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Millennials – Understanding the Way They Work

Millennials – Understanding the Way They Work

Millennials – Understanding the Way They Work

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If you are an HR leader, you might have realized that millennials think differently. Their expectations from a workplace might sound like a land of milk and honey to you. Yet, they might be right on some points. This article explains millennials, why they think the way they think, and how to increase their engagement at work.

Millennial Generation Defined

According to Merriam-Webster, millennials are defined as people born in the 1980s or 1990s. However, a survey by the Pew Research Center has identified that these generations are less likely to identify with this generational term than previous generations, such as Generation X or baby boomers. Much information that can be found about those generations is based on stereotypes. Also, research is typically based on western demographics, and therefore doesn’t apply to all cultures and should be treated with caution.

Generations and Their Characteristics


People born between 1946 and 1964 are considered baby boomers. The name results from post-war times when soldiers returned home after World War II, deciding to start a family which resulted in a rapid rise in births. Baby boomers value relationships and spend their free time with family and friends. They were raised with the belief that hard work pays off. Now baby boomers most likely make up the older generation in your company and might be retiring in the next couple of years.


The birth years 1965 to 1980 represent Gen-Xers. Generally, this generation grew up with two working parents, which explains why they’re good at performing autonomously and overcoming challenges on their own. Generation X grew up tech-free, making them social butterflies and excellent team players.


Generally, people born between 1980 to 1995 are considered to be millennials. Being the first generation growing up with the presence of digital technology, they are also called “digital natives”. This generational cohort is known to be self-confident, just as they are not afraid to raise questions if something is not clear. In their career, they are looking for more than just a job and want to be part of something that feels worthwhile working for. Also, their relationship with money is different from other generations – they are typically not motivated by money alone. Millennials are now young adults aged between 28 and 43.


People born between 1996 and 2010 belong to Generation Z. They share many characteristics with millennials, only in more extreme forms. What is a perspective for millennials, has become an expectation for this generation. Typically, this generation is more skeptical of capitalism, valuing free time, flexibility, and work-life balance over high salaries. The workplace that was built 30 years earlier clearly does not meet the expectations of this younger generation. Gen Zers make up the youngest group of employees, being 28 years old or younger.


After Generation Z comes Generation Alpha. This is the age group born after 2010. Those are the children of millennials who are now 13 years old or younger and soon will be going to high school. It remains to be seen how they will develop until they enter the business world.

Team working on a project

History of Millennials

History shapes us. By knowing in what environment millennials grew up we can better understand their behavior and belief systems.

Millennials were shaped by the Great Recession, 9/11, the expansion of Social media, and the internet. Many millennials graduated into an empty job market, with millennials in the USA being in debt with student loans. More than any other generation, millennials are said to be “living from paycheck to paycheck”.

This is also the generation of burning CDs, listening to loud music, and being active on social media. In fact, millennials are the first generation of digital natives, meaning they grew up with the internet, smartphones, and tablets. Also, almost every young person is on social media. Still, the platforms used vary significantly, even within this generational cohort. The oldest millennials are significantly older than young millennials. Snapchat and TikTok are apps that are not very typical for old millennials.

So why are millennials so different? Even as consumers, millennials have attracted researchers’ attention by showing new behavioral patterns. One thing is, that it’s just so hard to get their attention.

Millennials grew up being exposed to online ads. While they tend to grab their phone when they are bored, they are also overwhelmed by the volume of information they get on various platforms throughout the day. On average, a person could receive 10,000 ads per day.

This leads to something called “ad-blindness”, a phenomenon where visitors of a website consciously or unconsciously ignore banner-like ads. This term is often used with Generations X and Y. This is one reason why so many companies struggle to attract a millennial’s attention through advertising. A strategy that often works with millennials is providing valuable content. This is usually something interactive and useful, rather than promotional.

3 Myths About Millennials

Being part of one generational cohort makes it harder to understand another age group. Shaped by different upbringings and belief systems, we all have our way of doing things. Here are the top 3 myths about millennials.

#1 Millennials Are Lazy

A millennial doesn't choose to sit in the office from 9 to 5. So is that a sign of laziness? Certainly not. Millennials have a different attitude toward work. One core difference is that they work in a results-oriented way; when and where the work gets done is secondary.

#2 Millennials Are Technology-Obsessed

It is true that millennials get bored faster than previous generations. That can be linked back to the way they grew up, being raised with technology. However, having that level of innate technical expertise and knowledge within the workplace can easily be seen as a positive rather than a negative. Another interesting fact is that as this generation grew up with mobile phones and other digital tools, they can better deal with distractions.

#3 Millennials Are Job Hoppers

Millennials are known to be job hoppers. Statistics support this view – however, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. In fact, millennials are a very ambitious group of employees, who continuously want to learn and grow. If they no longer see their contribution to the overall company success or are simply facing too many challenges, they will consider taking on a new venture.

Millenial working on computer

Millennials at Work

Millennials currently make up the biggest group of working people worldwide. By 2025, they will represent 75% of the global workforce. This generation brings along very important skills, especially digital skills and a strong will for continuous learning. In order to attract and retain this group of people, it’s essential to understand what they need and actually expect from an employer.


Instead of status and prestige, the focus has shifted to the enjoyment of work, freedom, self-fulfillment, and work-life balance. "Save less, spend more" is the motto. In most cases, freedom and flexibility are more important to millennials than a high salary. As a result, the option for flexible working hours and remote working are important benefits to millennials seeking a new employer.

In general, 85% of millennials search online job boards for a new job. Additionally, they will make use of the information that’s online to get a feel for a company’s culture. They are very likely to check a company’s careers site, presence on social media channels such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube, and platforms for employer reviews, such as Glassdoor.

Employee Benefits

Millennials are known for not being motivated by money alone. Therefore, high salaries are often not enough to attract millennial employees. According to a survey by Glassdoor, millennials’ favorite benefits are paid time off, the ability to work remotely, having control over their schedules, and a great deal of flexibility.


Millennials enjoy two-way relationships where both sides have a say. That’s why they prefer a coaching leadership style over a boss with a commanding style. They’re usually not shy when it comes to speaking their minds on their workload and will ask for more work if they feel like they need more of a challenge, as well as letting you know when they need a break.


Millennials are team-oriented. This generation was taught a cooperative learning style at school and is used to working in teams. Also, due to the internet and social media, this generation is globally connected and diversity is nothing new.


Millennials are the generation of instant gratification. This term refers to the desire to satisfy a craving, and experience pleasure or fulfillment right away. At work, this plays out in the way they communicate. They find instant messaging via channels such as Slack especially efficient. In most cases, they prefer this form of communication over face-to-face conversations. Spending time on the phone is not their number one choice.

Work Environment

The millennial generation is all about connectivity and independence. No wonder this generation enjoys a remote work environment. Whether in the office or at home, millennials love collaboration. A good working atmosphere and friendships among colleagues are a must.


On average, millennials change their jobs three times as often as other generations, and the trend even increased after the pandemic. There are several reasons why millennials seek that change. For one, they want to feel part of something bigger and they will only stay as long as they feel that they have an impact on the overall company success. Also, they don’t limit themselves to a single industry or employer. Their mindset is different and they find it okay to explore different business areas until they find what truly fulfills them. Lastly, the job market has changed and employees clearly have the upper hand and they know that their employers need them to a certain extent. A good company culture, employee engagement activities, and adequate benefits can help to retain talent.


Learning about new generations is a key requisite for establishing a company culture that everyone feels part of. Being the first generation to grow up with technology, the group of millennials brings some essential skills to your business. At the same time, expectations from an employer have changed and it’s time to review the employee experience and adapt it to every generation.


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