Inside the mind of Millennial learners

by L&D15 Feb 2017
In just the last year alone, millions of first-wave baby boomers and pre-boomers have left the North American workforce, while millions of second-wave Millennials have joined.

So how can leaders, employees, and employers continue to succeed in the midst of this shift?

RainmakerThinking’s latest whitepaper – titled: ‘The Great Generational Shift: Update 2017’ – provides solutions for how everyone in the workforce can prepare for the workplace of the future.

The whitepaper provides a glimpse into the motivations and expectations of Millennial learners – a key demographic that is changing the way organisations approach their L&D programs. 

The whitepaper points out that Millennials don’t look at a large, established organisation and think” “I wonder where I’ll fit in your complex picture?” Rather, they look at an employer and think, “I wonder where you will fit in my life story.”

“Every step of the way, Millennials want to find a work situation they can fit into the kind of life they are building for themselves,” the paper’s author, Bruce Tulgan, said.

“This is because they grew up overly supervised, coached, and constantly rewarded by their parents, Millennials will never be content to labour quietly and obediently in a sink-or-swim environment.”

Tulgan added that Millennials are less likely to trust the “system” or the organisation to take care of them over time and thus less likely to make immediate sacrifices in exchange for promises of long-term rewards.

In fact, he suggested that the Millennials’ career path will be a long series of short-term and transactional employment relationships: “What do you want from me? What do you have to offer in return now and for the foreseeable future? I’ll stay here as long as it’s working out for both of us.”

“They have very high expectations, first for themselves, but also for their employers. And they have the highest expectations for their immediate bosses,” he said.

“And yet, they are more likely to disagree openly with employers’ missions, policies, and decisions – and to challenge employment conditions and established reward systems.”

Tulgan said they are less obedient to employers’ rules and supervisors’ instructions, as well as “less likely to heed organisational chart authority”.

“After all, they had incredibly close relationships with their previous authoritative role models, their parents, who treated them as equals,” he explained.

Instead, he said Millennials respect transactional authority, such as control of resources, control of rewards, and control of work conditions.

“This is because they look to their immediate supervisors to meet their basic needs and expectations, they freely make demands of them,” Tulgan said.

“Precisely because Millennials seem to both disregard authority figures and at the same time demand a great deal of them, leaders and managers often find Millennials maddening and difficult to manage.”

Meanwhile, the truth, of course, is more complicated.

“Millennials are not a bunch of disloyal, delicate, lazy, greedy, disrespectful, inappropriate slackers with short attention spans, who only want to learn from computers, only want to communicate with hand-held devices, and won’t take “no” for an answer,” he said.

“Our research demonstrates clearly that Millennials want leaders who take them seriously at work, not leaders who try to humour them; leaders who set them up for success in the real world, not leaders who pretend they are succeeding no matter what they do.”