Giant steps for millennials

Now the biggest generation in the workforce, this youthful talent benefits from feedback, research shows.

The summer volunteers and interns are drifting back to school. When colleagues’ kids and their friends, who have sprouted like weeds, drop by the office, they are easily recognizable because they are squired around by beaming dads or moms. But who are those other young people popping up around the shop? Who was the young woman who left unwashed dishes stacked in the break room sink, or the young fellow who sent that group email containing an emoji? Who was that kid asking in the team meeting about the purpose of a recent corporate initiative?

Welcome, please, the latest newcomers to the workforce. Millennials—at more than 75 million the largest demographic group in the United States today—are launching their laps around the career track. Experienced executives believe that these young people require special handling.

More than 1,000 executives globally said in a recent Korn Ferry survey that many millennial talents, those from a generation whose members are roughly ages 18 to 35, need more than the usual feedback about their work; 44% of the survey respondents said this was so. The millennials also were said to be somewhat less willing to put in long hours or to work on weekends (40% of survey respondents said so), and pay isn’t a top priority for them; in fact, it’s last. They’re close to their families, and they often choose to work for organizations that keep them near their kin.

Should alarms be sounding? Not necessarily, firm experts say. “Organizational leaders who understand the differences in the workstyles and preferences of employees in different generations can uncover unconscious biases to foster greater collaboration and success,” said Jeanne MacDonald, Korn Ferry Futurestep President of Global Talent Acquisition Solutions.

Companies, the firm has found, are adapting to this generation by giving its members more feedback, including mentoring and internal training. “It is often difficult for older managers to find or take the time to offer the feedback that millennials crave,” MacDonald said. “But it is critical in helping them understand how their role fits into the greater organizational strategy.”

Millennials also may benefit from working closely with Gen X-ers. Previous firm surveys have found that these 35- to 50-year-old talents—in their career prime, hard-working, and deeply engaged—get along well with millennials.

As for baby boomers, a demographic of historic size and significance that is now fading in the workforce, they may benefit from context. They’re not seen as millennials’ buddies, the firm’s survey finds, with only 12% of survey respondents seeing the older generation working best with the younger. But the mature talent, ages 52 and older, may wish to recall that some of them may have been deemed by their elders as dreamers, long-hairs, and too-hip ne’er do wells.

Research suggests, too, that boomers may reach an accord with their youngest colleagues: Millennials strongly believe in working for companies with well-defined purpose and meaning; this was the top-ranked reason why survey respondents thought the young people joined their companies. “It’s clear that millennials want to know what their organization stands for and how they can impact the company’s mission,” MacDonald said. That also may be key for boomers focusing on their work and life legacies.