The current generation of college graduates have very different expectations and hopes from their predecessors. Those expectations are attached not only to their education provider but also their eventual employer. And yet, both employers and universities often respond to today’s students with out-dated models – treating them in much the same as the generation before them, and expecting the same behaviour and results in return.
This is a mistake. To maximise performance from millennials, it’s vital for organisations and universities to speak to them in their language, package experiences for them in ways they relate to and identify with, and create an environment that will resonate with them.
So how can prospective employers and education providers do this? Let’s start by looking at some background. They key difference for today’s graduates is their digital native status. Millennials born after 1990 – the ‘Generation Z’ that comprises our current crop of graduates – have enjoyed an unprecedented level of technology as they’ve grown up that sets them apart from their predecessors. Generation Z cannot imagine life without the internet or mobile phones, and they have less willingness to accept social injustice. A 2012 Net Impact survey discovered that 88% of millennials see a positive culture as vital to their career and 86% stated that they needed to find their work interesting. Other research has indicated that more than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that better fits their values, and 90% want to use their talents for the greater good.
Writing in Fast Company, Paula Davis-Laack quotes a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) which suggests there are five key principles for getting the most from your millennials’ mindsets. They are:
- Know me. Invest the time to understand the student as a person and what interests them both inside and outside of work.
- Challenge me. The student wants to have continued opportunities to learn and grow.
- Connect me. Relationships are important – the student wants to interact and collaborate with a wide network of people.
- Inspire me. Students want a sense of meaning from their work.
- Unleash me. Students want to take ‘good risks’ and have autonomy over their time and projects.
These five points have been written with a focus on female millennials. But as Davis-Laack goes on persuasively to point out, they chime rather neatly with suggestions from two other experts. She points to ‘centered leadership’, which consists of these five dimensions:
- Framing (adapting to change and building self-awareness)
- Energising (tapping into the our natural energy reserves and rhythms)
- Connecting (interacting and collaborating with a wide network of people)
- Engaging (taking good risks and using your voice).
And these five are not too far away from the PERMA model of well-being, developed by Martin Seligman:
- Positive emotions
Davis-Laack’s point then, is that meeting the needs and expectations of millennials is not as complex or as alien for older generations to understand as might have been supposed. All these models chime with each other – and an underlying principle of all three is emotional resonance. The above lists are not about targets, or climbing pyramid hierarchies. They are about personal development and learning outcomes.
If we were to examine these lists more closely from a management point of view, we might want to see more emphasis on skills-based learning and a focus on aptitude. If we add these points the mix, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in how to respond to millennials – and how to get them to respond to you.
A different mindset
Millennials have little interest in a job for life (a sea-change from the baby boomer generation’s worldview); have high ethical and responsible concerns when choosing the company they want to work for; and want their work environments to be attractive, comfortable and stimulating. Perhaps with this last point in mind, millennials are most attracted by tech companies, with Google, Apple and Facebook very clear winners when millennials are asked which companies they would like to work for.
In aggregated research from the Brookings Institution, Goldman Sachs and Nielsen, published in GSV Tomorrow, Google gained 19.7% of the ‘where do you want to work’ vote, Apple achieved 12.7% and Facebook 8.9%. In other words, over 40% of millennials want to work for a leading tech company. It’s not until you get to the fourth-rated choice, the State Department, that a non-tech organisation appears, with 7.9%.
According to figures quoted in Forbes Magazine, 62% of millennials believe they can make a difference in their local communities and some 40% even believe they can literally change the world. Millennials are not willing to play the game and climb the corporate ladder as past generations. They are doers, and they expect companies to change in line with them. If they don’t, they are not afraid to jump ship and take risks.
Erika Janovich, Marketing Co-ordinator for the StressCrete Group, spent time working with millennials when she went back to college as a mature student. Writing in The Evolllution, Janovich presents five conclusions about the values that millennials place highest faith in.
- Confidence in your convictions
- Technologically savvy
- Engagement is important in learning
- You can be a ‘me first’ team player
- Flexibility is the new secure
Let’s consider these in turn. ‘They spoke back to teachers without any concerns for retribution,’ Janovich says, contrasting this with her own upbringing where ‘I had to express [my opinions] in a way that was still respectful of my elders. There were times I admired their sheer guts for speaking their minds and fighting for what they wanted.’
Perhaps the key distinction of the millennial generation, ‘their knowledge of technology was incredible. Any time I ran into technological issues, all I had to do was ask any of my younger classmates. They were happy to share their knowledge, and often looked at me with confusion wondering how I survived my teens without a computer.’
Time and again, engagement emerges as a vital quality to get the best out of millennials. ‘I’ll never forget the term coined by one of the baby boomer professors: “Educainment”.’ Students needed to be continuously entertained and stimulated in class. ‘If not, they’d find what they needed on their laptops or phones. Teachers fought to make the information more exciting and attempted to relate the lessons to students’ lives.’
Millennials are less willing to suppress their emotions in the workplace. ‘They were more “touchy feely” than my generation… My classmates wanted to be the best, but not at the expense of others,’ Janovich says.
An interesting job, a sense that they are doing something good for wider society and a stimulating place to work are the values millennials place most emphasis on. Janovich’s assessment is that ‘they wanted flexible working hours, a fun work environment and an enlightening experience. When they were done with the experience, they would move on to a new one… they made me see that work-life balance should be a major consideration.’
Breaking the myths
And yet, not all millennials meet the stereotypes. Research by KPMG (itself a company with nearly 60% of its workforce composed of millennials) in association with Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College Center for Work & Family, garnered evidence that bucks some of these trends. Interviewing 1,100 millennials, Harrington found that ‘60% said they plan to stay in their jobs to advance, versus 25% who want to get ahead by moving from employer to employer.’ Harrington agrees that there is no ‘job for life’ – ‘fewer organizations offer lifetime job arrangements… and the world has moved away from the idea of long-term job security. But… at a rate of two to one, millennials prefer to stay, and that was surprising.’
Harrington’s figures also agree that millennials feel strongly about work-life balance. ‘The majority felt that their lives outside of work were much more important to their sense of identity than their careers. Few – approximately 20% – were willing to pursue these goals at the expense of their personal lives.’
The KPMG/Harrington research did not find, as expected, that socially conscious attitudes figure highly in millennials’ set of values. ‘ “How much I am helping others” and “contribution to society” were among the lowest ranked items in importance of career success measures for the millennials surveyed,’ writes Stephanie Vozza, quoting the survey in Fast Company.
And although the millennials were as comfortable with technology as expected, this doesn’t make them people-averse. ‘When we asked how they found their most recent position, instead of saying “social media” like we expected, the number one answer was that they were referred by a friend, relative, or another connection,’ Harrington is quoted as saying. ‘They are using the tried-and-true method of networking.’
There are lessons here for both millennials themselves and for the companies recruiting them. One of the consequences of growing older is that you know your own mind more – or, to put it less kindly, you become more set in your ways. One of the joys of youth is that you are still open to new ideas, your opinions are still forming and your view of the world is not set in stone. A fallout from this, when interviewing millennials about what they expect from university and work, is that their opinions are still in a state of flux. That makes it harder for people writing about millennials to come to hard and fast conclusions about them.
Looking to the future
What, then, do learning institutions need to do differently? The first lesson is to understand the millennial mindset, and this primarily involves understanding the principle of co-opting. Millennials are not materialistic, and they share rather than accumulate. UK newspaper The Guardian recently reported that average material consumption fell from 15 tonnes in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013; a huge reduction. In the same article, climate change author Chris Goodall, added that people now spend more on services than physical goods.’ Millennials are less interested in possessing; rather than store thousands of emails, they use Snapchat and delete instantly. Instead of hoarding photos, books, CDs and DVDs like their predecessors, everything is accessed online and there is little sense of possession in the traditional sense of the word.
This change has caused a psyche shift as well. They co-create businesses together. They buy houses together. This co-operative shift makes the education dynamic suddenly very different. Classes where students team up are more likely to generate innovative thinking than individual study. Problem-solving can be done more quickly in groups rather than separately. So the insight is, enable students to work together more. Enable them to spark ideas off each other, to come to new conclusions and reach new insights. Let them learn together and the results can be surprisingly effective.
Embracing the technology, rather than resisting it, is also essential. Philippe Caignon, a 3M National Teaching Fellow, argues that digital learning can innovate and enrich teaching, and is an addition rather than a replacement for classical teaching methods. ‘Digital learning is the means through which professors can enhance their teaching strategies and adapt their pedagogy to the ever-changing needs of their students,’ he says. Quoted alongside Caignon in How to teach millennials? Embrace technology by Sara DuBreuil is Dr. Nancy Acemian, a professor in the Department of Computer Software and Engineering Department at Concordia University. ‘It is a win-win situation,’ she says. ‘Profs have more fun in class, students have more fun and are more engaged with the course content, which is the first step in learning.’
What we can be sure of is that if you respond to millennials in the language they understand – enable them to work with the technology they are familiar with, and treat them responsibly, they will enhance the organisation and hopefully won’t jump ship at the first opportunity. Millennials will make up 75% of the working population by 2025. It’s their world now, and it’s the older generation who need to adapt to them; not the other way round.