Conversations with Millennials: The Top 5 Things Millennials Want from You

Conversations with Millennials: The Top 5 Things Millennials Want from You

Sid Smith

[Note: This is the first in a series of articles on hiring and working with millennials, stemming from conversations Suzanne Hanifin and Karen Anderson of Acumen Executive Search and I are having with a mix of millennials. The Podcast recordings of these conversations will be released soon. If you'd like to get on our Podcast list, please contact Karen at]

Working with Millennials

Hiring, leading and managing millennials

"Millennials come to Portland to retire. They all ride bikes, work in coffee shops, and have no interest in a career, especially in a large corporation. They are coddled, expect life to be handed to them on an eco-friendly platter, don't care about money, and insist on being awarded simply for being there." So it is said, and so we believe.

Is it true? We thought not, but in watching companies create game rooms, complain about millennial's lack of initiative, or bemoan their job-hopping, we wondered what was truth and what was perception. To find out, we went to the source.

We interviewed four very different people, aged from 19 to 28.
One is an artist working at a bagel company. Another a type-A college student working four summer internships. A third started and runs his own business. And the fourth has a Master's degree and is firmly established as a program developer in a local nonprofit.

Like people of any generation, every millennial is a unique individual. They have different hobbies, interests, beliefs, and personalities. We quickly learned that we can't broad-brush a simplified understanding of millennials.

We discovered that millennials may be more self-aware and certainly more outspoken about their needs than previous generations. this is essential to understanding how to hire and manage millennials.

We identified five things our millennials have in common when they think about work. I'll delve into each of these in more detail in future articles. Mull these over as you engage with your millennials at your company. And, if you're a millennial, we'd love to hear from you to keep us honest.

5 Things Millennials Want at Work

Millennials wand clear, open, and frequent communication

Micro-management is the quickest way to lose a millennial, but they want clearly stated expectations, frequent "touches" and communication that is an honest two-way street.

Millennials want to feel valued and respected

To the baby boomer, they seem coddled. Millennials, like anyone of any generation, want to feel that what they do has value to the company, just as they want their contributions and ideas to be shown respect. Unlike other generations, they won't hang around a place that doesn't value and respect them or their ideas.

Millennials want to be empowered

"Empowered" is our attempt at describing something much deeper. Leadership and management books have urged us for decades to empower employees, but for the millennial, this simply means providing the tools, resources, time, and encouragement to grow in their jobs. Above all, they want to feel challenged, and unlike previous generations, they won't hesitate to try something else when the job becomes boring.

Millennials want to have personal growth opportunities

The artist, type-A college student, entrepreneur, and our nonprofit program manager all agreed that the moment a job stopped offering opportunities for learning and growth, they'd start doing something else or move to a different company. But, they don't mean "find yourself" growth or other touchy-feely stuff. They want growth brought by new challenges and opportunities, and the constant expansion of their roles.

They want the ability to make a difference

The idea of "making a difference" seems trite, but like any generalization… it's complicated. Humans in general crave meaning and purpose, and will find these in hundreds of forms and places. For millennials, mere participation in a group or belief in a cause is not enough. They want what they DO to matter. Whether making bagels, voting, or solving a health crisis in Africa, they want to know that their active participation is in some way making a difference. This is where it gets complicated, and I'll do a deep dive into this topic in a later article.

Is that all millennials want at work?

I am challenged to summarize or conclude this article because human nature may never be adequately summarized or concluded. We initiated these conversations because we realized our inherent ignorance about millennials. In our conversations, we've learned enough to know that there is far more we don't know.

Our goal is to help business owners better hire, lead, and manage millennials because they ARE the future of business. To that end, we hope that the lessons we're learning are helpful to you in your business.

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