Do millennials need special treatment in the workplace?

07 Sep
September 7, 2017

Susy Roberts, 7th September 2017

It can be said that millennials get a raw deal in education, housing and wages – but are they also at a disadvantage in the workplace as well?

Why it pays for a leader to look on the bright side of life

It can be said that millennials get a raw deal in education, housing and wages – but are they also at a disadvantage in the workplace as well?

I think they are – and by failing to accommodate their needs, employers are also putting themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining young talent.

The people who make up so-called Generation Y have very different expectations in the workplace to Generation X, and this is something I see time and time again in many organisations. Yet, despite making up almost a third of the global workforce, few organisations are geared up for millennials’ workplace needs.

It’s not just about being digitally engaged – although 76% of millennials won’t take a job if social media isn’t allowed in the workplace. But because millennials are quite happy to move around until they find a package that suits their needs at that time – unlike Generation X, whose careers were often limited to one company – by failing to accommodate their needs, employers are making themselves unattractive to a whole generation.

It’s not about money; an open working culture that respects individual views and opinions is essential. Generation Y wants a healthy work-life balance and flexible working patterns, and they’re prepared to move around until they find it, even if that means a slightly lower salary.

So why is this? One reason is the huge difference in the way people study. When I was at university, we were given a task and sent away to do it, and that meant heading straight to the library to work in solitary silence. The onus was on us, and us alone, to come up with the solutions.

Now, there’s a lot more collaborative working and flexibility about how you achieve your projects and coursework. The digital world has transformed studies at every level and there’s a lot of interdependency.

Another reason is the much-derided (amongst Generation X) tendency to focus on taking part, rather than winning or losing. Generation Y took home a trophy on school sports day regardless of whether they could run fastest or jump highest; everyone’s a winner.

But this doesn’t mean we’ve raised a generation of people who don’t know how to lose; it simply means they’re much more in tune with playing to their strengths, and employers need to be aware of this.

The Corporate Leadership Council studied 19,000 employees across 34 organisations and 19 countries. It found that an emphasis on performance strengths in appraisals was linked to a 36.4% improvement in performance. In contrast, an emphasis on performance weaknesses was linked to a 26.8% decline in performance.

And this translates into workplace productivity and customer retention; analysis of over 10,000 work units and over 300,000 employees in 51 companies found that work units scoring above the median on the question ‘I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day’ had 38% higher probability of success on productivity measures, with 44% scoring a higher probability of success in customer loyalty and retention.

Leaders who focus on and invest in strength increase engagement – just like those teachers at school sports day. So how can you, as an employer, embrace this way of working and play to the strengths of Generation Y to the benefit of all concerned?

There are three fundamental issues at play: digital working, flexible working and variety of task. And, as an employer, you need absolute transparency about the culture of your workplace.

Be clear about how you encourage best practice when it comes to digital working; a lot of companies ban Facebook but use digital working to their advantage using other tools more appropriate to internal communications.

Your HR department needs to play a central role making sure you have the right communication package in place to engage with the younger generation, as well as making sure more mature employees are given the opportunity they need to develop new skills.

The HR team also needs to be really savvy about the recruitment process; long gone are the days of a printed CV and a neatly hand-written cover letter – a job application is the click of a LinkedIn button. Are you excluding a wealth of young talent by insisting on advertising in the local weekly newspaper?

Generation Y aren’t more demanding – but they are different. They’ve been brought up in a team environment and encouraged to speak up when things aren’t right. And this, as any good business coach will tell you, is simply best practice.


If you would like to discuss enhancing the employee experience at your organisation, by clarifying your mission, moulding roles around people or adopting strengths-based performance measures, please call us on +44(0)1270 750232 or email


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