Understanding the Millennial Generation

Morne Swart

By 2020, the Millennial generation – also known as Gen-Y, will make up 50% of the workforce. There are differing opinions about exact dates, but Millennial generally refers to those born between 1982-2003. That means those born in the early 80’s will be at the midpoint of their career by 2020. Why should that matter to HR leaders? It matters because Millennial have different workplace needs, expectations and motivators than previous generations.

Millenials place high value on career and personal growth, learning opportunities, workplace flexibility, connections, entrepreneurship, and a sense of meaning from their work.

To remain competitive and attract and retain the growing Millennial workforce, HR strategies for recruitment, engagement, and retention must align with this workforce group’s priorities, values and expectations.

Achieving those organizational goals will require that HR strategy and practices realign in three key areas:

1. Workplace Culture

Most Millennial plan to stay at a job for less than 3 years, according to The Future Workplace; and the concern about "job-hopping" is fading. At the same time, it still takes one to two years before a new employee reaches his or her full potential. So while the job-hopping stigma may have diminished, the negative impact to your business has not.

Millenials place a high value on workplace culture. Sooner rather than later, organizations should 1) understand their current culture, and 2) begin making the changes needed to attract, develop and retain employees of that generation.

Cultural attributes that matter include corporate responsibility, mobility, flexibility, transparency, collaboration, and frequent recognition and feedback. Some ideas to consider:

· Flexibility rather than strict conformity to set 9 to 5 or 8 to 6 hours.

· Loosening the "walls" of the workplace. Technology enables many job roles to be performed anywhere. (This also greatly expands your talent pool!)

· Contrary to some negative stereotypes, Millenials work hard and want to contribute, but are less likely to define themselves solely by their job. Work-life balance isn’t a wish, it's a requirement.

· Provide ongoing feedback and recognition. Rely less on the annual review for the sole source of feedback.

· Increase visibility of corporate giving and social responsibility initiatives. Include a time-off benefit for volunteer work.

2. Context-Aware Technology

Technology has been ingrained in their lives for as long as most can remember, and Millenials are the first socially networked generation. As they enter the workforce, they expect the same quality of user experience at work that they get at home. While older workers may be more forgiving, the new generation isn’t.

When HR and other corporate systems are hard to use, these employees won’t just be disappointed, they will disengage and avoid using those systems as much as possible. So while you may be offering high value benefits - learning opportunities, skill development and career growth – your workers won’t recognize or benefit from your efforts.

Instead, provide your people with contextually relevant information in easy-to-use technology that is integrated into their daily work life. Called contextual computing, Fast Company predicted that it will be the dominant technology paradigm within 10 years. HR innovators are adopting it today. Context-aware technology delivers a personalized experience to each individual and delivers information that is relevant to the employee’s current task. No jumping through hoops to find information or going from system to system, fighting with a poor user experience. This technology uses data about the user and the task they are working on to deliver relevant information – like training — at the point of need.

3. Data-driven HR Strategy

HR must start adapting today to the changing workplace and the needs and expectations of Millenial employees. Access to accurate, real-time, actionable data is needed to measure the effectiveness of new programs and make quick, data-driven decisions and improvements.

HR professionals need to become more data savvy, with HR roles specifically focused on data analysis and recommendations. Ongoing tracking and analysis of HR program effectiveness regarding employee engagement, productivity and retention will allow organizational leaders to know what is working, what isn’t, and get the biggest return on investment.


Acquiring, developing and retaining talent has been on CEO top 10 challenge lists for years. Now is the opportunity to ensure that your organization is attracting the best and brightest. As Millenials become the workforce majority, HR leaders who adapt their organization’s culture, policies and technology to align with the needs of this growing population may finally kick that challenge off the best CEOs’ list.

About the Author

Morne Swart is vice president of global product strategy and transformation leader at SumTotal Systems. He is responsible for leading business strategy and transformation innovation and driving product direction. Swart has more than 20 years of experience in enterprise-wide HR Technology products and services. His professional passion is helping to build higher-performing organizations by optimizing the effectiveness of people, process, information, user experience and technology.