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In just a few short years, Millennials – a generation of workers born after 1981 – will surpass Baby Boomers as the largest segment of U.S. employees. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce.(1)

The ability to manage and engage this generation will be a key determinant of the winners and losers in the battle for top talent.

Millennials, multigenerational workforce, leadership development, leadership styles, leadership skills

Millennials are considered the most-educated generation, the most technically savvy, and the most socially conscious. Like the Baby Boomers, they are viewed as self-centered. In the workplace, they are impatient, need constant feedback, and are likely to abandon jobs quickly if their needs are not met. Their generation has been impacted by the advancement of instant communication technologies, social networking, and globalization. Most Millennials who graduated from college did so in troubled economic times, had difficulty finding an entry-level job, and remain saddled with heavy college debt.

Do Generational Differences Exist?

While there is considerable agreement about these stereotypes that have emerged regarding Millennials, there is disagreement over how much generational differences actually matter in terms of employee engagement.  One camp says that all three generations in the workforce tend to value the same things. A recent research study by the Hay Group’s Global Insight practice in Chicago was designed to identify what motivates and engages people, based on age. They expected to find clear disparities between the generations. It didn’t happen.

Molly Delaney, a consultant with the Hay Group, said, “What took us by surprise is that in terms of what really drives employee engagement and job satisfaction, we’re not seeing a great deal of differences across generational groups.”  Most employees want access to resources and authority to make decisions that impact their work – and that doesn’t change across the different age groups.

But other experts feel that Millennials are a unique breed in the workplace and require specific attention. According to a 2014 report called “Managing the Multigenerational Workplace” from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina, this generation of “digital natives” are technologically savvy in ways that previous generations can’t match. This digital fluency may be a source of workplace conflict between Millennials and Baby Boomers, according to the report. “Baby Boomers were raised in a hierarchical workplace environment where the flow of information was severely constrained and personal relationships were key to moving up the ladder,” the report said. Millennials, who expect information immediately and who communicate through text messages, want nothing to do with that hierarchy and reject traditional top-down communication.

Benson Rosen, emeritus professor of organizational behavior at Kenan-Flagler, believes that organizations seeking to be an “employer of choice” must carefully consider what is needed to attract and retain Millennials. He believes that Millennials are wired differently about what engages them at work. Finding ways to successfully engage them will be critically important during this time of significant demographic change. Organizations that don’t have an effective strategy for addressing generation-specific needs may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

What Millennials Want at Work

Figuring out what Millennials want from their leaders and organizations is indeed important. With the accelerating retirement of millions of Baby Boomers and organizational dynamics in flux, companies that don’t address generation-specific needs may find themselves mired in conflict and missed opportunities.

3 critical characteristics that Millennials want from their leaders:

  • Constant and Immediate Feedback. Sometimes referred to as the “me generation,” Millinnials grew up in an era where instant gratification was possible through technology. Others have referred to Millinnials as the “Nintendo Generation,” meaning they prefer a work environment with clear, well-defined expectations, instant access to information, and consistently high levels of feedback.(2) While Baby Boomers were content to be recognized through promotions, a hierarchy of title, and a yearly pay raise, Millennials want continuous feedback to assure they are on target with organizational goals. Raised with high expectations and much praise, they appreciate more regular and immediate rewards.
  • Autonomy and Flexibility. Millennials are comfortable leveraging the full potential of technology – technology that allows them to work from anywhere at anytime. They want to set their own hours and workplace, and believe they can do the job effectively from home, come in later, and stay later as needed. A leader that allows them to build their own schedules is very attractive to them. Millennials are committed to their careers, but expect to use the flexibility of time and technology to find balance in their lives.
  • Meaningful work. According to a 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, “Millennials view work as a key part of life. For that reason, they place a strong emphasis on finding work that is personally fulfilling.” That sense of purpose is a key factor in determining their level of job satisfaction. To that end, Millennials are considered the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s. Millennials want to do meaningful work and to be part of something that will have a positive impact on the world. It’s the leader’s job to regularly communicate the meaning and purpose in the work or service that the organization provides.

Millennials, multigenerational workforce, leadership development, leadership styles, leadership skills
(1) Rifkin, G. (2016). Engaging the Multigenerational Workforce. Kornferry Institute.


With so much at stake, companies must be far more intentional about developing and engaging Millennials. A focused approach to managing the multigenerational workforce can reap tangible rewards in terms of improved competitiveness, effective recruitment, and higher rates of engagement and retention. When leaders and organizations are educated about generational needs, there is likely to be greater inclusiveness, respect, and productivity.

positive leadership, leadership development, leadership training

(1) Rifkin, G. (2016). Engaging the Multigenerational Workforce. Kornferry Institute.
(2) Westerman, J.W., & Yamamura, J.H. (2007). Generational preferences for work environment fit: Effects on employee outcomes. Career Development International Journal, 12, 150-161.

Dr. Stefani Yorges

I am a psychologist and professional leadership coach. I partner with people who want to rise to their full potential so they can have an increasingly greater impact on others.

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