What’s your plan for Millennials?

by Katherine Jeffery, PhD

There is a huge generational shift taking place in the world. Some find this exhilarating while others are left scratching their heads, not only wondering what happened but also trying frantically to figure out how to stay relevant. Millennials and Gen Z have upset the status quo that has existed for over half a century, and organizations need to either adapt or learn a new way of recruitment, retention, and engagement.

Millennials are causing quite a stir in the workplace. They will be 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, 88 million strong. This, coupled with the fact that only 18 percent of Millennials plan on staying with their current organization over the long term, highlights the importance of establishing a bridge-building plan for organizations with the greatest potential in leveraging the current multi-generational workforce.

An organization with the ability and agility to adapt yet maintain integral parts of its DNA is essential to retain top quality Millennials that work with other generations and continue to build a sustainable organization that withstands this generational transition. With Millennial turnover costing the U.S. economy $30.5 billion every year, these factors become critical to an organization’s ability to thrive and innovate.

Through my research, I have discovered the following characteristics of millennials in the workplace:

A sense of belonging. Millennials have a deep longing to belong, a longing for community and the desire to feel safe. 71 percent of Millennials desire for their coworkers to be like a second family. When they feel like they belong to a team, they feel like they belong at the organization, which leads to a more productive, healthy team and a longer commitment to the organization.

Collaborative culture. As the Collaboration Generation, they have been on teams since they could walk and believe they are better when they work together. Collaborating means they are part of something bigger and have people beside them as they pursue the end goal. This creates trust and a sense of purpose both of which contribute to a healthy culture. When a company has a high-trust culture, employees will have 50% higher productivity.

Need to have voice. Millennials need to be heard. Decision-making cannot be done in a vacuum. Hearing all perspectives is necessary and helpful. Lack of voice can lead to disengagement and high turnover.

Creative expression. Millennials desire to have space to be creative. With the increasing need for innovation, companies need to work hard to implement psychological safety in the workplace so that this generation can fully express themselves. Without this space, Millennials will move on.

Diversity and inclusion. This is expected. It is not just about the color of a person’s skin but involves individuality. It is necessary, important, and normal. Millennials are inclusive and think anything less is “arrogant.”

Individually known. Millennials are willing to invest time in being known. If a company tries a “one size fits all” approach, this generation will move on to a place where they can flourish as individuals.

Emotional intelligence/effective interpersonal interactions. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management are areas where Millennials expect their leaders to excel. This generation also expects these skills in their teammates. When they work with people who are competent in these areas it communicates that they are seen, understood, and valued.

Strengths-based culture. They desire to live into their individual strengths. Having a strength and never using it is “like a gift showing up and never being opened.” Utilizing strengths is capitalizing on productivity and flourishing. Companies that shift to a strengths-based culture can have 26%-72% lower turnover rate.

Team-based culture. This generation wants team members who communicate well, take initiative, are proactive, and accountable to their commitments. When led and supported well, Millennials will work hard. If the culture does not support collaboration, they will find one that does.

Empowered. The lack of empowerment = oppression. This was found to be the most important leader practice. Trust is a key component to working well with this generation. A recent Citigroup and LinkedIn survey found that almost half of employees would forfeit a 20% increase in salary in exchange for increased control over how they work.

Working alongside. Hierarchy is not cool. Leaders need to be accessible and willing to get their hands dirty alongside of their team. The desire is for a leader who does not tower over them but walks beside them as they grow. This approach enriches the culture by communicating to the team that the leader acknowledges that they hold the same value as (s)he does.

Adaptable leadership. It is no longer about a team of employees becoming who the boss wants them to be, it is about the leadership understanding each of their individual needs and adapting to them. This organizational approach communicates value to this generation. They feel seen and heard and as a result, are more committed to the organization.

Shared leadership. Millennials see leadership as a fluid concept. It can easily be passed around to the one who has the skills needed to do the job. The “assigned” leader is the one who facilitates. This person holds more responsibility but not more value. In a top-down culture, this generation feels “dominated” and unvalued–which leads to disengagement and a decrease in retention.


  1. Meister, Jeanne & Willyerd, Karie. 2010. Mentoring Millennials. Harvard Business Reviewhttps://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials.
  2. PricewaterhouseCoopers. 2011. Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace. https://www.pwc.com/m1/en/services/consulting/documents/millennials-at-work.pdf.

3.Adkins, Amy. 2016. Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation. http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/191459/millennials-job-hopping-generation.aspx.

  1. Thomas-Aguilar, Blakely. “Millennials at Work: When it Comes to Business Does Father Still Know Best?” https://www.pgi.com/blog/2013/06/millennials-at-work-when-it-comes-to-business-does-father-still-know-best-infographic/. December 9, 2016.

5.Zak, Paul. 2017. The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review. January-February 2017, 84-90.

6.Cooper, Simon. 2016. Why Aren’t All Organizations Strengths-Based? http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/196595/why-aren-organizations-strengths-based.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=syndication.


Katherine Jeffery, PhD., is a consultant on generational strategies for The Valcort Group, and associate dean of student leadership development at Trinity International University.

To contact Dr. Jeffery for corporate or organizational consultantation, or as a speaker or seminar leader, contact The Valcort Group, 630.587.6000; kjeffery@valcort.com.

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