What are Millennials Looking for in a Job?

How to win over the youth of today

Whether it’s in casual conversation, Time magazine think pieces, or the HR department, we do have a tendency to sell millennials short.

Yes, thanks to a few factors this generation does seem quite different to many that have gone before them, but when you really get down to it, their concerns aren’t that different to those typically held by young people over the past 70 years. What they want in the workplace is often debated as though they were an alien species – but it’s not actually that complicated, and attracting young talent to your business doesn't really need any tricks or gimmicks.

Let’s talk money

One of the biggest headlines we see thrown around about millennials (typically referring to those born in the 80s and 90s) in the workplace is that they’re less interested in money than in cool Google-style office perks and quirky workspaces – anything that makes their job look good on Instagram! But it’s not exactly true.

Research by Deloitte has found that “pay and financial benefits drive Millennials’ choice of organisation more than anything else” – so millennials really do care about money, and thinking otherwise could be driving away top young talent who may have been in the job market for a few years and have a bit more financial security.

However, although millennials consider a good salary to be very important, many have become accustomed to working for less. This is, after all, a generation that mostly entered the workforce in the midst of a dire financial crisis, have been met with unpaid internships and zero-hour contracts, and will be the first generation to earn less than their parents.

The alternative to work? Massively reduced benefits that barely provide a safety net. So although young people would prefer higher pay, many cannot, ironically, afford to let lower pay be a deal breaker.

More millennial misconceptions

But why bother paying millennials more, anyway? This fickle generation will only up and leave again within a year or so, right?

Well, sort of. Research has found that 51% of millennials are thinking of quitting their job – which only sounds shocking until you read on and discover that 51% of Generation X (the generation beforehand) are also having similar thoughts of packing it in and moving on.

Only 39% of that more reliable generation-before-last, the Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are thinking of quitting – but doesn’t that make sense? They’re older, and more likely to be settled into a more senior role. Even before the notion of a job for life went flying out the window, young people are surely more likely to move around a couple of times before they find the career – and the company – that is the best fit for them.

Now we’ve come to the crux of the issue – millennials, just like everyone else, are looking for a job that’s the right fit. What they want is for employers to make them feel like they’ve found it – rather than treating them as expendable interns or zero-hour workers. Invest in them, and they’ll invest in you.

Planning for the future

In PwC’s survey of millennials, Reshaping the Workforce, the most popular benefit among young people was their own personal learning and development. Millennials want a job where they can learn, grow, and climb the ladder. Any young person, regardless of when they entered the workforce, would surely welcome this – but for millennials, it’s particularly important, because on-the-job training is dying out.

The “Need A Job For Experience, Need Experience For A Job” Catch-22 is caused by businesses that are less willing to invest money in training someone who might leave, even if this completely closes the door on the majority of younger applicants. But with an aging workforce, attracting young talent is essential.

It’s risky, though – investing money in young people who might just up and leave. How do you keep them around after the training is finished? Easy – you treat them as though you actually want them to stay.

Plan for the future. Give younger employees mentors. Learn about their career goals and help them to achieve them. Help them access training courses through voluntary salary reduction benefits. Provide opportunities to learn and grow.

Deloitte’s millennial survey found that 71% of young people considering a change of job are “unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed”, feeling overlooked and lacking encouragement. This needs to change.

Sweetening the deal

They might watch different TV series, visit different websites, or drink different beers – but beyond these superficial interests, today’s young people have the same needs as everyone else. Paying the rent, saving for a deposit, or paying the mortgage. Caring for their kids, if they have them (millennials are less likely to have kids, but more likely to have kids while unmarried). Making enough to cover the essentials, with enough money – and time – left over for some leisure or luxuries.

And they want a job that will help them do this – if not through their wages, then through other means. This is where salary reduction, lifestyle support and childcare voucher schemes can make a real difference to young employees, particularly in tough financial times – against the backdrop of austerity and Brexit, for example.

These benefits are often ongoing arrangements, which may be spread over a year – another helpful way of showing young employees that you’re willing to invest in them being there for a long time.

Younger generations are also less interested in the constraints of a typical nine to five, seeing flexibility as very important – in PwC’s research, flexible working was the second most important benefit. Is it any surprise? This is a generation used to having computers in the home, working on the go on laptops and mobile, or using collaborative cloud tools like Google Drive. Offering even a small amount of flexibility could go a long way to making sure your organisation is the right fit.

Doing the right thing

Thanks to growing up with the internet, millennials are better connected than any generation that has gone before, and are well informed of the world around them. Social justice is important to today’s younger generation, but instead of protests, there’s a focus on ensuring the world around them is more fair and ethical.

Going back to PwC’s research, more than half felt the companies they worked for weren’t diverse enough, and lacked equal opportunities for all, regardless of how big a game these companies talked in their policies and marketing.

In Deloitte’s survey, meanwhile, millennials placed yet more emphasis on the company they work for sharing their values, with 56% ruling out ever working for particular organisations because they held opposing values. Diversity, inclusivity, making a positive difference in the world – these things matter to today’s young employees.

So, what are millennials actually looking for a job?

The simple answer is, they’re looking for a job that’s also looking for them. One that actively wants them to stay in it, that cares about their wellbeing and their future, and shares their values. And one that pays them, of course. Is that really so outrageous, or entitled?