By Gabrielle Lee & Bryan Chuang

Senior OD Catalyst & OD Catalyst

While some of these attributes might be somewhat representative of Millennials, there has been a tendency to over-hype the differencesbetween Millennials and members of the preceding generations. This has often led to the unfortunate conclusion that Millennials are difficult to relate to and a challenge to engage.

This month’s edition ofReal Issuesfeatures the honest reflections and insight oftwo of our OD partners,  Gabrielle Lee and Bryan Chuang,  on the real behavioural and attitudinal differences between Millennials and Gen Xers and Baby Boomers regarding their work, and how Millennials can be most effectively engagedin a workplace where they are quickly becoming the majority.

What do you think are the top three things Millennials want from their employers?

GL: They need to have meaningful work that appeals to their passion and to be given opportunities for selfdevelopment and recognition for what they do.

BC: Yes, I think meaningful work is high on the list of their priorities. They need to have a sense of purpose in their job, which is key to determining their job satisfaction. And I feel of even greater importance to Millennials are opportunities for growth and development and wanting to do things that are challenging and not mundane.

Would you say these are also what Gen Xers and Baby Boomers seek most in a job?

GL: I think Gen Xers and Baby Boomers want stability or secure long-term employment more than work that is personally meaningful or which they feel particularly passionate about.

There is likely a strong correlation between economic conditions and job motivations. So people who entered the corporate world before the turn of the new millennium and who have suffered the brunt of several economic downturns were probably brought up with different values like being down to earth, earning more than spending, and that sheer hard work trumps everything — yes, the whole idea of never relying on luck — and thus their work attitudes have been shaped accordingly.

BC: There are studies to show that Millennials want the same things from their employers as members of preceding generations, but I think the biggest difference is just like what Gabrielle mentioned, that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are looking for job security. I would even say that they truly value a physical workspace that they can call their own to return to every working day; they don’t want to work wherever and whenever they want.

How do you think these differences in what Millennials and those of preceding generations want in a job play out in the way they go about their work?

GL: Since passion is an emotion that is characterised by dynamic ups and downs, with moments where there will be low or no passion, Millennials who are motivated by this pursuit may also go about working in an "up and down” manner that comes across as being inconsistent. They may also develop themselves according to how passionate they feel about something, which is then again based on their changing emotions as well.

In a bid to grow, advance, and be in a job that best aligns with their needs and life goals, they may appear to be "flighty" employees, constantly shopping for a job and being ready to hop.

For older generations, loyalty and stability govern their working attitudes and are what motivates them to act on or refrain from something. They could be hard workers who believe in a hands-on approach and minimising change, and therefore perceived as sticks-in-the-mud for their hard-nosed approach.

BC: I’ve noticed that Millennials’ aspirations towards growth and development have meant that they are more appreciative of the feedback from their superiors, whether it’s praise or criticism. More importantly, they see being given opportunities for personal and professional development in itself as a form of a reward and recognition. On the other hand, members of preceding generations show a preference for being rewarded and recognised in more strictly monetary terms, such as an increase in salary or a bonus.

How can those who manage Millennials support them with opportunities for training and development?

GL: It’ll be helpful for them to find out from Millennials how they prefer to be coached and developed, so that no assumptions are made. Millennials can be very clear on what skills they need, and may even have taken self-directed actions to pursue developmental areas. Sosometimes all that managers need to do is to engage them in a conversation.

BC: Providing the exposure for opportunities for training and development is also crucial. One way to do it is through job rotation so that their skills are applied and stretched in different capacities, while also giving them a chance to work with different team members and seniors executives. Of course, besides such internal initiatives, there are also formal learning and development courses that are worth investing in.

What are some ways in which those who manage Millennials can effectively communicate to them that they value their talents and contributions, and want to fully harness their potential?

GL: I think that the best approach is, as always, to have authentic and open conversations with Millennials. What I've seen in organisations is that such affirmation of Millennials is often left unspoken, where managers have a mindset of “oh, they know that they're valued, so I don't have to tell them.” This will become a bigger source of miscommunication in the future if it’s not addressed.

It’s also important to balance between valuing someone and understanding that there is still potential that needs to be stretched. Talent and excellent performance cannot be associated with a lesser need for development and being challenged.

Overall, I would highly encourage managers to involve their employees in their own development plans, and really find out what types of projects will interest individuals and inspire them to reach for their fullest potential.

BC: I think it’s important that managers do not shortchange Millennials of affirmation for a job well done. One way to ensure this happens is through regular one-on-one check-in and feedback sessions. This will also be helpful for keeping track of their progress on a career path that should be co-developed by both the manager and Millennial.

Which generation do you belong to, and what are your thoughts on how best to engage Millennials? We’d love to hear from you at!