THE BLOG
11/28/2016 04:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Millennial Employees: Are They That Different?

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In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, knocking Gen Xers off the top of the podium. And with more Millennials pouring into the workplace every day, I often hear the same two questions from HR directors, business owners, and recruiters: How exactly are Millennials different from my other employees? What do they expect from me and what should I expect from them?

The truth is that Millennials want a lot of the same things as other generations of employees. Yet, how they prioritize those wants and needs and how they go about fulfilling them are radically different. Here's what you need to know about the multiple generations in your workforce right now, and what makes Millennials different from your other employees.

What Employees Want
Across all generations, employees generally want the same things.

Security
Constantly worrying about losing your job is stressful. No one enjoys feeling like the rug is about to be pulled out from under them! Every employee, no matter what his or her age, wants to know that their desk will still be there the next day.

A great manager
Employees don't leave because of bad vacation policies or boring cubicles; they quit because of bad managers. Gallup reports that roughly 50% of all workers surveyed who had left a position did so to "get away from their manager." Bad managers are toxic and can make employees' work lives (and sometimes even personal lives) miserable. Great managers can help workers learn, grow, and love their jobs.

Fair pay and benefits
C-suite execs and managers sometimes get the wrong impression when an employee asks for a raise. It's not that workers want tons of money--they just want a fair amount of money. Workers who don't feel like they're compensated fairly for the amount of work or number of hours they put in are often dissatisfied with their jobs. Fair pay means a competitive wage and basic benefits, like vacation time, sick days, parental leave, and 401(k) options.

A personal life
You can't read a business blog without coming across the phrase "work-life balance." That's because most people, even if they love their jobs, still want time away from work to spend with their families and loved ones. Not only is that just plain human (who wants to work all the time?), but it's also healthier; less stress and more work-life balance means greater productivity when we're at work, better immune systems, and a decreased risk of heart attack.

A purpose
Don't you want to feel like your job matters? We all do! Employees, from Boomers to Millennials, want to do purposeful work. They want to find meaning in their work and feel like they're working toward a greater purpose. That's why companies that focus on a common purpose tend to be more successful than those that don't.

What Makes Millennials Different
Millennials, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers--all generations want the things above. What makes Millennials different is how they prioritize certain workplace elements compared to other generations, and the steps they'll take to find the right workplace for them. You'll notice that your average Millennial breaks from the path set by Boomers and Gen Xers in these ways.

Less Concerned with Security, More Willing to Take Risks
Millennials are the ultimate entrepreneur generation. According to Bentley University, more than 65% of Millennial survey respondents said they wanted to start their own business. That doesn't mean that they won't work just as hard to climb the corporate ladder, but it does mean that they're less concerned with security and more willing to take risks than other generations.

What this means for managers and team leaders: Give Millennial employees the opportunity to lead big projects or start new programs at work--something that combines risk with creativity and the ability to challenge themselves.

Great Managers Are More Important Than Ever
Millennials want feedback and are more concerned with connecting than previous generations, possibly due to growing up with the internet and social media. They crave feedback at work, especially from their direct managers. However, less than 20% of Millennials claim to receive consistent feedback from their bosses, according to Gallup.

What this means for managers and team leaders: Quarterly performance reviews aren't enough. Set a time every week to review milestones, goals, and constructive criticism with Millennial employees. That will help you keep a finger on the pulse of your Millennials while ensuring that they get the mentoring and communication that they crave.

Salary Isn't Everything, But It is Important
To Millennials, their jobs are a complicated mix of paycheck and purpose. They don't prioritize money like other generations--in general, they'd rather have a meaningful job than one that just pays really well. However, Gen Yers (Millennials) are also saddled with the greatest debt of any generation. Many graduate with thousands of dollars in student loan debt, meaning the paycheck is an important factor in deciding where to work and for how long.

What this means for managers and team leaders: Even if you can't afford salary increases, consider providing other financial benefits while promoting a great work culture for the best mix of purpose and paycheck. Bonuses, stock options, and compensation for higher education are all great options.

Millennials Demand Work-Life Balance
Boomers and Gen Xers want work-life balance. Millennials demand it. They love flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, and cool "personal life" perks in the workplace like office gyms and happy hours. Overall, Millennials don't want to live to work; they want to work to live. If your workplace doesn't support this viewpoint, Millennials will be less engaged and less productive (and probably won't hesitate to leave the company).

What this means for managers and team leaders: It's not all about perks, though those do help in some situations. Millennials are more concerned with managers and companies showing their appreciation in tangible ways that respect work-life balance. Experiment with short Fridays during the summer, where everyone gets off a few hours early to spend time with family and friends. Or, give employees the option to work from home one day a week and see how your workforce responds.

Purpose Takes Priority
Compared to other generations, Millennials are more likely to prioritize purpose over anything else. They want to believe in their companies' missions and go home feeling like they've made a difference in the world. In fact, many Millennials won't hesitate to quit if their company's values don't jive with their own.

What this means for managers and team leaders: Workplace culture matters! Get Millennial employees on board with your mission and vision even before hiring and continue this through post-hire training and beyond. Make sure they understand how their role fits in the bigger picture, and constantly revisit this during weekly and monthly meetings. When Millennials see that their work matters, they're more likely to be engaged and become company champions.

For Workshops and Lunch & Learns with Kirsten visit ProfitStartsWithPeople.com