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When it comes to finding and retaining talent, knowing what drives the millennial generation is key. According to McKinsey, millennials make up 30% of the existing population and will comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025. It may take babyboomers a little longer than their forbears to retire, but the transition is already in full swing. And as a result, millennial values are becoming ever more relevant to the future of the workplace.  

However, there’s still a significant gap between what millennials want and what they experience at work. Generally they see themselves having careers where they can achieve meaningful, varied work; rise quickly through the ranks; learn new things and have more autonomy than any generation before them. These expectations paint a radically different picture to the experiences of their parents.

Some managers struggle to sympathise with these expectations because unlike cash bonuses and payrises, these desires are new and wide-ranging and it can appear like the younger generation are getting more picky about how and where they work. Yet it’s important to understand that getting enough feedback and learning new things are just as important as bonuses for this generation. Essentially, managing millennials’ expectations comes down to retention and employee engagement, and it’s in employers’ best interests to get onside with the needs of millennials rather than dismissing them.

“Companies should see how questions and challenges from their youngest employees can spark action to help their companies change for the better” - McKinsey, Leadership & Organisation Blog, February 2018

High up on that list of needs is feedback. Millennials need more feedback in order to feel engaged - about 50% more, in fact. Only 1% of millennials worldwide think feedback doesn’t matter, according to a 2011 study conducted by PwC. Why is this? We can look towards upbringing for the answers. Millennials have been shaped by two particularly influential factors.

The first is attentive, hands-on, or intensive parenting. As Simon Sinek explains, millennials have generally had far more attention and encouragement than previous generations. While children growing up between the 1950s and early 1980s were largely left to their own devices, the late 1980s saw the rise of what some call ‘helicopter parenting’, which describes parents hovering over their kids, eager to give continuous guidance, approval and protection.

The second condition is, of course, social media. Older millennials hit adolescence as the internet came to prominence, while younger millennials grew up alongside the social media boom. What does this have to do with feedback? Well, social media created online relationships based around quickfire comments, instant messages and constant news updates. In other words, it maximised the importance of immediate reactions from a range of people on regular day-to-day content. And as social media became more ubiquitous, the attention of one’s peers became as fundamental as the attention of one’s parents had been. Unsurprisingly these conditions have changed the way millennials expect to interact with anyone, not just their close friends and family. Being so accustomed to having swift feedback loops in their personal lives, it follows that they might want the same in their professional lives.

Wanting feedback is about more than just a desire for validation: stimulation and continuous learning are also key. This is crucial on the one hand to help millennials feel like they’re growing and developing, but also to cope with the mounting demand for modern skillsets. 55% of European executives expect to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023 as hard technological skills become more essential. Feedback can facilitate a broader culture of learning and growing, not replacing.

The stark reality is that giving or withholding regular feedback directly impacts the extent of millennial employees’ engagement, and the most engaged millennials are the ones meeting with their managers at least once a week. Unfortunately, studies show that when it comes to giving feedback, managers don’t really take the initiative. Only 21% of millennials have weekly meetings with their managers and only 19% get routine feedback. Even fewer say they receive regular feedback that’s meaningful. As a result of this, millennials who feel engaged at work are a significant minority: 29% compared to 45% of traditionalists.

Which brings us to retention: keeping hold of millennials is a different ballgame. Companies need to retain their younger employees more than ever because they tend to be more capable than their seniors when it comes to things like digital aptitude and social media presence. At the same time, this tech-savvy generation can be quite impatient: where previous generations preferred to stay in long-term positions, millennials are more ready to resign from roles they find unfulfilling.

Companies should value feedback, then, as the ultimate tool for both winning over their millennial employees and understanding them. Rather than waiting for millennials to ask, managers and HR departments need to be proactive in giving continuous, regular feedback. And the good news is, it’s not just millennials who will benefit: check out our feedback eBook to find out more about the company-wide advantages of great feedback culture.

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