Confessions of a millennial

Dec 14, 2016

Working with millennials was a hot topic at the recent Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference.

Most researchers define the millennial generation as those born anywhere between 1982 and 2004 (although some sources end this in 1997). Indisputably, millennials are rapidly becoming an important part of the A/E industry. The 2016 Best Firms To Work For employee survey, which polled more than 11,000 employees, found that almost 66 percent of the workforce falls into this age category. Although the Best Firms To Work For survey didn’t find that on the whole millennials were less happy in their jobs, it did find them less likely to recommend their job to a friend, and less likely to see themselves working there in the future.

Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, based on interviews with nearly 7,700 employed and degreed millennials in all professional industries, had similar findings. The survey found that 64 percent of millennials in the U.S. plan on leaving their current place of employment by 2020. The Deloitte survey also reported 44 percent of millennials would like to leave their current employers in the next two years if given the choice. Among the reasons for the discontent are a perceived lack of leadership-skill development, feelings of being overlooked, work/life balance, the desire for flexibility, and a conflict of values.

The Deliotte survey found that high employment satisfaction ratings among millennials are related to feeling that an employee’s values are aligned with his or her organization’s (30 percent versus 10 percent where they are not); a high level of cross-team collaboration (30 percent versus 12 percent where there is not); and feeling in control of his or her career.

The challenge of working with and retaining the millennial generation is real. Fellow millennial (although we prefer to call ourselves Generation Y) Jamie Claire Kiser and I led a breakout discussion on “Work-Life Balance and Millennials in the Workplace.” The discussion revealed that many firm leaders in the A/E industry are asking similar questions: How can this generation be motivated to work? Stay at the same company? Put in extra effort? Communicate effectively with colleagues? Just pick up the phone?

After a relatively disturbing summer supervising a crew of millennial interns, I am one of the last to jump to the defense of an entire generation, but I think a perspective of a real millennial who is working and deeply invested in her career might help other people struggling with this generation.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Older millennials have not had the same experience with the economy and employment as younger millennials. When I graduated in the winter of 2008, a semester early with a 3.8 GPA and a B.A. in English, there was not a job to be had anywhere. I sold my $400 junk motorcycle because I didn’t have enough money in my account to afford a take-out pizza. I had just spent more than 15 years of my life sitting in classrooms and meetings, studying, playing by the rules, and now I would be lucky to get a job in a restaurant. With only a liberal arts bachelor’s degree, I was grossly under-qualified for almost any kind of professional employment. The gas station attendant at the Valero down the street had a master’s degree. Many older millennials have lived through a time when jobs were very difficult to come by, and also witnessed their parents and authority figures lose their jobs despite being intelligent, hardworking, and loyal employees. This experience changed the way many millennials view work, the concept of sacrifice, as well as employer loyalty.
  • Millennials value efficiency, the proper use of technology, and want to know “why” processes exist. One of my first “real” jobs was working as an assistant to a real estate broker. I worked on a commission basis, where my salary was 6 percent of the broker’s commissions. After a few short months, I became frustrated when I realized my salary was impacted by some of the inefficiencies of my boss. She didn’t understand how to use the feedback tool on the scheduling software we used. Clients were always calling wanting feedback on how their house showings went and I wasn’t allowed to download the app and automate things from my phone. Unnecessary processes took up most of my day – endless printing, stapling, and filing papers that were already stored online on a secure server. I failed to see the reasons behind many of the job tasks that took up my day, and they were indisputable and never explained to me. Millennials see technology as a friend, not a foe. If something isn’t working right, we want to learn how to make it work better. We see new technology as an inherent and valuable part of work. We recognize that we will be consistently learning how to use new programs, software, applications, and tools throughout our entire lives.
  • Millennials want to feel that their work matters and is doing good for the world. Shortly after college, when no jobs were to be found locally, I moved to Minnesota and worked as a director of horseback riding at two camps. Sounds like a great job giving back to children and society, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Each camp was heavily concerned with turning a profit. That meant if they could get 75 people to sign up to go on trail rides in one day, all 75 had to get a two-hour trail ride – even though this schedule meant the horses had to work all day long without a break. I finished my summer term at the camp, but vowed never to return because I felt the job was unethical and inhumane. You don’t need to have monthly charity drives to keep millennials engaged, but if you don’t work on projects that can be seen as beneficial to society in some way, you’re going to have a hard time keeping millennials engaged at your firm.

Millennials may be seen as selfish and disloyal – but they aren’t all bad. What do you have to say about working with millennials? We want to know.

Christina Zweig is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at

This article is from issue 1177 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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