Ask the Millennials

What the younger workforce want

In 2013 the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published a report looking into the changing aspirations of its global workforce. Subtitled “Evolving talent strategy to match the new workforce reality” the report focuses on the attitudes of ‘Millennials’, those people born between 1980 and 1995.

The report found Millennials want greater flexibility in their working hours. Of those surveyed, sixty six percent said they would value the opportunity to change their working hours and sixty four percent want to work from home occasionally. The younger workforce also placed more emphasis on work/life balance than older employees, with fifteen percent of male and twenty one percent of female employees indicating that they would take a pay cut and delay promotion in order to work fewer hours. Generally, Millennials are less inclined to make continued sacrifices for work. They are as committed to their work as older employers but having experienced their parents’ struggles are more concerned to get the balance right.

An ideal working environment for Millennials is one that collegial, with a team-oriented culture. Friendships at work are important, as is a culture where younger employees feel supported by their supervisors. Some form of mentoring was indicated to be desirable.

When looking at reward and remuneration the study found that older workers placed a higher value on pay and development opportunities whereas Millennials placed greater emphasis on feeling supported and appreciated for their work. Of course younger workers also want the be fairly remunerated and it is important to them that management decisions about career progression are made in ways that are transparent. They want feedback on performance in short cycles and forty one percent of Millennials indicated a preference for a monthly reward and recognition cycle.

They’re not seeking jobs-for-life. They’re looking for interesting and meaningful work

Perhaps the key take-home for future employers is that regardless of the opportunities afforded them, Millennials don’t expect to spend their whole lives with your organisation. They’re not seeking jobs-for-life. They’re looking for interesting and meaningful work, in a supportive and collegial environment that might lead onto other interesting and meaningful work elsewhere.

The findings of the PwC survey mirror my own experience working with postgraduate researchers at institutions across the UK. For the last thirteen years I’ve asked hundreds of researchers, from incredibly diverse backgrounds, the same question “What’s the dream? What does your perfect life look like?” In almost all cases the first thing they say is that they want interesting, challenging work. They want to contribute to the greater good and do work that is valuable to society. They also want to work with like-minded people and thorough that work earn enough money to buy a house, maybe raise a family and pursue their other interests.

There is clearly some parity of aspiration amongst graduate Millennials within large public and private organisations. But what about the rest? I can only report on my own experiences here in Liverpool, but in the last five years there has been an explosion of entrepreneurialism in the younger workforce. It seems that every week a couple of new micro-enterprises appear on the communal radar. The range is diverse — gaming and app development companies, PR consultancies, photographers, potters, printmakers, crafters or all kinds, musicians, independent magazines, events managers, bakeries, micro breweries, independent retailers … the list goes on and on.

These enterprises are headed up by people in their late twenties and early thirties.They’ve grown up online, exposed to a model of business where anyone can find a market for anything. They’re social media-literate and confidently managing their own advertising and communications.Their businesses are often started on shoestring budgets. If investment is required banks are avoided. Funds are raised though Kickstarter-like campaigns, from friends and family or through tiny targeted grants.

Like their employed peers, the Independent Millennials want work thats meaningful. Personally-held values underpin their businesses. They value collaboration and work and trade with friends. They identify their own business mentors. They support, encourage and promote each other through overlapping peer groups. Customer feedback for the Independent Millennials comes in short cycles and they value the transparency of social media. Trust and integrity are important values and Independent Millennials understand that the community will call them out publicly if they fall short.

Overall their life choices reflect a desire to maintain a balance between life and work. They are setting up micro-enterprises within their communities rather than moving away in search of work.

From the outside these small, values-led businesses can seem like precarious undertakings, especially to an older workforce taught to seek security. But security is an illusion. Life is an ongoing adventure to be adapted to on an as-needed-basis. Many Millennials seem to understand this and accept that what they’re doing is just for now and will lead to other interesting and meaningful opportunities in the future.


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    Jen Allanson

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    Artist. Computer scientist.Director of TupleSpace