Huge fish missed by fishermen in boat preoccupied with small fish.

Let’s start with the millennials…

This conversation isn’t solely about them. It’s about all of us – leaders and employees across all generations. Still, it’s fitting to focus first on millennials because they’ve been an igniting force, causing companies to rethink how they attract and retain employees. They’ve raised the consciousness of employers about the needs and expectations of all workers in today’s world and have set the table for the evolution of HR going forward. Understanding and leveraging the characteristics of this particular generation can help you ensure that all workers grow and prosper because, when it comes down to it, most 21st century workers, regardless of generation, are driven similarly. Revamping your offerings in light of millennials’ values and desires can help you win the war for talent across all generations.

“Millennials will change the world decisively more than any other generation…they will continue to disrupt how the world communicates — how we read and write and relate.”
— Jim Clifton (Gallup)

A generation highly suited for change

Millennials have grown up in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (“VUCA”) world we find ourselves in today, and it’s deeply shaped their values, expectations and strengths. They were the first people to come of age in the 21st-Century, an era with a bewildering rate of technical change. A wired, connected world is all these technologically savvy, digital natives have ever known. Change and disruption have been constants in their lives, and their survival has depended upon the continuous invention of new ways to navigate the world.

Given all of this, it makes sense millennial workers are more open to change, more willing to try new things and more comfortable about not knowing answers than their colleagues. They’re also exceptionally good at asking why and, unsurprisingly they’re not interested in the status quo.

Deeply shaped by a complex and uncertain world

Millennials have also grown up in a world filled with numerous public traumas, including the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the costly and still unresolved wars in the Middle East, the Great Recession of 2008 and Katrina. These events have deeply shaped their values and behaviors.

Having experienced firsthand how fleeting wealth could be from the 2008 economic crash, their subsequent reaction was to aspire to acquire less. They wait longer to marry, to have children and to buy cars and houses.

And, they’re skeptical of institutions, too. They witnessed how Wall Street burned society for the financial gain of a few, and as such, strongly demand that businesses operate for a greater good. They believe enterprises should be committed to social improvement and have a positive impact on wider society with respect to social, environmental and political affairs. They expect companies to do more than solely seek financial success.

What they value in the workplace

On a personal level, millennials want purpose and meaning out of their work, not just a paycheck. They want the ability to make an impact. They want their work to matter, and they want to contribute to a larger picture. Research shows that millennials also value growth potential, feedback and recognition, flexibility with their schedule and autonomy and control over their work. And, of course, they want competitive pay.

Many leading companies realize that addressing these needs can bring big benefits. There is growing corroboration that offering millennials work conditions that cater to their desires results in big wins for their employers’ financial results. For instance, when comparing the net profit of companies on Forbes’ list of Best 100 Workplaces for millennials and companies that did not make the list, the difference is hundreds of millions of dollars — companies on the list averaged $532 million vs. $361 million yearly for non-finalists.

Are millennials really that different?

Sure, millennials do have some unique attributes that set them apart in the workplace. Given their tendency to put off marriage, children, mortgages and the like, they can maintain a higher risk tolerance than people in mid-to-late careers. They aren’t tied up with responsibilities to spouses, children and banks, and they don’t have to settle for work conditions that aren’t what they want.

Still, there’s a body of evidence that suggests employees of all ages are much more alike than different in their attitudes and values at work. Many people now claim gaps between generations are merely small differences that have always existed between younger and older workers. In fact, a multigenerational study by IBM Institute for Business Value in 2014 found that millennials and older workers have most of the same long-term career goals.

Appealing to the 21st-century employee

When it comes down to it, most of your employees have similar desires — flexibility, growth opportunity, fair compensation and a purpose beyond profit. These are the needs of the 21st century worker. Though millennials paved the way, yesterday’s status quo no longer attracts the best and brightest from any generation.

Winning companies are shifting their approach to attract and retain talent in today’s competitive market. They’re paying real attention to the employee expectations that millennials have illuminated. These businesses are revamping their offerings to cater to the needs and desires of employees across all generations. They’re shaping workplaces that allow all workers to grow and prosper in today’s complex and uncertain world.

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