What motivates millennials in the workplace?

6 February 2020

At The AXA Growth Leaders Series: Leading the Future Workforce event, audience members made up of SME business owners and managers were asked to complete a poll question. 

What are the challenges you think will come from trying to lead the workforce of tomorrow?

The responses were mixed but there were some common themes that emerged, including:

Purpose Purpose

Entitlement Entitlement

Flexible Working Flexible working

Artificial Intelligence Artificial Intelligence

Impatience to progress Impatience to progress

What motivates younger generations in the workplace is a common question asked by business leaders and managers. With millennials (those born between 1982 and 1996) set to make up 35% of the global workforce in 20201, it’s not surprising that business leaders and managers are trying to understand this generation better.

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What motivates millennials in the workplace?

Although it’s important to treat each employee as an individual regardless of their generation, a report by American Express found some common themes when it came to what millennials wanted from their work. These included2:

  • To enjoy the work that they do (64%)
  • To have a good work life balance (60%)
  • To have a job that pays well (51%)
  • To maintain their wellbeing (46%)
  • To learn and develop (46%)
  • To be able to progress/enhance their career (40%)
  • To have flexibility such as remote working or flexible hours (31%)

Having a sense of purpose in the work that they do is a common outcome in millennial workplace research. The same American Express report found that 62% of millennials said that it’s important for them to be known for making a positive difference in the world, and 75% said that it’s important that the values of the business they work for match their own values2.

Treat all of your team as individuals

At The AXA Growth Leaders Series: Leading the Future Workforce event, the panels spoke about the importance of not stereotyping different generations. They also discussed how vital it is to treat all of your team members as individuals, with different wants and needs when it comes to their work.

When discussing what she’s seen in companies that are managing different generations in the workplace effectively, Jo Geraghty, co-founder of Culture Consultancy said, “Making sure that you don’t end up just pigeon-holing and stereotyping.” Jo then went on to discuss how companies should encourage real time feedback from their employees by asking them what they want from the workplace, “I think the key to getting that right is actually very good leadership and it’s the thing that people seem to forget about. So having very skilled leaders and managers to actually manage the different generations, to understand what people want, to meet those needs”. 

While it’s important not to stereotype generations, it’s fair to say that there are differences between age groups when it comes to their work and career motivations. Accepting that each employee will have different wants and needs, and learning what they are, can help business leaders to create a positive working environment for their whole team.

“What will inspire an under 20 year old to do their best work is completely different than what a 50 year old needs”, said Ally Maughan, founder of People Puzzles. “We have to start at the beginning which is – what does each individual want? Why have they joined us? What do they want from the journey with us? How long might they be on this journey with us? And actually start looking at ourselves and saying what are we as a business doing that’s motivating and irritating the people who work for us?”

How to develop future millennial leaders

Taken from The AXA Growth Leaders Series report, Adam Ludwin, co-founder of Captify, discussed how his business is developing millennial leaders. “We encourage juniors and interns to challenge and improve things. Our message is, ‘if you think someone should do something about this, remember that you’re someone.’”

This need for accountability and ownership was echoed by Jo Geraghty, co-founder of Culture Consultancy, who said “Employers can really learn from Generation Y and how they have upped the pace in the workplace. Change is faster than it’s ever been and that’s only going to accelerate with Generation Z coming in. Let them bring their ideas and give them the accountability and ownership to drive it forward. Most importantly, equip them with the next generation leadership skills they are going to need – like resilience, adaptability, a growth mindset and being able to harness the talent of others.”

Speaking to The Supper Club, Harry Hugo, founder of Goat, said, “I think we’re in the most talented era ever. We have an incredibly nuanced understanding of marketing at a very high level from a much earlier age than we ever have before. Therefore the opportunity we need to give to these guys and the millennial group should be far greater than we’ve ever given the opportunities to anyone before.”

The AXA Growth Leaders Series report

Together with The Supper Club, the founder and CEO network, we produced The AXA Growth Leaders Series report which features insights and thought-leadership articles from inspiring business leaders. Topics range from growing future leaders to superfast decision making. Download your copy of The AXA Growth Leaders Series report.

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Sources and references

1Manpower Group, 2017

2American Express, Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way, 2017

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