What do Millennials really want?

By April 11, 2017Uncategorised

Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists.” So said Joel Stein of Time Magazine, tarring, with one broad, dripping brush, a generation which he admits is the largest we’ve ever seen.

Since 2015, Millennials have made up the majority of the workforce: those born between 1980 and 1995, are members of the most marketed-to, most studied generation to date. They are the generation with all the information at their fingertips, and a drive to seek authenticity of experience and values. In spite of the perception that they’re lazy, entitled and narcissistic, this is actually the main thing to differentiate them from Gen X and the Baby Boomers: it’s getting harder and harder to be insincere or generic and expect Millennials to buy it. I think Shane Smith, founder of Vice Media, put it well when he said:

“Young people have been marketed to since they were babies, they develop this incredibly sophisticated bullshit detector, and the only way to circumvent the bullshit detector is to not bullshit.”

So other than a little sincerity, what do Millennials really want? Well, this comes down to a few simple things, things which smaller, more agile businesses can give them more easily than large corporates can, but things which both should be aiming for:

  • Values that resonate with them: 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to work somewhere with values they can relate to. Is this all about having a social purpose? No. Is it being very clear about purpose – and the wow? Yes. Zappos applies this brilliantly, by making customer service central to everything they do, and hiring people who hold it as a core value. Taking it a step further, they reward staff for adhering to this value, knowing their customers by name and having long customer service calls – KPIs that defy the nature of how the success of call centres has traditionally been measured.
  • Support and the opportunity to grow and develop: PwC research found that the biggest reason for Millennials leaving their jobs is feeling that they weren’t given a chance to grow. This isn’t to say that this generation is less loyal than previous generations, far from it – more Gen X-ers left jobs after less than a year than Millennials have. But companies which leave them to sit at one level rather than helping them to push themselves will soon find themselves losing a few. Giving teams short term opportunities that enable them to grow today, as well as longer term structures for development, are key.
  • To use their full skillset: only 21% of millennials believe their employer makes full use of their skillset. It’s easy to see how ideas and offerings from junior members of a team can be passed over in favour of what more experienced parties think. But based on the fact that in Silicon Valley, about 25% of founders are between 20-24 years old, sometimes you should shut up and listen. Creating opportunities for two-way innovation – huddles, competitions, reverse mentoring – will seed the future behaviours you want to see from teams at all levels.


It’s important to point out that this isn’t a scary new way of working. It’s something startups do from their inception and should strive not to lose as they grow. It’s just how you behave when everyone in your company makes a tangible difference to its outputs, and of course, as your business grows it’s easier and easier to forget that that’s still true.

The way a company behaves towards its employees can empower as well as break. The interesting part is that there might be no difference in the tasks they’re actually given. Millennials just tend to abandon the bullshit for something which lets them grow then gives them their time to shine.

Originally presented as a Tedx talk by our very own Lucy Cooper at the Fidelity TedX event, September 22nd 2016.