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What Matters Most to Millennials? Millennials Want to Matter

This is the seventh in a series of articles examining how business leaders and companies can transform their corporate culture in order to succeed in the midst of the impending Purpose Revolution. Find links to the full series below.

The business world has been obsessed with the millennials for quite some time now. Millennials are the largest working generation and have considerable influence as purchasers and drivers of consumer preferences. Yet we believe that leading corporations don’t understand the millennial mindset.

Answer this question fast: What matters most to millennials? You might think: flexibility, choice, working on cool stuff, learning new skills, or seeing a clear career path. While all of this may be true, we think what matters most to millennials is that “millennials want to matter!” In our new book, The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, we explain why millennials are leading this revolution of a desire for work and buying to have meaning beyond pay. In fact, 60 percent of millennials said “a ‘sense of purpose’ is part of the reason they chose to work for their company.”

The purpose gap

Millennials are the emergent talent leaders in every industry, and with scores of baby boomers retiring, the opportunities for career development are increasing. But the trajectory for millennials is different because their values are not the same. Unlike the preceding baby boomer and generation-x cohorts, which said “Show Me the Money,” and accepted positions based on pay, prestige, or job security (now obsolete), the millennials are more likely to say “show me the purpose.” In 2016, a 76 percent of millennials said they’d rather take a pay cut than work for a company with unethical business practices, indicating a purpose gap between perceptions of workplace culture and the expectations of the millennial. Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey also found there is an “impact gap” between millennials and organizations because, while millennials believe that companies meet their expectations on job creation, they are “underperforming on social advancement, helping employees, etc,” illustrating a huge disconnect between the social good that millennials want from companies and what’s actually delivered.

Active participants, not bystanders

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Another attribute of the millennial generation is they are actively engaged. They care about issues such as climate change, human rights and the proliferation of GMO agriculture. And not only do they have opinions, they take action — most frequently with their wallets, as they are conscious consumers who buy good products when possible, or at least choose “least harmful” alternatives. This active engagement stems from millennial upbringing, which was — certainly in North America in the 1990s — shaped by families with a much more egalitarian parenting style than experienced by the previous Gen-X kids of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Parents of the millennials, the baby boomers, involved their children in negotiating and decision-making from an early age, allowing them freedom to decide every aspect of their lives to a large extent. This came about in part as a reaction to the baby boomers’ own childhoods, where authoritarian parents ruled households with a “because I said so” approach.

Thus, millennials grew up making choices. Their parents actively consulted them and allowed them the freedom to express their consumer preferences as young children, with their tastes heavily influencing family purchases of food and household items.

Millennials also had a wide variety of choices in school. Gone were the days when teachers controlled the baby boomer-era classroom with a ruler. By contrast, millennials often negotiated with their teachers the criteria for the success of projects, and it was common for students to have choice over how to complete an assignment: a traditional report, a PowerPoint presentation, or a video. Millennials had the ability to choose seemingly whatever they wanted in life, from a million online options (books, movies, music, groceries, clothes, ready-made meals and rideshares — all delivered with a click), to a world where social media and dating apps invited them to regularly connect and interact any time, to open-door policies at companies in which leaders are regularly accessible and often called by their first name; this shift from bystander to participant is happening everywhere. We can argue about the merits of more-participatory parents, schools and business environments, but the fact remains that millennials expect to be involved as active participants in every aspect of life.

Millennials want to matter

Just as millennials grew up negotiating choices in their families and at school, today they want to be and feel significant in their professional and personal lives. In short, millennials want to matter. Millennials are aware of the key issues and problems in society and want to make a difference through philanthropy and social participation. And that’s great news when our world is facing problems, such as inequality, climate change, environmental degradation and gender-based violence.

Millennials are coming to the forefront and leading social change movements. One 2014 survey found that most — 63 percent — gave to charities, 43 percent actively volunteered or were a member of a community organization, and 52 percent signed petitions. As a generation of participants, not watchers, effort works when enough people are involved. Millennials volunteer on average almost twice as much as their baby boomer counterparts, and leading companies, such as TELUS, have programs to encourage active volunteerism as part of their corporate culture.

We have a large demographic group of young people who badly want to make a difference. Here are some tips from The Purpose Revolution on how you can engage millennials:

  • Does your product’s marketing acknowledge their passion for positive change? Directly engage millennials on social media and social change platforms around issues that matter to them and match your brand and purpose.
  • Does your workplace create opportunities for them to thrive and grow, harnessing their talents to create a better world? Take time to understand what matters most to millennials in your team organization. Help them see how their job contributes to a higher purpose. Provide opportunities through different roles, assignments, projects and volunteer activities to connect work to millennials’ values.
  • Are you encouraging them to take action on issues of importance? Give millennials hands-on purpose? Ask for their ideas about how your team or organization can make a difference in the world and let them initiate new projects or initiatives around these. Make sure you connect millennials to your existing social and environmental programs.

Let’s make sure we engage the millennial generation in everything we do. The Purpose Revolution is coming; Are you ready for it?

Creating Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, the series:

  1. Purpose Differentiates in an Age of Disruption
  2. Winning Over the Purpose-Focused Employee
  3. Why Most Companies Are Failing at Purpose (And How You Can Succeed!)
  4. Employees Are Your Best Purpose Ambassadors
  5. How to Coach Employees on Purpose
  6. The Key to Authentic Engagement: Purpose Metrics That Matter

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