The Millennial Perspective on Company Culture

By Jonelle Lesniak, Culture Lead

The American workplace is in the midst of a generational shift: millennials (those born between 1976 and 2001) will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 and as much as 75% of the workforce by 2025. As this shift progresses, millennials will increasingly influence their company culture with the values they consider important in the workplace and in life. With more and more companies stepping up their culture game, organizational leaders must tune into what millennials want or risk their company’s ability to compete for talent.

The millennial mindset

The THRUUE team is made up almost entirely of millennials, and we work directly with our clients to solve culture problems every day. From this up-close-and-personal vantage point, we know that culture matters to millennials. On a scale of 1 to 10, millennials rate the importance of work culture at 8.5. What’s more, millennials on average are willing to give up $7,600 in salary every year to take a job that is a better culture fit for them.

We also know that millennials can affect incredible change and progress in and for the companies they join when they feel connected to their organization’s purpose, know it cares about their wellbeing and development, and feel at home in its culture. In a job-seeker’s market, leaders cannot afford to remain passive on culture if they want to attract and retain millennial talent, including educational pedigree and an incredible ability to adapt to change in a quickly evolving world.

What culture is and isn’t

Perks like free food and shared work spaces with kitschy décor are not culture. Rather, they are outward markers of deeper values and convictions, such as a company’s willingness to provide for the practical needs of its employees (meals and snacks), or its intent to inspire innovation and creativity (open spaces with bright colors).

In attempting to shape company culture, leaders must go further than walls of sticky notes and free lunches. Culture is the collective values and behaviors of a group. It’s the “way things are done”: the shared norms, narratives, and beliefs of the people and teams in an organization. Whether intentionally shaped or not, culture is alive and will be affected by the values and beliefs that millennials bring with them.

What do millennials want in a workplace culture?

Millennials highly value continuous learning. In fact, 59 percent of millennials rate their learning and development as extremely important in a job. As a millennial myself, I can say that our generation has been conditioned to be deeply motivated by learning and growth, especially as the world continues to change quickly and the ability to learn and adapt becomes ever more critical to success. This value can take the shape of formal perks supporting growth opportunities such as upskilling and certification programs. More informal but equally important ways can also be used to champion and cultivate learning cultures. Leaders can also put time and attention into coaching and mentoring conversations where employees seek personalized guidance on their growth from trusted colleagues. Each of these strategies can help companies retain millennial talent.

Another thing millennials look for is flexibility, which is ranked second in importance after competitive pay, according to a recent study by EY. As we become more aware of the consequences of burnout and desire greater integration of work and life (given how technology has made work accessible), millennials value having a choice in the hours and places they work. By adopting policies that promote flexibility, like the option to work remotely or to set their own hours, companies can give employees this flexibility as well as more autonomy – another culture characteristic millennials seek. Flexible work arrangements accommodate employees’ lives outside of work, an attractive perk for many millennials who wish to pursue side gigs, invest in leisure activity, or care for children at home.

Millennials aren’t always a different breed, though. They also want some of the same things that non-millennials want in a job and from managers: frequent communication, accountability, and clearly established expectations.

It’s up to leaders

Millennials at every level are no doubt eager to help craft culture. But make no mistake, the onus for nurturing culture falls first and foremost on leaders. When applying for jobs, millennials are on the lookout for high-quality management – people who will coach them, care about their wellbeing as well as their work product, and lead by bringing others along with them. It is therefore up to leaders to capitalize on this talented generation or let it pass them by, with costly turnover, brand, and productivity consequences.

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