Accommodating Millennials is crucial for corporate performance

The term “Millennials” refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.  They are also known as Generation Y because they come after Generation X—people who were born between the early 1960s and the 1980s.  Irrespective of what they might be called, the fact is that Millennials are the fastest growing generation in the global workforce today.

A PwC research report “Millennials at Work—Reshaping the Workplace” reveals that by 2020, 50% of the global workforce will be made up of Millennials.  By the same token, a study released by Catalyst points out that by 2020, 50% of South Africa’s population will be younger than 25 years old and organisations may face a talent shortage if not a labour shortage if they do not take cognisance of these facts.

Somewhat similar to gender differences, what will be important is to understand that Millennials have fundamentally different work methods, and aspirations and are essentially “wired differently” from older colleagues. To get the best out of them, therefore, they must be managed effectively.  Just how important this is highlighted in a recent global report by CGMA, entitled “Talent pipeline draining growth: Connecting human capital to the growth agenda” in which over 40% of respondents stated that the organisational failure to manage talent effectively has contributed to stifling innovation and is having a serious impact on the bottom line. 

The answer is flexibility and tolerance.  In addition to their skills and drive, Millennials bring a unique mind-set with them that comes as a result of exposure to technology at an early age.  The great challenge is how to motivate them so as to unleash their creativity and innovation.

Certainly, being heavy-handed or authoritarian will not work—their generation tends to be rebellious.  However, one can seek to create and cultivate a culture of work engagement for early career talent.  The experience of older generations can be harnessed as mentors rather than teachers—there is a very subtle difference between “telling” and “suggesting.”  Millennials do not want to be told.  They want to be listened to and guided by people they can look up to and respect.

Managing Millennials is best regarded as an “investment in the company” Leigh Buchanon in “Meet the Millennials” says: “One of the characteristics of Millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good.  Almost 70% say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.”

The Millennials are a different breed and they need to be treated differently.  Primarily what attracts them is a mix of creative genius and a constant challenge to excel in their fields—underlining their quest for “a life less ordinary.” They want to work for a meaningful purpose and need to be offered a stimulating, empathetic business environment where accommodating reactions to their requests might help to create a common comfort zone. 

Explain the company and its vision

Helping Millennials understand their role in the larger plan helps give them a sense of purpose.  They are more likely to look for impact and meaning in their work and are less likely to be clock-watchers.  Understanding their role makes them feel valued and this in turn boosts productivity.

Develop incremental steps and titles

Today’s employees—especially Millennials—crave recognition that goes way beyond monetary compensation to celebrate good work.  This can be accomplished in many small ways from announcing their achievements in the corporate newsletter or on the Intranet, which goes a long way towards ensuring validation and a greater company culture and work ethic. The creation of incremental steps and titles also will enable promotions to come more often and proactively as recognition for good work and creates measurable step-by-step recognition.

Open management, communication and empathy

This generation responds well to encouragement and immediate feedback.  Being transparent and open in communication breaks down the rigidities of the company hierarchy.  There may be initial resentment over breaking through hierarchical lines but a more open and flatter office structure will allow for a better work culture and include the sense of freedom that Millennials crave.

Flexibility and new-age work practices.

This tech-savvy generation is essentially able to work anywhere, anytime, with an Internet connection.  Flexible office hours, flexible scheduling, team extramural activities and occasional telecommuting—provided performance remains consistent—can show trust, company flexibility and a sense of being appreciated. 

Cross-generational and cross-disciplinary teamwork

Accommodating the feeling of “being part of a larger team”—so loved by Millennials— will offer them the responsibility of collective action while allowing them the freedom to make their own contribution to the team, in their own way. 

Providing Education, Training and Professional Development

This goes hand in hand with developing incremental steps and titles in the work area.  Millennials value good opportunities for growth and development as one of their top professional priorities.  Sending employees to leadership conferences, encouraging them to take on stretch projects or bringing in speakers on thought leadership topics will be especially helpful to those Millennials interested in learning and growing their skills.

Assigning personal projects

If Millennials are allowed to work on projects of their own choice on a regular basis they will feel more engaged and in control.  At the same time this allows young employees to take the initiative, to be creative and produce something on their own.  This sense of “making a difference” most of all boosts innovation within the company.

To meet their future needs, organisations will need to employ and engage with employees who come with specialised work skills.  This is especially true of technology.  The Millennials will be the ones who take the organisation into the future— how we accommodate and manage their idiosyncrasies today, will have a definite influence on how well our organisations take shape in the future.

About the author

Susi Astengo has worked in senior management, leadership coaching and as an HR consultant for over 20 years.   She recently won  entrepreneur of the year in the prestigious2016 Businesswomen’s Association Regional Business Achiever Awards (RBAA), sponsored by Sanlam and Glacier by Sanlam. Astengo has a full range of experience working with blue chip Fortune 500 companies to independent start-ups. She combines a scientific approach with intuition and experience in the areas of behavioural assessment, leadership and organisation design. In 2008 she established CoachMatching which is now a national high performance coaching, learning & development company with a pool of 45 coaches.


With over 20 years of International HR consulting experience, Susi Astengo, MD of CoachMatching, is well placed to discuss human capital strategies with a deep understanding from both a business and an HR perspective. 

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
back to top