What does our research tell us about Millennials in the workforce?

In a previous blog post we identified three myths about Millennials in the workforce:

  1. That they have fundamentally different work principles from their predecessors.
  2. That they are not satisfied, committed, or engaged at work.
  3. That they want to work less and play more.

As we reviewed existing studies and conducting our own, we found that these generalizations are not supported by research. So, what generalizations do hold true under the bright light of investigation? Here are three.

TRUTH #1: Millennials have more technology-related expertise.

It is true that Millennials are more experienced technologically than earlier generations. Given their extensive use of social media, Millennials are used to having nearly immediate access to information and people. They are connected with others (virtually) more than before. They believe they can easily and quickly find something or someone, and they’re often right.

Though social media can be an interrupter at work, this generation’s expertise is a skill to be capitalized on, and it’s one in which they can tutor their typically less technologically-immersed elders.

TRUTH #2: Millennials are more extroverted and self-confident.

There is some convincing evidence that younger generations’ personalities are actually shifting a bit in comparison with their predecessors, both in general and in relation to work. Millennials tend to be more extroverted and conscientious, and they regard themselves in an increasingly positive manner. The practical implication? Researchers (e.g., Lyons & Kuron, 2013) predict Millennials will be interested in careers that are expressive of extroversion and social influence.

TRUTH #3: High performance corporate culture increases Millennials’ engagement.

Perhaps our most important finding was the one we encountered exploring the perception that Millennials are not as engaged at work as their older colleagues. To take a closer look at this issue, our research team conducted its own study of 34,592 employees from 204 different Divisions at three large organizations. Using the Denison Organizational Culture Survey (DOCS), we collected data on the culture of their Division and on their individual engagement at work.

As expected, Baby Boomers reported the highest level of engagement, followed by Gen Xers and then Millennials, and the differences were statistically significant. However, in work Divisions characterized by more effective, high-performing culture (i.e., a high levels of involvement, consistency, adaptability, and mission), generational differences were smaller.

While employee engagement may indeed be different among generational cohorts, it’s important to view employee engagement in the context of organizational culture. Simply put, organizations that build and manage effective cultures are likely to have a highly engaged workforce—from the Silent Generation to Baby Boomers to Gen X-ers, all the way down to Millennials.

The Lesson

An employees’ generation cannot be changed, but your organizational and work group culture can be! To improve employee engagement, create a stronger, more positive organizational culture. Organizations that build healthy cultures and use them both to create an “employer brand” and to drive high performance will be more likely to attract and retain the capable Millennials.

But it’s not just about Millennials.

Generational differences are a valid and significant form of diversity. It’s important to untangle generational issues based on research evidence, and to understand the issues in the context of organizational culture so that you can effectively manage not just Millennials, but your entire multi-generational workforce.

For help addressing these and other questions about corporate culture in your organization, contact us.

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