Millennials: Why are they different?

Part one: understanding motivations

The current generation of college graduates have very different expectations and hopes from their predecessors. Those expectations are attached not only to their education provider but also their eventual employer. And yet, both employers and universities often respond to today’s students with out-dated models — treating them in much the same as the generation before them, and expecting the same behaviour and results in return.

This is a mistake. To maximise performance from millennials, it’s vital for organisations and universities to speak to them in their language, package experiences for them in ways they relate to and identify with, and create an environment that will resonate with them.

So how can prospective employers and education providers do this? Let’s start by looking at some background. They key difference for today’s graduates is their digital native status. Millennials born after 1990 — the ‘Generation Z’ that comprises our current crop of graduates — have enjoyed an unprecedented level of technology as they’ve grown up that sets them apart from their predecessors. Generation Z cannot imagine life without the internet or mobile phones, and they have less willingness to accept social injustice. A 2012 Net Impact survey discovered that 88% of millennials see a positive culture as vital to their career and 86% stated that they needed to find their work interesting. Other research has indicated that more than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that better fits their values, and 90% want to use their talents for the greater good.

Writing in Fast Company, Paula Davis-Laack quotes a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) which suggests there are five key principles for getting the most from your millennials’ mindsets. They are:

· Know me. Invest the time to understand the student as a person and what interests them both inside and outside of work.

· Challenge me. The student wants to have continued opportunities to learn and grow.

· Connect me. Relationships are important — the student wants to interact and collaborate with a wide network of people.

· Inspire me. Students want a sense of meaning from their work.

· Unleash me. Students want to take ‘good risks’ and have autonomy over their time and projects.

These five points have been written with a focus on female millennials. But as Davis-Laack goes on persuasively to point out, they chime rather neatly with suggestions from two other experts. She points to ‘centered leadership’, which consists of these five dimensions:

· Meaning

· Framing (adapting to change and building self-awareness)

· Energising (tapping into the our natural energy reserves and rhythms)

· Connecting (interacting and collaborating with a wide network of people)

· Engaging (taking good risks and using your voice).

And these five are not too far away from the PERMA model of well-being, developed by Martin Seligman:

· Positive emotions

· Engagement

· Relationships

· Meaning

· Achievement.

Davis-Laack’s point then, is that meeting the needs and expectations of millennials is not as complex or as alien for older generations to understand as might have been supposed. All these models chime with each other — and an underlying principle of all three is emotional resonance. The above lists are not about targets, or climbing pyramid hierarchies. They are about personal development and learning outcomes.

If we were to examine these lists more closely from a management point of view, we might want to see more emphasis on skills-based learning and a focus on aptitude. If we add these points the mix, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in how to respond to millennials — and how to get them to respond to you.

In part two of this article, published Monday, we’ll look at what millennials expect from work and how to cut through the stereotypical views of young graduates.

This article was first published at

Sources will be in part three of this article.