What millennials want from work

Published in Businesslife, August 2013. Original article here (p48-50).

BL Aug

What millennials want: Recruiting the next generation

Money cannot buy you love, The Beatles once sang, but it turns out money also cannot buy you the loyalty of the millennials generation. Higher salaries may have been a key driving force for their parents, but for employees in their 20s, a better work-life balance weighs heavier on the scales.

Raised on the internet, the millennials generation – born between 1980 and 1995 – have seen work turn from a place to be, to something to do. And watching their parents climb the career ladder by working all hours of the day, and possibly even night, has failed to persuade millennials it is the road to happiness. This is the conclusion of an extensive study from PwC, which found that employers who want to continue to attract star talent will need to deliver what the millennials want: remote working, overseas consignments, being valued in the office, and opportunities for training.

“As the millennials generation becomes a more important part of the workforce, companies will need to be mindful of their priorities in order to attract top talent,” says Evelyn Brady, partner at PwC Channel Islands in Guernsey. “To attract the best candidates you need to understand what inspires and motivates people. The old mentality of just remuneration is not going to be enough to attract the right people to continue to be a successful business.”

PwC’s global study, polling 44,000 people over two years in conjunction with the London Business School and the University of Southern California, found that millennials are not convinced that work is worth the sacrifice of their personals lives. While the desire for flexible hours is not unique to the younger generation, Brady says she was surprised to what extent the millennials will actually give up money in exchange for freedom. According to the research, nearly 20% would forego some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion if they could work fewer hours.

“The monetary element of the package is important, but not as important as people of my generation would have thought.” says Brady. “Millennials look at life differently in terms of what inspires and motivates them, having seen [older] people work very hard, spending a lot of money and potentially now finding themselves in debt. And for what? Why not use the best years of your life to enjoy yourself, instead of saving for the never-never days?”

This wish for greater freedom does beg the question: is this realistic or just idealism? An executive who got ahead by being the last to leave the office for two decades be forgiven for thinking this attitude smacks of entitlement from spoilt kids out of touch with the real world. But this would be a rash conclusion. Millennials are just as willing to put their noses to the grindstone and work hard – they just want a bit more flexibility in how to go about it. “It used to be that you work really long hours to get up the corporate ladder, but this generation does not see their progression like that,” says Tina Palmer, director of ASL Recruitment in Jersey. “They want to do a good job, but they look for a company that appreciates them and supports them.”

After all, it will be difficult to persuade those who have grown up with web-connected mobiles in their pockets that it is vital to be present in the office for eight hours a day. They know they can just as easily power up a laptop on the train, log into the company network from home at night, or email in a report while spending time abroad. The millennials want to take advantage of these possibilities: nearly 70% of millennials said they would like to shift their work hours, plus occasionally work from home.

“The companies used to have all the power, telling staff: ‘If you want to get up the corporate ladder you have to be here, do this and that, and I need you in on Saturday morning’,” says Palmer. “These youngsters want to work, but they have their ethics about how they want to work, and how the company should treat them.”

This represents a significant cultural challenge for businesses, as a positive team spirit and a sense of social responsibility are all important factors for the millennials. They also want transparency around performance and compensation, and will much more easily share salary details with teammates. 37% of millennials are interested in working abroad, as opposed to just 28% of the previous generation, and they generally want to have a say in how they work rather than being told what to do.

Companies need to take these factors into account when putting together job offers for the younger generation. “People are not just looking at the money, but also at the culture of the organisation, the leadership, and what kind of working life they get. They ask, how much holiday do I get? Do I get medical? Do I get time to study? People are realising they spend a lot of time at work, and they need to be happy there,” says Palmer.

As the Channel Islands are arguably slow to adjust to new trends, a failure to attract the best millennials workers could lead to a wider skills gap, or even the islands becoming insular. While Palmer does not think Jersey companies are slow off the mark on this issue, all the sources interviewed for this article agreed that the change will take time. Evidence of adjusting attitudes are starting to be seen, however; Palmer says Channel Island staff used to job-hop, moving on every few years for the sake of a few grand: “Now people look at the packages, and often they will choose the one with better benefits, even if it is slightly lower money.”

Work-life balance is often short for getting out in time to pick up kids from school, but this is not necessarily the case for the millennials, who are still aged under 33. As 92% of those surveyed did not have children, work-life balance for them also means time for hobbies, travel, personal development, or simply wishing to meet a friend for a drink while the sun is still up.

Channel Island companies are well-positioned to respond to this desire for flexibility, because they are used to catering to working parents, says Sarah Garrood, partner at Maven Partners in Jersey: “The number of working women in the Channel Islands is very high compared to the UK. A lot of the employers here have to be flexible around the working parents situation, so Jersey seems to be very much in tune with those needs.”

Having previously spent 15 years recruiting in London, Garrood points out how Jersey and Guernsey will appeal to millennials’ sense for community and teamwork: “I have been pleasantly surprised at how much community work goes on here. It seems every day you open the local paper and read about employees engaging with the local community, be it sponsored events, sports, or companies donating staff’s time to charities.”

But while the positive examples are there, much work still needs doing before the millennials can have what they want. “We need a cultural shift in order to meet the demands of the new generation. This is happening, but it is a slow burn,” says Shelley Kendrick, managing director of Kendrick Rose in Jersey. Kendrick, who has worked closely with the Association of Graduate Recruiters, explains how the downturn has limited flexible working: “Especially since the recession, companies want a full-time headcount and there is not a great deal of job-sharing going on. Companies want people in place, by their desks, all day long.”

Having said that, Kendrick is seeing a definite change to how organisations listen to what employees want: “There is a cultural change going on among Channel Island companies, in terms of looking for people that will fit. This means looking for an attitude as opposed to just technical skills, and seeking out people who think differently and who can help the business grow.”

Especially smaller companies may find it challenging to cater to millennials’ requests for sabbaticals, volunteer assignments or year-long travel, but PwC’s Brady believes a flexible attitude and keeping an open conversation is the key: “This way it is not a surprise, so when you recruit you understand that this may be part of the career cycle. … It means thinking beyond one or two individuals in favour of a longer-term view.”

The added hassle of managing roaming staff mean corporations may initially bristle against this attitude, acknowledges Brady, but as the millennials age, they will soon make up the bulk of the workforce. In order to hire and retain top talent, companies cannot stick their head in the sand about what drives the new generation: “In order to continue to deliver positively, employees need to be able to relate to what a company is trying to achieve. There is only so much you can do with money – people will only give a certain percent of themselves that way. But if you work with them and allow them to achieve their own goals, they also allow you to achieve yours.”

After all, keeping up with a changing world is central to running a successful business: “Most corporations understand you cannot stand still.” While it will be a slow process, this is also the case for the Channel Islands, concludes Brady: “We have always had a view to the outside world. Obviously we are small islands, but most businesses here have global perspectives and deal with organisations all over the world. We need to make sure we have employees who can understand the challenges of different environments.”

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Published by Jessica Furseth

Journalist; Londoner.