Eilish O’Hagan joined AMT in June 2018 and is the Managing Director and head of its global operations.
Before joining AMT Training last year, I completed my master's thesis at Insead analysing millennials, their role models and what motivates them, in and out of the workforce. As I now lead a global team which is made up of 22 individuals 40% of whom are millennials this paper compares my real-life findings with what I had written a year earlier.
We first encountered the term “millennials” in Howe and Strauss’ 1991 book entitled Generations. Known also as “Generation Y”, Twenge 2006, this cohort refers to the population born between 1980 and 1999. According to PwC’s (2012) report, “Millennials at Work, Reshaping the Workforce”, by 2020, they will form 50% of the global workforce” (p. 3). At Wilmington plc, our parent company, they make up 49% of the total 800+ workforce. With new talent increasingly recruited from their ranks as the older generations of Baby Boomers (born during 1946–1964) and Generation X employees (1965–1980) retire, millennials will have to support a large retired population. Therefore, much is expected of them emotionally and financially.
Concerns have been expressed about the work attitudes of millennials and they are often referred to as the “Snowflake” generation because they are viewed as flighty and unreliable. It is fair to say that some employers have experienced a higher job turnover with this cohort than previous generations at a high cost to the economy. According to a May 2016 Gallup report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live (Section 4) 21% of millennials say they've changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials. It is estimated that millennial turnover cost the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. Their seemingly low level of commitment creates volatility within the work environment and many of our banking clients indicate that it is very challenging to attract and retain this talent pool.
When you dig deeper, this behaviour appears to be driven by disappointment and discord in the workplace that arises when the organisation’s ethics and code of business dissociate from the millennials’ own values. A recent study, Corporate Social Responsibility Reputation Effects on MBA Job Choice conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business (2018) showed that 90% of Master of Business Administration graduates from business schools in Europe and North America prefer working for organisations committed to social responsibility. At AMT I have been impressed by the level of conscientiousness and dedication of the millennials within the team and they seem to feel attached to our business, as the key purpose is to develop skills and knowledge in others, which is a top priority for them too.
This empowered stance of millennials towards their job situation is reflected in the expectations they have for the type of organisations they want to work for. Global Tolerance in 2015 carried out an extensive study of 2000 employees in the UK and 62% of millennials want to work for a company that makes a positive impact versus 42% of the general workforce. Half of the millennials I interviewed during my research preferred purposeful work to a higher salary. Their strong desire to find meaning in their work means they are open to changing employers that reflect their values and do not stay where they feel misrepresented. By asserting their wish for a different prioritisation of workplace values, they are challenging organisations to examine their priorities. This may not bode well for many financial services organisations who are seen by this cohort to only benefit the few and changing that perspective may be critical in stemming the turnover within this cohort.
Questions have been asked about the millennials’ ability to take on the leadership mantle as the preceding generations retire. Addressing this perceived gap between their capabilities and the roles they will occupy is a crucial part of integrating and maximising this cohort’s potential. Based on Deloitte’s 2015 Annual millennial survey, 53% of millennials aspired to become the leader or most senior executive within their current organisation and this could benefit organisations’ effectiveness and creativity. Being aspirational could be perceived as impatient and unfair to the older generations working alongside them. It is a challenge as a leader to balance their ambition with the technical and professional skills they need to take on senior roles. AMT prides itself on ensuring our clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills to prepare them for their future careers in the financial services sector.
Millennials are entrepreneurial and are highly aware of the current realities of the working world. 61% of millennials surveyed at America's Small Business Development Centres (2018) responded that there is more job security in owning their own business than in working for someone else, while 64% of baby boomers think there is greater job security in working for someone else in lieu of having their own business. As the job market changes millennials are taking initiative and taking charge of their livelihoods, instead of depending on employers making it difficult for organisations to retain them.
As we increasingly operate in a technologically driven work environment, their comfort with technology usage makes them a great asset (Trunk 2007, Gerdes 2006). An infographic entitled “Maximizing Millennials” published in Forbes in 2014 indicated that millennials were far more capable of splitting their attention between devices and tasks than previous generations. Their rate was 27 times per hour, compared to 17 times per hour for their predecessors. We also see this as a training organisation with our class participants and we constantly strive to make their learning experience as impactful and interactive as possible. Within my team, the eLearning trend and the many enhancements to the AMT service are being driven by the younger members of the team who are entrepreneurial and want change. We can be more effective in our dynamic work environments and improve overall profitability if we embrace the unique talents of this group.
My thesis research showed that millennials exhibit a need to belong and succeed, in conjunction with a strong sense of giving back. These dominant themes are reflected in my current team and contradict the media impression of this cohort as entitled, disloyal and hard to motivate. My millennial colleagues are hard-working, loyal and innovative. They leverage their technological skills and adventurous nature and this is key to enhancing our business for 2020 and beyond.
It seems to me that some of the criticisms levelled at millennials are more a reflection of the intensifying generation gap that we are dealing with rather than their weaknesses. As we are living longer and retiring later, this is the first time that there are four generations operating in the workplace simultaneously (Zimke, Raines & Filipczak). A diversified work force brings with it a unique set of demands with older members finding the behaviour of the younger members disrespectful or arrogant when it comes to e.g. knowledge or career promotion. The multigenerational workforce is the major determinant of office culture and behaviour.
Table 1.1, below, sets out the values of the four generations in the workplace at present. Patora, Schwartz and Schwartz (2007)
Table 1.1 Synopsis of Generations
Values and Work-Related Values of Four Generations
|Second World War
Source: Managing the multi-generational workforce Delcampo G, Haggerty L, Haney M, Knippel L. (p.11).
This table shows that the values differ across generations and is partly due to the changes in their life circumstances and social conditions. For example, Fore (2012) reported based on her interviews with 15 US-based millennial leaders that millennials, unlike previous generations, are passionate about maintaining a work-life balance, while pursuing a fulfilling career. It is understandable that the presence of these somewhat conflicting values could exacerbate a sense of discord between the generations, making the task of managing employees in organisations more difficult.
Despite these differences, there is evidence that these generations have more in common than widely perceived. In his paper in the Harvard Business Review, Pfau (2016) cited a group of researchers from Washington University who reported that the different generations at the workplace shared common values. They revolved around job satisfaction, making an impact on the organisation, and solving social and environmental challenges. Can this perceived generational gap be understood and welcomed. According to Delcampo, Haggerty, Haney, & Knippel, 2011 inter-generational tension is nothing new and focussing on the challenges seems counterproductive as all generations have different competencies and values. In fact, we can embrace every generational change, as Lancaster and Stillman (2010) stated, “The arrival of a new generation in the workplace presents an opportunity to examine how we do things and perhaps test out a few new approaches that will make us even better” (p.280).
My role at AMT is to grasp this opportunity to bridge the inter-generational gap within my team in order to deliver better performance and at the same time an enjoyable work environment.
I see that millennials perform at their best and give back happily when they feel that they have been supported, which means that the work relationship needs to be reciprocal. If developed and harnessed effectively, their work ethic and social conscience can benefit organisations and exert a significant influence in equalising our societies. Leveraging millennials’ unique qualities into a catalyst for positive change, culturally and economically, could have long-term ramifications for us all. I now am witnessing it in the work place and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this cohort balancing economic performance while contributing to social progress. How will their values resonate with future generations in our rapidly changing world? Generation Z will no doubt have a different set of values and expectations and this in turn will prove a new challenge for leadership and organisations.
Bibliography & References
DelCampo, R., Haggerty, L., Haney, M., Knippel, L. (2011).
Managing the Multi Generational Workforce from the GI Generation to the Millennials. England: Taylor & Francis
Deloitte Annual Millennial Survey. (2015) Data retrieved from
Fore, C. (2012).
Next Generation Leadership – Millennials as Leaders. USA: Capella University.
Gallup Survey Data (May 2016) Retrieved from
Global Tolerance Study (2015). Data retrieved from
Howe, N. & Strauss W. (1991) Generations. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Lancaster, C. & Stillman, D. (2010). The M Factor. New York, NY: Harper Collins
“Maximizing Millennials in the Workplace”
http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/custom-programs/~/ media/files/documents /executive-development/maximizing-millennials-in-the-workplace.pdf
Pfau, N. B. (April 2016).
What do Millennials Really want at work?. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Business Review.
PwC/Opinium Research. Data retrieved from PwC Millennials at Work, Reshaping the Workforce 2012 Survey.
Twenge, J. Dr. (2006) Generation me. New York, NY: Free Press
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