Water Cooler May 2016: The Millennial Generation; Changing the way we look at work

by Melany Hallam

millennialsCelebrating BC Youth Week (May 1-7, 2016)

Question: As a youth (or former youth!), do/did you have the opportunity to contribute to decisions affecting you at work?


When I started at my first real job, I worked for the paycheque. Every shift at the local library, I did what my boss told me to do and then I went home and didn’t think about work until my next shift. I was 16 and excited to be making my own money. It didn’t occur to me that I could have some kind of influence over what my work place or job description might look like. And I gave nary a thought to how my first venture into the work world would affect my future career.

Things have changed fairly drastically for young people starting out in the workplace these days. According to a recent study by University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School, millennials are looking for careers with an opportunity for personal growth and “meaningful work” rather than higher pay. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) make up about 36% of the work force now and will comprise 46% by 2020, according to UNC study estimates, so employers take heed!

Here are some ways that today’s younger generation is looking to contribute to their workplaces and communities, as well as ways they are looking to benefit from their jobs:

  1. A real, valued role. They want to know that their work has an impact on the company that they work for, giving them a sense of purpose. This can also provide the employer with workers who are committed to the company’s vision.
  1. Service to the community. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that millennials feel it’s more important to help people in need (21%) than have a high-paying career (15%). And they want to be able to carry out some of that community service through their employer. If they participate in a fundraiser for the food bank or work on a community trail, being encouraged to do so by their company helps them feel good about that company.
  1. Encouragement and feedback. Millennials need real-time feedback rather than traditional performance reviews. This could be viewed as overly indulgent by some, but as a practical management tool, doesn’t it make more sense to use small nudges every day rather than attempt a huge about-face after six months or a year?
  1. Flexible schedule for work-life balance. The millennial generation is the first generation to grow up with the internet – they’re always plugged in and have never known anything else. Technology allows them to work from anywhere, so why be at the office for seemingly random set hours every day? Many millennials are perfectly willing to sacrifice some pay for more vacation time and the ability to telecommute. For employers, this is one of the most important factors to retaining millennial employees.
  1. Opportunities for development and advancement. The most important factor for 65% of millennials is personal development in their current job, according to the UNC study. They want to build their skills and make visible progress in their careers.
  1. Personal projects and entrepreneurship. Some larger companies like Google and 3M regularly have teams of employees work on anything they want as a special project. Encouraging initiative and creativity means more job satisfaction and engagement for millennial employees – and greater innovation for the company.

Yes, the work world it is a-changin’ and I’m looking forward to seeing the long-term results.


Fun fact: The good news for Canadian millennials is that you’re doing better than the Americans! A 2015 TD Bank survey called “Canadian and US Millennials: One of These Is Not Like the Other” found that Canadians aged 25-34 are more likely to have jobs – nearly 80% are employed, compared to less than 75% of Americans.



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