Understanding Millennials

| by Leslie Starsoneck

There are opinions galore about millennials just as there have been about past “gens.”  Defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, millennials want, and demand meaning from their work.  They shun the rat race.  They aren’t driven to amass the money, or what it buys, in the same way or to the same degree as their parents.

Friends from my own generation (tail end of the Baby Boomers) are often surprised by what they view as an attitude of entitlement among millennials towards the workplace.  They contrast it with what they recall as their own gratitude at simply having a job and getting a paycheck. Personally, I admire demanding meaning from work.  I know too many people who didn’t demand it and had regretful careers. 

The Millennial Impact Project (the millennialimpact.com) has examined millennials’ involvement in charitable causes since 2009, consistently finding that millennials “have an affinity for doing good.”  In one of their recent reports, called Cause, Influence & The Next Generation Workforce, the project sought to understand what drives participation in “cause work” in the workplace, and to understand how this participation can aid in the recruitment and retention of employees.  Cause work is defined as any initiative or program that is charitable in nature.  The report is based on a survey of 1,500 millennial employees and 1,000 managers at a variety of private companies. 

Some of the findings include:

1)    Participation in company-based cause work doesn’t typically start until employees have been with the company at least a year. 

2)    The majority of employees and managers who reported participating in company-based cause work spent between 1 and 10 hours over a year at it.

3)    One large company found a decrease in participation in company-based cause work the year following the institution of a mandatory charitable giving program. 

4)    Participation in company-based cause work decreases over time. 

These findings aren’t surprising.

  • While we appreciate a corporate culture that values charitable giving, most people don’t want to be told what charity to support.  I would guess this is especially true of millennials.  
  • I suspect that companies who chose a cause, or allow minimal participation by their employees in making that choice, find the rates of participation are the lowest. 
  • The fall off on participation rates over time may include individuals, whose exposure to volunteering started with company-based opportunities, then evolved into pursuing opportunities outside of those available through their employer.
  • They may be motivated by a cause or organization that they are particularly passionate about, and the company isn’t.  Or they may have decided to take a deeper dive into “doing good,” like serving on a Board of Directors.

Millennials by nature may be less enamored with the idea of their charitable contributions being rolled up into a corporate citizenship program, but the idea of charitable work being driven by personal choice and passion for the cause is a universal one.  In that way are Millennials really any different from the rest of us?

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