The Millennial Generation: Their Transformative Impact on the Workforce

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Several weeks ago, my colleague John Hollon wrote about the most recent What’s Working survey from consulting giant Mercer. While there is quite a bit of information associated with the report, I wanted to focus in on one of the more interesting aspects of the survey: the continuing look at the younger workforce.

Given that I am a bit younger, I know quite a few people who are entering (or have recently entered) the workforce. There are some struggles associated with that transition that all younger people go through, but there are some interesting differences out there that are worth looking at.

What’s different and what’s the same?

One of the contextual pieces that always seems to be missing when examining differences in generations is that there is rarely an acknowledgement that younger people will always see the world (and the workplace) differently than more senior members do.

I think back to a time when my grandfather and my father worked in the same business two decades ago. They certainly didn’t see eye-to-eye every day. But, if you look at it from the perspective of comparing a person who is nearing retirement and a person who is in the prime earning stage of their careers, you can see the commonality today between boomers exiting the workforce and Gen Xers taking their spot.

So I think any smart analysis of generational differences doesn’t focus on common differences between younger and older generations but on unique differences between past younger and older generations and today’s younger and older generations.

Younger workers are a contradiction

One of the first insights from the Mercer study is that there is a seeming contradiction with younger workers. While more of them are satisfied with their organizations and jobs (and are even willing to recommend them), they also are continuing to look for new opportunities that outpace other generations.

The satisfaction with the job part is the real head scratcher here. Given the fact that Millennials have been characterized as entitled, the survey data about their satisfaction with jobs and organizations flies in the face of that. And even with the data about higher willingness to consider other opportunities, I don’t know if any level of satisfaction could do much to reduce that number. Younger workers are exploring their careers, desires and locations.

The challenge for employers is the question of retention. If you talk to your employees and they say they are happy with the company and happy with the organization yet are willing to leave anyway, what are you to do?

Seems like many employers are using it as a conversation point to figure out what factors would lead them to stay or, if leaving is inevitable, setting up good alumni programs to keep in touch with past employees.

Commonality among workers across geographies

Courtesy of What's Working survey by Mercer, October 2011

In the past, people have not only viewed work differently when they come from different generations, they also do so when they are from different cultures. In the past, even similarly aged people viewed work differently if one were, say, from the U.S. and the other from Japan.

One of the interesting results from the Mercer study was that the youngest people in the workforce have more in common with their generation elsewhere in the world than ever before. And when compared to other generations in the present, there is no comparison.

There could be some speculation as to why this may be the case. Perhaps technology is really bridging the cultural divide. Or perhaps, as younger employees are taking their first steps into employment, they are all facing a similar global situation

If this trend continues, the impact on businesses with a global footprint is obvious. If cultural norms become less of an issue, it could help global companies operate much easier across borders and continents.

Maybe this time around, a younger generation will have a transformative effect on businesses before they are in an authoritative position to do so. You too can check out the report here and take a look at the video below that Mercer produced about younger generations: