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PERSPECTIVE

A millennial’s view of the ideal workplace

The biggest generation of workers wants a different kind of workplace than their elders.

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By Emily Heidt

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If you aren’t a millennial like me, you might think members of my generation take jobs just for the cake, as in the farewell sheet cakes people get when they leave a job, or that there’s some game called RevolvingDoor we’re trying to beat. One in five millennials changed jobs in 2016, and more than 60 percent of us considered doing so. We’re the biggest generation in the United States (in Boston, we make up 40 percent of the population), so that’s a lot of job hopping. Our reputation for leaving jobs gets us slapped with labels like “uncommitted,” “lazy,” and “whiner.” Some of us probably are. But look who’s doing the name-calling: Generation Xers and baby boomers. Back in the dark economic days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, one-third of Gen Xers were considered underemployed. They griped about the dead-end McJobs they had to take, but were mocked as slackers by their elders. And does it surprise anyone that the baby boomers have always been labeled whiners?

It is true that millennials (those born roughly between 1981 and 1997) switch jobs more than members of older generations. But we actually switch jobs less frequently than Gen Xers did at our age. We care about our jobs, a lot, and we want to use them to make the world around us better— as 94 percent of us said in a 2014 survey. We also want to be challenged; a 2016 Gallup survey found that almost 90 percent of us say career growth and development are important. And we hate to fail, so we want our current job to better prepare us for the harder job that comes next. Obviously, we want our employers to take our concerns seriously. So, yeah, we’re likely to demand support, training, and attention.

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It used to be implicit that employers helped employees gain skills — it was good for the worker and for the company. In the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey of college-educated millennials with full-time jobs, 75 percent said their employers were too focused on their own agendas. It often seems the social contract that governed employment for boomers and Gen Xers is gone. Pensions have all but disappeared for private-sector workers. Through restructuring, outsourcing, or automation, workers lose not just jobs but careers. Many public companies seem loyal only to their stock prices. Millennials know most of our generation will never have the kinds of workplaces that sustained our parents and grandparents.

Here’s the bottom line: It can cost companies 150 percent of a worker’s annual salary to replace her. Not to mention the extra work her former colleagues must take on until a replacement can be found, plus the time it takes to train the new kid. The good news? It isn’t hard to create a different environment for millennials, one that engages us and makes us want to stick around. Millennials don’t mind being “work martyrs”— an employee who is so into the job he or she doesn’t have an outside life — if that doesn’t mean “wage slave.”

What does that kind of job look like? First, millennials tend to be more driven by purpose than money — in one 2016 survey three-quarters of us said we’d take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. We tend to like lifestyle perks: subsidized gym memberships, a monthly office volunteer trip, and yoga classes during lunch breaks can be more enticing to us than money.

We do, like anyone else, want career growth opportunities. “It’s common sense,” says workplace expert Jennifer Fraone, assistant director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family; offering growth opportunities to younger employees will make them more likely to stick around.

And millennials expect feedback from bosses, but not just at review time. We want bosses who get out of their offices and ask us about our projects, offer us hands-on guidance and support. Increased interaction happens to be a workplace trend; Fraone says annual performance reviews are giving way to continuous feedback. This trend is welcome news to me. If I hear from my manager only when something needs to be done, or we interact only by e-mail or Slack, it can affect my ability to do my job. If my manager makes it a point to discuss a current assignment or even just talk about life in and especially out of the workplace, I will feel more energized and tuned into my work. And I’ll be more loyal, as will my peers: Gallup reports that more than 60 percent of us say feeling comfortable talking to our managers about things outside of work makes us unlikely to leave our organizations for at least a year.

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Millennials don’t want to be treated like a commodity. Companies are going to ask us for our best; they should be willing to give us something, too.

Emily Heidt is an assistant editor at New Hampshire Magazine
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