What do Millennials Want?

Millennials aren’t into silly social activities that are only a thin-disguise for a desperate HR department begging for new blood. Sure, we may attend and have a good time, but we see these events for what they are, and thus their intended purpose is wasted.

Note to Readers:  Thank you all for following my blog!  I appreciate each one of you as I continue to explore areas of the healthcare and healthcare IT fields.  My husband and I are in the process of moving into our new house, which takes up most of our weekends.  I am going to continue to post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but posts may be more concise than normal.  Thank you all for continuing this conversation!  I look forward to continuing it with you all.

I would like to preface this post with the following:  I don’t like classifying people by generation.  It seems to be the fad, particularly in the last year or so with the so-called Millennial Generation (AKA Generation Y) entering the workforce in larger numbers than any other generation.  It’s almost like we endow birth years with magical properties.  Anyone who is a member of this generation is one way, but someone born just a year later is another way.

However, I do understand why people use it as a convenient category for grouping people when you start examining cultural, social and societal trends.  There are certain events that are going to have a major impact on people depending on their age at the time the event happened.  For instance, someone who was 3 when the Great Recession started in 2008 is going to have a very different experience of that event than someone who was 30.  And things that happen to you in your early adult hood (say from around age 17 to around age 30) tend to have a stronger influence on future behavior than things that happen to you earlier or later than that.  So I’m going to use it for this post for the sake of convenience, but with the caveat that there are exceptions.

As I said, Gen Y is coming into the workplace at an astounding pace.  They are set to over-shadow the Baby Boom generation in the workplace in the not-so-distant future.  As such, there has been an astounding amount of ink spilled and hands wrung over Gen Y.  They are lazy.  They are entitled.  They got trophies just for participating and don’t know the meaning of working hard. I won’t point out that these are all criticisms that once were lobbed at the Baby Boomers themselves by their predecessors, and on and on and on.  It’s part of a generational right-of-passage to criticize the generation that comes after you as being inadequate compared to your generation.  Just ask Socrates:

Socrates on Generations

One question that seems to be vexing companies (and in particular HR departments) about the generations is what Millennials want.  The generation has already been assigned the reputation of being job-hoppers, whether they are deserving of the label or not.  But some attempts to cater to the generation and make them want to stay have been outright laughable.  Some employers seem to labor under the belief that if they bring in ping pong tables, relax the dress code, or hold a bunch of picnics or other activities to promote socializing that it will be enough to make Millennials like you and want to stay.  I can tell you as an often-counted member of this generation (though I am a Gen X-er by other accounts), we aren’t impressed by such things.  We aren’t into silly social activities that are only a thin-disguise for a desperate HR department begging for new blood.  Sure, we may attend and have a good time, but we see these events for what they are, and thus their intended purpose is wasted.

I came across this article the other day that I think puts a focus on one area that Millennials and younger workers in general hold in higher regard than social events and ping pong tables:  Career Advancement.  The article is aptly titled Your Employer is Not Your Friend, and Young People Know It.  The article points out that the Millennial generation came of age during the Great Recession…the older members of the generation were just trying to enter the workforce when it hit.  The massive layoffs affected either the Millennials themselves or their families, completely shattering the idea for us that if you worked for a company for many years they would take care of you.  When we watched our parents, who had worked for places for years, get laid off and struggle to find new work, it drove the point home for Millennials that when it comes to employers, they will watch out for their bottom line before they watch out for their employee’s livelihood, no matter what your marketing materials, HR departments or C-Suite executives will say.

As a result, the younger working generation had to accept early that we were going to have to be more self-reliant, and jobs became “…a stepping stone for your career” as the article puts it.  Career advancement became more important, and not because of some kind of “trophy mentality” or out of a desire to “not put in hard work and pay dues”, but out of the realization that if push came to shove, companies look out for themselves first and as an employee you needed to be marketable at any time.  We have been steeped in the uncertainty of job searches and uncertainty of what you are going to do to pay your bills and live your life, and we took that lesson to heart.  Security, for our generation, just doesn’t rely on our employers…it relies on ourselves, our social networks and our willingness to help others in that situation.

If you want to keep your younger workers from exploring for new opportunities or leaving after only a short time on your payroll, you need to offer us the opportunities to advance our careers and learn new skills that will help us in the future.  I can tell you that if you don’t help your younger employees grow, they will leave for a place that will help them.  If there is no place for us to grow and continue to develop our skills, from the perspective of a generation who saw first hand how important keeping yourself employable is, it is too much of a risk for us to stay stagnant.

  1. […] is an admirable goal, but we’ve talked in the past about how it is short-sighted, especially when it comes to Millennials.  A recent webinar with Bob Kelleher, author and founder of Employee Engagement, pointed out a […]



  2. […] – I have discussed this in previous posts, but younger employees need professional development opportunities.  For tech sector workers, a […]



  3. […] I was reminded on several previous posts on the Millennial generation, including September’s What Do Millennials Want? and last week’s Talking With Millennials, Not At Them.  One of the major themes of the first […]



  4. […] that are important to recruit younger talent to your workplace. I have pointed out that offering professional development and opportunities for advancement are key. I maintain these motivators are less about the fact that […]



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