A quick glance at pretty much any business section confirms it: millennials have a terrible workplace reputation. Received wisdom holds that we’re fickle, uninterested, slow-learners, and deeply obsessed with beanbags. The following extract, from a Telegraph article called “The Problem with Millennials in the Workplace”, sings at the general pitch:
If there was ever a moment which laid to rest the image of the eager be-suited graduate, plucked fresh from a university milk-round for a job-for-life, and confirmed its replacement with a casually-dressed slacker, strolling into work late on his phone, only to complain there’s no room on the office bean bag, this must surely be it.
Forbes, meanwhile, predicts a rude awakening for Generation Y lost in Social Network-inspired dreams of start-up culture:
Influenced by popular media, millennials imagine a mythical start-up life: with free sushi, beanbags, Friday beers, open office landscapes, and sleeping pods. Meeting the reality of working at a start-up may be quite the wake-up call.
To be fair to the Forbes article, it also cites personal development opportunities and ‘freedom’ as reasons that the youngest generation of workers are so keen to work in start-ups. But more prominent is its perpetuation of a popular stereotype: that millennials choose their jobs on the shallowest of bases; attracted not primarily by the work they’ll be doing, but by all the stuff that goes with it – free food and drink, jazzy Google-esque offices and after-work socials. As employers and recruiters, it’s worth probing this assumption a little. Fickle and flighty or not, millennials will make up more than half the workforce by 2020; understanding what this generation wants from work will be crucial to attracting and retaining top talent.
Two significant studies muddy the waters somewhat. A 2013 PWC report “effectively busted (the) myth” that Generation Y is less committed or hard working than their senior colleagues, but also found, unsurprisingly, that the younger generation is motivated by different things. PWC observed that flexible hours and opportunities to work overseas were among the biggest ‘pull’ factors influencing the millennial job search. A collaborative and supportive team as well as frequent recognition for hard work, were important in improving retention among younger staff. An IBM study, meanwhile, found no significant differences in motivation between generations – its major recommendation focused on harnessing the abilities of “digital natives” to improve customer experience.
From our daily encounters with new university graduates, Venatrix can contribute to the conversation.
First, we find that what our candidates are overwhelmingly after is opportunity. They want to work at companies whose products they will be proud to sell, and where they see clear routes into more senior roles. Second, in the Snapchat age, everyone’s an entrepreneur: many of our graduates, nursing their own business dreams, are excited by training programmes and duties that will teach them skills they can use throughout their careers. Ditto networking opportunities. And finally – it’s not just young people that like free beer.