January 2, 2018
Considering the role of the Millennial in the workplace
Millennials will account for half of the global workforce by 2020.(1) This has made them one of the most debated and analysed age-groups since the baby boomers. Discussion of millennials tends to focus on their optimism, progressive social views, comfort with technology and a much-reported desire for stimulating work experiences, and by extension, their tendency to job-hop.
That said, there has been less research focusing on the ambitions and motivations of high-achieving millennials. We have assessed this sub-segment to better understand the kinds of leaders they will be. Our study profiles the high-achieving millennials in the US, UK, Germany and China and details their expectations of their workplaces, leaders, and professional development. In our analysis, we also look at how these findings vary by geography and gender.
Given that one of the recurring discussions of millennials focuses on their tendency to switch jobs (which we believe may be more a symptom of an unsteady economy than disloyalty) and given that it costs approximately $25,000 to replace an employee, our objective is to provide companies with tangible advice to retain this group in a highly-competitive global marketplace.
Evaluating the areas where employers can have the most impact
We will be detailing our findings by reviewing the professional aspirations, expectations of leaders and loyalty drivers for high-achieving millennials:
Using our findings to attract and develop your millennial talent
FTI Consulting’s Employee Engagement and Change Communications team has interpreted these findings to give practical insights that help you:
Our research provides insights into how companies are managing this generation and offers indications how this rising class of talent will shape their companies as they progress through their careers.
Strikingly, high-achieving millennials have no intention of staying with their existing employer any longer than the wider group, despite the relative advantages they are enjoying in the workplace.
This section looks to understand what makes high-achieving millennials tick. It lays the foundations to understand what can be done to keep a company’s most talented young employees engaged and committed.
The responsibility that the majority of high-achieving millennials desire is to manage others. This is a natural progression for any professional; however the millennial manager may face specific challenges. In many organisations, individuals rise through the ranks without direct ‘people management’ training. This lack of training may further hinder the millennial manager with direct reports. Therefore the phenomena of the millennial manager can provide many companies with the opportunity to ensure that the upskilling of all their managers is suitable to support the success of this young talent. Another solution is to provide the high-achieving millennial with projects that give them experience in managing people if they are not ready to manage a fully-fledged team.
Our findings show that the high-achieving millennial also craves the visible markers of success such as title and promotion. Millennials on the whole are notable for making their preferences clear and seeing their hard work acknowledged is a must for this group. High-achieving millennials are even more emphatic in their desire for a rapid promotion cycle, with three in 10 viewing a “senior job title” as something that would contribute to their feeling of responsibility.
High-achieving millennials do not expect to become the CEO tomorrow, but they do want to see that they are steadily increasing their responsibilities and moving up the career ladder. As a generation that is accustomed to immediacy, they may be less patient than previous generations with the traditional entry-level repetitive tasks.
High-achieving millennials are very clear of their expectations from management and senior leadership. Face-to-face interaction, greater accessibility, praise and recognition are critical. This is similar to the wider millennial group, although unsurprisingly more of the high-achieving millennials want face-time with senior management.
Overall, millennials believe that leadership should focus on the following:
1. Developing employees
2. Generating revenue
3. Cultivating the brand of the company
Our group clearly sees the distinction between the responsibilities of leaders at the corporate level versus their line managers. While they expect leadership to be driving brand and the big picture, their expectation of their line managers is to focus on the needs of their direct teams, including supporting revenues and CSR responsibilities.
Given these expectations of managers, if a team lacks team spirit, growth opportunities and upskilling, then high-achieving millennials are more likely to question the competence of their management. Likewise, given the expectation that leadership are building brand and driving the company’s vision, if there is limited communication from senior leaders around delivery on corporate strategy, it may be dispiriting and disengaging to young employees. High-achieving millennials also expressed a desire to understand future plans, how they fit in and the leadership perspective on the industry and bigger picture trends.
However it is only when you look at the differences at a regional level, or from a gender perspective, that the contrasts become more pronounced. These differences are highlighted in greater detail in the following section.
Engagement of millennials falters when their managers and leaders fail to meet their expectations.
High-achieving millennials view themselves as detail-focused, rational and logical in their thinking.
They also prefer work environments that are:
There is much said about how millennials want freedom. However, our research shows that although high-achieving millennials have a desire to work more flexibly, they believe this should happen in a structured way, with the company defining their hours and what is expected of them. While over half of high-achieving millennials desire flexible hours, less than 20% articulated a desire to set their own hours.
High-achieving millennials see their jobs as critical to their overall outlook, with 91% saying that feeling positive about their jobs has made them more satisfied with their overall quality of life.
Millennials are willing to put in the long hours when needed, however they are less tolerant of the need to put in ‘face-time’ if there isn’t a direct business need.
Engage them by being flexible, they will more likely work the long-hours without complaint if they have the flexibility to tend to their working day personal obligations when the pace is slower.
One of the most compelling findings is that ‘support for wellbeing in the workplace’ received the highest response rate for instilling loyalty. It is important to not dismiss this as a ‘soft’ aspiration among this group – particularly given their other preferences for a clear structure, decisive leadership and rapid decisions.
As you consider what this means for your organisation, recognise that supporting ‘wellbeing’ has become much more sophisticated. Broadly speaking, the companies that get this element right seek to support their employees physical and mental health while also fostering a healthy corporate culture.
There are many possible explanations for why ‘wellness’ ranks so high for millennials. One reason is that millennials have less demarcation between their professional and personal spheres, so they expect both to be consistent and positive.
What’s more, as millennials no longer view any company as a ‘job for life’ they are less likely tolerate an unpleasant environment in the hope of a longer-term payoff in job security. For others in this generation, it may just be that the ease of connecting with people from other organisations and comparing companies, allows them to move on swiftly.
Receiving a discretionary bonus, was surprisingly, the least important factor in instilling loyalty. This finding reflects existing compensation and benefits wisdom which also suggests that the overall loyalty benefits conferred by bonuses are short-lived. Many sectors in fact often see attrition following the awarding of endof- year bonuses. It’s notable that the top five loyalty boosters in our research all speak to:
Overall there are more similarities than differences between male and female millennials in our findings. In this section, we will focus on specific gender nuances to help organisations manage diverse workforces.
The most pronounced differences are around:
Despite the continued focus on removing gender inequality in the workplace, a high-achieving millennial woman earns $25,000 less per year than her male counterpart, according to our global research. There are also 15% fewer millennial women in managerial roles than men. According to our data, there is a much higher proportion of men in C-suite and managerial positions; women are less likely to receive a promotion as frequently due to having a longer promotion cycle overall.
While the gender divide in the workplace seems to be as prevalent in this generation as in others – we would anticipate this trend to reverse over time. Many organisations in the UK, Germany, Sweden and the US are now subject to government-imposed regulations requiring them to annually report the average pay gap, pay quartiles and information around bonuses to redress this inequality.
Men and women share similar priorities for management to focus on:
However the biggest difference between men and women is their view on what management should be focusing on. Women place greater emphasis on their delivery of a high quality product/service for customers (40% vs 35%), while men are much more likely to expect their leaders to think about generating profit for the company (41% vs 34%).
Combining the two is a compelling proposition for a company, highlighting the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Other findings are notable when you consider how men and women prioritise business goals differently.
In describing their top five traits, men and women both described themselves as ambitious and professional. However from there, their self-descriptions reflect their differing operational priorities. Women described their diligence and focus on consensus, as well as their shyness, which is likely to inhibit success. Men described themselves as action-oriented and competitive with the potential negative offshoot of those traits being a predilection for risk.
Finally, there are also some subtle but important differences in what advantages come from additional responsibility. For women, more responsibility appeals because it confers more opportunities to travel plus involvement in decision-making. While for men, additional responsibility confers access to technology and an enhanced job title.
These findings remain consistent with their behavioral and leadership preferences in that travel can be viewed as a further means for women to build relationships, gain consensus and have influence. For men, there is clearly a competitive appeal in the visual signals of status such as better technology and job title.
The differences between millennial men and women in their leadership preferences, reasons for wanting more responsibility and even descriptions of themselves, provide a variety of insights for managing them effectively. As well as face-to-face interactions with their line manager, both men and women want to be listened to and recognised for their contributions.
For high achieving millennial women, enlist them in helping to ensure you are doing the best by your customers and clients. Find ways to draw them out given that this audience tended to identify as being shy.
Similarly, the millennial male focus on generating profit is a positive as well – just ensure that instinct is balanced with coaching on how to weigh up risk and make informed decisions.
Both high-achieving millennial men and women are in agreement that negative relationships and a lack of opportunity for career progression, are deal killers in wanting to stay with an organisation. This is a consistent position across millennial groups, regardless of whether they see themselves as high-achieving or not.
Notable in our findings however, was that negative, undermining behaviours such as others taking credit for their ideas and poor work-life balance, are much less likely to be tolerated by women overall. Our findings also showed that if these negative behaviours are not tackled, women are more likely to leave an organisation. Men, meanwhile, seem more accepting of these behaviours, or at least less likely to take these into consideration when assessing their careers. Again, given their predilection for describing themselves as competitive, they may either not notice undermining behaviours, or just not be bothered by them.
Men and women are closely aligned in the top factors for winning their loyalty. For high-achieving women and men, the top priority in ensuring their loyalty is supporting their emotional wellbeing.
Though maternity and paternity support is an understandable preoccupation for any member of the workforce, it remains in the minds of women in particular ranking as the 7th most important factor in supporting loyalty in women. Women in your organisation will be acutely aware if female employees are continuing to flourish on return from maternity leave or if they are “mummy-tracked”. That said, shifting expectations of fathers has propelled paternity support as the 10th most important factor instilling loyalty in men.
Our results demonstrate that high-achieving millennials consider this age to be the optimum time to start a family. Indeed, this speaks to the high ranking of paternity/maternity support as a loyalty driver for this group.
High-achieving millennials are planners: senior leadership are recommended to recognise that as this group plans to have a family, they are more likely to stay at their current job if they see peers having smooth transitions from maternity/paternity leave and back into work.
Some interesting disparities include leisure schemes, social areas and insurance – which are more important to men, although this may be more of a reflection on global infrastructure and circumstances.
As established in the previous sections, there are some distinctions between high-achieving millennials and their wider peer group, as well as between men and women.
There are also differences at a geographical level, and we will be assessing those as well as inviting guest commentary from The London School of International Communication to provide some insights into the cultural nuances that global companies need to consider in order to retain their high-achieving millennials around the globe.
This research demonstrates that within the countries surveyed, high-achieving millennials share many of the same concerns, aspirations and expectations regardless of geography. This generation is more globally connected than its predecessors and more likely to have lived overseas and operated in multicultural environments.
We believe that in assessing the expectations and behaviours of millennials across the globe, it’s valuable to view these findings through four other lenses that play an important role in shaping perspectives within each country evaluated – specifically the strength of the economy, employment practices, pervasiveness of technology and national cultural traits.
We have seen that millennials tend to switch employers more frequently than previous generations, but when jobs are scarce, this phenomenon becomes less prevalent. While a ‘job for life’ is virtually non-existent, a longer tenure within one firm is attractive given the economic and political uncertainty in many developed economies. The need to repay student loans and get on the housing ladder also play an important role in influencing decision-making to remain with an employer.
Conversely, a growing and vibrant national economy with low rates of unemployment is more likely to give millennials the confidence to switch employers more frequently. China, Germany, the UK and the US are among the world’s strongest economies and China, in particular, has until recently experienced huge growth. The lack of highly skilled workers in China gives its high-achieving millennials further leverage when negotiating their next opportunity – which may also explain why China is an outlier in terms of overall higher salaries for this demographic.
National political systems and legal frameworks from country to country also influence the aspirations and concerns of millennials in the workplace. Legislation around paid holiday entitlement, employee protection, unions, equal opportunities, pensions and health insurance can affect employees’ expectations of their employers. The following factors can have a bearing on how millennials across the globe prioritise and manage their careers:
The US is the only OECD country in the world where employers have no legal obligation to provide any paid holiday or maternity/paternity support.
In the US, full time salaried employees receive their health benefits through their employers as opposed to in Germany or the UK where healthcare is provided by the state.
US law does not require employers to give notice or provide severance pay on dismissal.
The UK offers the best pension provision of the four countries sampled although it ranks ninth in the world.
Discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation in the Chinese workplace is still common despite, and perhaps because of, overly complex legislation.
It would be inaccurate to make a sweeping generalisation about how these policies within each country affect millennials in particular. However, these policies play a role in shaping benefits that employees need and expect from their employers (such as health insurance in the US). Companies that want to attract and retain talent are finding that offering benefits that are not otherwise available will be stronger in the long-run at fostering top talent.
Technology has made the global workplace a smaller place. Technological advances mean that information is readily available and virtual communication across global teams and organisations is easier than ever. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that technological advances develop at differing levels and speeds and that:
Therefore, for companies managing global teams, it’s critical that the technology they are using can be supported in countries that are less developed. Bringing virtual teams together is crucial and it’s important to make the investment to ensure that technology is a means of collaboration – as opposed to a frustration if it’s simply not supportable in more remote locations.
Looking through the lens of culture is important in understanding the dominant values and beliefs which contribute to local workplace attitudes and expectations. We need to be careful about overgeneralising and be mindful of the dangers of national stereotyping. Furthermore, the cultural values within a single country can often vary just as much as they do between two separate countries. Londoners and New Yorkers may have more in common with each other than each city does with its rural counterparts in England and upstate New York. Ethnicity and religion also influence cultural values and preferences just as much as national borders. This reality has been illustrated repeatedly given the differing voting patterns between urban and rural residents in recent elections all over the globe.
“As the economies of less-developed countries become more developed, traditional preferences for hierarchical and collectivist ways of working often move towards more individualistic, less hierarchical preferences.”
That said, we note some interesting patterns in this research in the different countries:
As with managing any other group of employees, companies need to nail down the basics – competitive compensation, steady promotion cycles, opportunities for training, development and career progression. However, this research shows if companies want to keep their most talented millennials for longer than four years, there are some clear loyalty winners and killers.
Millennials, like the Generation Xers and Baby Boomers before them, do share many similarities with previous generations. However they view themselves as more flexible, more mobile, and more determined to mix work and pleasure than any other age group before them.
They also expect a lot more from their employers. They want greater responsibility from an early age, expect to be promoted every 24 months, and want to be consulted on decisions. They have clear and differing expectations about what they want from their line managers and from senior management. They want face-time from leadership and more praise and recognition. Significantly, pay is less important to high-achieving millennials than working for a company that cares for its employees’ wellbeing.
There are fewer women than men in managerial roles, and they continue to earn less per year than their male counterparts. Attitudinally, there are other differences. Millennial men are more likely look favourably upon risk-taking and being competitive while millennial women look favourably upon diligence and seeking consensus. Looking across the four countries surveyed – China, Germany, the UK, and the United States – there are also distinct differences. Frustration with pay seems a universally consistent complaint amongst millennials except in China, where recent growth in the past 20 years has been striking.
The influence of millennials will grow as they begin reaching the leadership ranks. Their desires and preferences are already having an impact on how organisations are pursuing top talent. Companies that want to harness the talents of this diverse, dynamic, ambitious and impatient generation would be advised to begin engaging and inspiring them now. The future of our global workforce depends on it.
This report is based on a global survey(2) of 4,063 millennials across the United Kingdom, Germany, United States and China conducted by FTI Consulting’s Strategy Consulting & Research team.
Millennials in this report are defined as those born between 1986 – 1998. Please note that the standard convention for rounding off has been applied, and some totals do not add up to 100%.
We conducted a global survey of 4,063 millennials across:
This report focuses on a specific subset within the millennial category: the high-achieving millennial. High-achieving millennials have been defined in this report by the achievement of specific managerial and compensation benchmarks as well as by self-evaluation criteria.
For any enquiries concerning the research methodology, please contact FTI Consulting’s Research Team.
1. PwC’s Millennials at Work (2011)
2. Between 23rd – 26th August 2016