Navigating the Minefield of Ethical Issues in HR
A Model for Ethical Decision-Making in the Workplace

What do Millennials Value in the Workplace?

Adapting HR Policies to Appeal to Millennials

I have previously blogged about the need for a culture of ethics in organizations to strengthen HR and provide the tools for HR managers and supervisors to attract and retain “the best and the brightest.” A solid reputation as an ethical employer occurs over time by gaining the commitment of employees to identify with the ethical values of the organization as embedded in a code of ethics and strengthened through ethics training. Ethical leadership is essential to promoting a culture of ethics and a tone at the top that fosters ethical behavior.

The 2016 study of job seekers by Silkroad titled The State of Talent Management bears this out. One question asked is “What attracts talent?” Perhaps not surprisingly given the priorities of the Millennials is job seekers want benefits, flexibility, and a sound work-life balance. The following are the results in order of importance.

  • Good benefits (56%)                                                
  • Recognize a work-life balance (52%)
  • Offers flexible work arrangements (42%
  • Provides opportunities for professional development (30%)
  • Trustworthy, strong leadership (28%)
  • Recognizes and rewards achievement (26%)
  • Financial strength (22%)
  • Passionate, engaged workforce (20%)
  • Committed to having a diverse workforce (16%)
  • Need for corporate citizenship (10%)                             

Notice that trustworthy and strong leadership is ranked fifth overall (28%) by HR professionals. The fact is if an employee cannot trust what management says and carry through their promises with ethical action, then it is less likely Millennials will be committed to the organization and feel its corporate citizenship is an attractive characteristic.

Of the HR professionals in the survey that were asked “What Keeps HR Up at Night”, recruitment and retention was the #1 concern. “Creating an attractive organizational culture to engage employees” was their biggest worry (47%), closely followed by “Sourcing the right candidates for the company” at 47%.

There are about 53 million Millennials that now account for more than one-in-three U.S. workers, surpassing Generation Xers as the largest share of the American workforce. By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be occupied by Millennials. Channeling Millennials’ energy, ambitions, and aspirations – while integrating them into an existing corporate culture – presents talent management with novel challenges.

Millennials are climbing the ladder fast; 62% of Millennial full-time employees worldwide are in jobs where they manage the work of others. Employers need to recognize Millennials unique approach to the workplace. They are not driven by the same factors as in past generations, and the workplace needs to accommodate their needs.

So what does this mean for the HR function? A survey by The Intelligence Group found that:

  • 64% say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place
  • 72% would like to be their own boss. But if they do have to work for a boss, 79% of them would want that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor
  • 88% prefer a collaborative work culture rather than a competitive one
  • 74% want flexible work schedules
  • 88% want “work-life integration,” which isn’t the same as work-life balance, since work and life now blend inextricably.

Adjusting corporate culture to appeal to this group is being adopted by more and more companies, and for good reason–– it's a mutually-beneficial relationship. According to the survey, more than two-thirds of employers report their Millennial workforce is above average or exceptional. Employers also report Millennials are making great contributions to the workplace including technological skills; questioning the status quo; market knowledge; entrepreneurial spirit; and a drive to make a difference. As a result, 85% of companies have changed policies to appeal to Millennials.

Millennials have been deeply affected by the recession, both from watching their relatives endure job loss and financial stress and from experiencing the post-recession economy. They are also the largest group carrying student loan debt. As a result, money is very important to them, as are long-term savings benefits. 

Business Insider found that 69% of Millennials said that money is their top incentive that motivates them to work harder and stay at their employer longer. This runs counter to the perception that Millennials are just out for a purpose crusade. They have real bills and real financial commitments, and as a result money does matter to them. 

Perhaps most important in attracting Millennials is to recognize that they don't believe in a 9-to-5 workday and value the ability to work from home, a co-working space or even a coffee shop. As digital natives, Millennials are versed in technologies that can make telecommuting seamless and don't necessarily believe work can only get done in an office. Many companies are already catching on to this, as about 24% of employed Americans work remotely on a weekly basis.

There's no doubt Millennials are changing the corporate landscape. Adapting and refining corporate culture to appeal to these potential change agents is key to a company's continued success. But it all comes down to ethics: caring about them; being empathetic with their situation; treating them fairly in the workplace and in reward structures; and creating trust so that they identify with the organization are all essentials in today’s workplace.

Compared to other generations, Millennials tend to be more collaborative, are accustomed to working in teams & have a passion for pressure. We teach this in our university classes all the time to prepare them to be productive members of the workforce and claim their rightful place in future management and leadership positions.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 25, 2016. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: