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Getting the best from millennials

Successful organisations win and retain key talent. Age is not a barrier to success; however, it may be a barrier to gaining and retaining the key talent from the next generation of movers and shakers.

Many organisations have already developed their culture and employment practices to gain and retain the best on offer. For example, many working parents now gain value from employer led initiatives in ways which go far beyond the statutory minimum requirements of the law. The benefits of this accrue to both employer and employee. In the same way, organisations should look at their culture and employment practices to ensure they gain & retain millennials. Organisations need people who are ambitious, educated and technologically “savvy”. So what are some of the challenges we face in getting the best from millennials?

We need to be careful of stereotyping, however millennials (18 to 35-year-old age group) are sometimes seen to hold belief and value systems, and approaches to work and to management,  which are different to those of their older colleagues. Organisations which recognise, embrace and respond to these differences will gain a competitive edge in the recruitment and retention of key talent from this age group.

There is perhaps a temptation amongst managers of an older generation to view the expectations of millennials as incompatible with best business practice. The most agile organisations have however already adapted to the new reality to ensure they thrive. Millennials want responsibility, work-life balance, regular feedback and an organisation which is ethical. With this comes their need to be challenged, to be involved in decision-making, to be original, to be respected and acknowledged.

managing millennials

Make sure each of our team members can wear multiple hats. It's not only good for us, it's good for their CVs too.


So, millennials come to the workplace with a “shopping list” against which they will judge everything from the initial recruitment process through to their development programme, their career progression, their line managers and their organisation. A HR Director in the rail industry commented to me only last week that she found that when recently interviewing a millennial, she felt she was the one being interviewed. It might seem like big organisational change is needed to accommodate this list of expectations but the reality is that most of these expectations can be met with sensible planned change and a little originality. Positive change will benefit all groups within the workforce.

Millennial expectations can be used as the catalyst to refresh the organisation. We know from basic motivation theory that most individuals respond positively to being given feedback, being developed, having a career progression and being given responsibility. The difference is that millennials often expect this all to happen more quickly than previous generations expected within the organisation of their choice. Millennials are also prepared to move on more quickly if expectations are not met. A further difference is that many of those in management positions are not used to dealing with such expectations from their team members.

One reason why millennial’s often have higher expectations is could be because of the way in which they have been parented (see Simon Sinek's interesting and perhaps provocative thoughts on this topic in this YouTube video). Perhaps managers who are struggling to understand why millennial’s have such high expectations should look at how they have perhaps helped to create this within their own offspring!

Parents of millennial’s have worked hard to be able to give their children more of what they want, and more quickly too. This sense of urgency and instant gratification is amplified by the speed with which technology has enabled millennials to do & learn what they want when they want. At the same time they have seen how the previous generation has delivered profit (for others) and income (to themselves) at a perceived cost in lifestyle. At a personal level this impacts on the work-life balance of their parents. At a society level it impacts upon those who feel socially excluded from the benefits of hectic economic activity. At its worst, the drive for profit impacts on the environment.

Case Study:

I was working with a retailer who wished to raise their profile with the graduate population. Their research showed that the single biggest reason for an initial application from graduate millennials was the perceived social responsibility of the organisation. The retailer worked hard at integrating millennials into the corporate culture.

This retailer then featured their social responsibility more heavily in their various targeted marketing campaigns to the graduate population leading to the requisite increase in applications.

Many organisations use a competency framework against which to recruit, develop and promote. The competency framework of this organisation was revisited as they looked to determine what would drive their success in the future.

There was still a focus on Drive for Achievement, Self-Motivation, Decision-Making and Taking Responsibility, however, alongside this were others linked to management style and company culture. These included Originality of Thought, Working in Partnership and Delegating Responsibility.


Knowing what millennials are looking for, organisational practice needs to mirror those requirements where appropriate. For example, millennials are attracted to organisations and teams who take their social responsibility seriously. Taking social responsibility has a huge payback, not only with millennials but also with current employees and customers. It is a real opportunity for an organisation to be recognised as part of the community. It counters the image of profit at all cost and it is something that staff at all levels can feel part of regardless of the role they play in driving it forward.

Delivering on the social responsibility agenda provides the organisation with ‘good news stories’, which, when sensitively marketed through the company website and other social media channels will support the positive image and enquiries about career opportunities. It also helps significantly with work winning in the public sector, and in the arena of large construction of service bids.

managing millennials

Author Malcolm Hewitt has worked within organisational development for over 20 years, and was appointed as an Industrial Fellow at the University of Surrey.

Malcolm has acted as a strategic partner and consultant for a wide range of well-known organisations in the Service, Leisure, Manufacturing and Construction sectors helping to plan training, resourcing and succession.


By looking specifically at social responsibility, this alone can meet many of the requirements on the millennials shopping list. For example, involvement in a selection of charities and activities that the organisation may wish to get involved with and also being part of the working party to drive the plans forward is a real millennial winner.

In this relatively “risk-free” situation, millennials can be given responsibility and decision-making opportunities. It can raise their profile and give them an opportunity to demonstrate their transferable skills.  It ticks all the boxes.


Millennials will be our future managers and directors. To help your thought process on this challenging topics, feel free to download our free eBook.

 Click  here for your free Millennials video & e-book