, illustrating that their work habits fly in the face of their inherited stereotypes. 

So, what do they want besides purpose?

Millennials are adamant about nurturing careers that befit a healthy work-life balance—and it’s in employers’ best interests to offer flexibility to meet these demands. 

Why? Because about a third of workers have left their jobs to find other employers who offer flexible work arrangements. For those in the back, that means giving your employees the freedom to work wherever they choose, when they choose (within reason) so they can work in their ideal environment and be more productive. 

Learn how to effectively hire and manage a remote team

Want to increase your odds of retaining the 50% of millennials who said that flexibility is very important to them? Trust that they know how they work best, and give them the chance (and responsibility) to prove it.

What millennials want in the workplace isn’t difficult to grant 

Millennial work habits can’t (and shouldn’t) be confined to, and defined by, a traditional workplace—even if the workplace now boasts foosball tables, espresso machines, and a lax dress code. 

What this generation looks for from an employer may depart from previous generations, but the work ethic is no less established—and employers can take a few simple steps towards ensuring these hard workers stay dedicated to their teams.

All they want in return is the flexibility to work where and how they wish, and to know that their employer is just as concerned about others’ well being as the company’s bottom line.

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

What are you waiting for?

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