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The Millennial Workforce – a New Corporate Reality

The Millennial Workforce – a New Corporate Reality


By Suzanne Morrison-Williams, Ed.D., Vice President, Academic Affairs, City College

The world has gotten used to millennials. The jokes and ribbing have ebbed, somewhat, and the world has come to recognize that as a group, they are the most dominant generation in the workforce. According to the Department of Labor, they will be the most dominant segment of the population in the workforce. With immigration adding more numbers to this group than any other, the millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 76.2 million. Thereafter, the oldest millennial will be at least 56 years of age and mortality is projected to outweigh net immigration. According to Pew Research, by 2050 there will be a projected 74.3 million millennials.

For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace, creating a huge shift in our economy and how organizations must function1.

This shift has created some organizational angst as (a) Managers attempt to manage organizations based on new generational norms; (b) Individual millennial employees are seeking to figure out how to align their personal values with organizational needs; and (c) Managers are attempting to meet the needs of the organization as a functional manager able to manage multiple generations.

It, therefore, becomes necessary for organizations and managers to (a) Define these generations in the workforce; (b) Determine what they desire from organizations and their managers; and (c) Create a dialogue and form a strategy for how to align all of these various individual needs with the needs of the organization. It is important to note that having five generations in the workforce has created stagnation and lack of movement that has been hereto unseen.

Up until the 1980s, most people retired by the age of 65. Those retiring were the denizens of industry, and there had been mechanisms in place to train those who would take over. This allowed for a continuity of an organization with no loss of skills and expertise. Their retirement also allowed for a natural movement of mid and upper-level managers into senior and C level positions in corporations. With the crash of the market in 2008, many saw their nest eggs depleted and were unable to retire, which resulted in many seniors/traditionalists who are still working.

If these persons are not retiring and still maintaining C level and upper-level management positions, this then means that Gen Xers and millennials are unable to rise to higher ranks thus creating stagnation in many organizations.

Organizations must now wrestle with how they will continue to energize and retain their employees who are beginning to look for better or different opportunities while also keeping abreast of the constant changes in the marketplace.

The reality of millennials and the job market

For many years, millennials have gotten a bad rap and been labeled as entitled, lazy and narcissistic. However, what we do know is that they are the most educated generation in history. More than 50 percent of millennials have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The natural assumption is that with education comes an elevation in the standard of living. The entire basis of achieving the American dream is being able to elevate oneself through education and hard work. However, the issue of five generations in the workforce has put a huge crimp in that particular pattern. So, while millennials are the most educated generation, they are also the most indebted. As a generation, they have more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt, with each person averaging approximately $35,000 loans they need to repay (2016). This is a sharp increase from 1992-1993 when most persons had only $10,000 in student loan debt. A sadder reality is that 40 percent of millennials believe they cannot pay this off for at least 10 years making them between 35 and 39 before this debt is paid.

The larger issue that is not often discussed is the earning potential of millennials. The current 4 percent unemployment rate is very deceptive because while people are working, many millennials are working multiple jobs in order to make a living wage. Not only do millennials have student loans to repay, but they also have credit cards and car loans. It’s not that millennials are lazy and do not want to move out of their parent’s basements, they are often unable to because they simply don’t have the earning potential. They cannot step into entry-level supervisory jobs because those jobs are occupied by older millennials and Gen Xers unable to rise to higher levels because boomers and seniors are still actively working. This means millennials have delayed many of the norms such as purchasing a home, getting married and having children. What is happening more and more is that millennials will live together to cut the cost of living, but not participate in the other trappings such as marriage and having children because they cannot afford the expense.

Any judgment of millennials and who they are and how they function must be balanced against these two key facts: Their level of education and their expectations to be paid for that education in order to reduce their debt. This need for revenue, therefore, drives millennials to move from job to job with more regularity than prior generations. They appear to be a generation of “job hoppers.” It appears that they do not stay with any job long enough for the employer to get ROI from the training. More than 60 percent of millennials expect to leave their jobs within the next two years. 39.2 percent expect to leave if they are offered a better job while 37.3 percent will leave for career growth opportunities.2

Employers are forced to grapple with this reality that if they hire a millennial, that person will most likely leave right around the time they’ve become an expert in and perfected the role for which they’ve been hired.

With only 11 percent of millennials expecting to stay in their employment for between 5 to 10 years, many organizations have now begun to shy away from hiring millennials for jobs which are viewed as needing someone for the long term, and this has invariably led to a skills gap in many organizations. Here are what employers are saying as to why they have a skills gap.

    • 56 percent of employers say they can’t find a good match
    • 48 percent state employees don’t have the skills and employers aren’t doing on-the-job training
    • 41 percent say there are too few qualified candidates
    • 35 percent say there is no official commitment to training/on-the-job training3

In 2015, Manufacturing Today estimated that every manufacturing job created another 2.5 jobs in the goods and services area. There were an estimated 3.5 million new jobs that would be created with an estimated 2 million unfilled jobs. This is unprecedented. How many of these unfilled jobs could become higher paying jobs that millennials would be able to take and fill? The view of hiring will need to change if organizations are to continue to be successful. Millennials are the predominant group in the workforce and are only getting larger; for organizations to not hire them will simply mean they will eventually have no one to hire. Therefore, it becomes necessary for organizations to determine if they need to change their model in order to meet the new evolution of the workforce.

Aligning millennials to organizational needs

In my research, as well as my experience, in discussing what employers are looking for from graduates, there seems to be a stark difference between what millennial employees are looking for and what employers are seeking. What are the top things millennials are seeking in their next employer? Depending on what articles you read, there is always some disparity in where these items rank, but these are invariably the top things millennials are looking for:

  • The opportunity for training and development that will lead to growth
  • Flexible work schedules including the ability to be virtual/remote if possible
  • A good culture fit between themselves and the organization
  • A good manager who provides regular and robust feedback
  • Ability to have a good work/life balance
  • Compensation commensurate with what they believe they are worth to the organization (this may not always align with the organizational beliefs or budget)

Now conversely, here is what most employers are looking for in their employees be they millennial or not. Employees who have:

  • Strong leadership skills
  • The ability to work as part of a team
  • Strong oral and verbal communication skills
  • Strong critical thinking skills with the ability to take the initiative, make good decisions and solve problems
  • A good work ethic (which often translates to fitting into whatever the current ethos of the organization such as long work hours, etc.)
  • Strong technical skills (in the area in which the organization specializes)
  • Strong digital literacy skills
  • Professionalism (which is often very specific to an organization or even sometimes to a specific manager)

While there may appear to be a disparity between what millennials want and what organizations seek, what is key to note is that there are not that many dissimilarities between what ALL the generations are seeking. According to HBR.org, millennial and older workers have many of the same career goals.4 Organizations need to be savvy about how to meet the needs of each individual in a way that’s personal to them. Organizations have long been focused on the needs of the organization. With the advent of the technology era and the rise of companies like Amazon that are largely built on ensuring consumer satisfaction and giving the consumer what they want, many organizations realize that they may need to change their approach and focus on the most important customers: their employees.

Retaining millennial employees

Organizations should position themselves as employers choice for millennials to retain them longer and obtain better ROI from them. These are the key things that employers should employ as part of their employee retention and satisfaction strategies:

  • Regular and consistent feedback
  • Mentorship/training to advancement
  • Show a path to success
  • Using technology for collaboration and efficiency
  • Allow flex time for work-life balance in roles that allow
  • Offer to help pay off student loans as an alternate to a 401(k) or other options

Regular and consistent feedback – Most millennials want to know how they are doing. Twenty years ago, feedback was not a routine part of employee management. Staff was either reprimanded for doing something wrong and/or then given an annual review. There was little recognition or praise given. Organizations now routinely employ positive reinforcement which helps with employee motivation and engagement. Millennials need routine feedback, and this can be done weekly, monthly or quarterly. There should be a clearly established schedule of feedback. According to HBR.org, 50 percent of millennials would prefer monthly feedback, 30 percent prefer quarterly and only 10 percent prefer weekly.

Mentorship/training to advancement/show a path to success – Millennials are looking to learn and to grow. If there are no opportunities for this in an organization, then it is estimated that 37.3 percent of them will leave the organization. To prevent this, feedback should be regular, and it should be clear how what they are doing and how their performance will lead to personal and organizational growth. If growth is also commensurate with salaries, then this is an additional incentive.

It’s important to note that millennials much like Gen Xers need to be challenged and given opportunities to grow.

Both generations do not like to be bored in their tasks, and so managers should be aware of this and build on those opportunities. The only difference is that Gen Xers do not prefer mentorship but will accept it if it is offered. Millennials prefer to be mentored.

Using technology for collaboration and efficiency – Millennials like and are very comfortable with technology. They spend 18 hours a day connected to their media. More than 60 percent of them would much rather use technology for collaboration than to have meetings. As clouds and remote technology have become more popular, this has given rise to a number of applications and software applications that can help companies keep in touch, give feedback and track work projects more effectively. Some of these technologies are chat/message, file sharing, intranets, discussion forums, video chats, podcasts, document management, activity feeds and notice boards. These are extremely effective tools, especially if used to overcome a local skills gap (through remote staffing) or to keep an experienced staff member who may be relocating, needs a flexible schedule or prefers to work remotely.

Allowing flexible schedules to facilitate a better work-life balance – 75 percent of millennials would prefer to have a flexible schedule. With regards to increasing productivity, 77 percent of millennials believe a flexible schedule will accomplish increased productivity, 39 percent say remote working will increase productivity and 23 percent say fewer meetings will increase productivity. Pairing flexible schedules and effective technology could result in a greater level of organizational productivity along with closing a skills gap in a given area. The counter-argument to this has always been that some jobs require employees to work a set schedule and also to be on-site. This is a very valid argument and needs to be taken into consideration. However, for jobs that don’t have a set time or require direct human interaction, organizations should take advantage of the fact that millennials are wired and always on. It is not uncommon for millennials to work longer hours because their emails and apps are on their phones and tablets and so they work even long after they’ve put in the regular eight hour day. In fact, 47 percent of millennials say they now work longer hours than in the last five years. This is an advantage for organizations.

Compensation – The ability for a company to compensate its staff is always something that organizations wrestle with. Once organizations understand that millennials are seeking to be decently compensated for their education and skills, then the organization needs to determine how attractive can they make themselves to the millennial to attain the longevity that is desired in a given role. No company should expect a millennial to dedicate their lives to an organization. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, organizations should be realistic about a given job role and what is needed so that the cost of employment for the company is reasonable. The compensation standards have always been (a) salary (b) bonuses (c) insurance – health and life (d) stocks and investments (e) retirement. These are all still very valid parts of the compensation package and should be tailored to meet the needs of the employee. However, there is one more perk that many millennials are happy to see within companies – helping millennials pay back their student loans. Graadifi partners with companies to help students both pay down their student loans as well as save for the future.


Millennials are not the evil horrors that many make them out to be. Millennials just differ in ‘how’ they want to operate. The key is for the organization to be able to meet the needs of all the generations within their organization. Implementing flexible work schedules and effective technology allows organizations to have staff working in different time zones, on different schedules which undoubtedly could lead to a greater level of productivity because the organization is open for longer hours. Using effective feedback, mentorship and motivational tools will also create a more engaged employee. Forty percent of millennials who regularly engage with their managers are engaged in the organization, and engagement leads to productivity and over 60 percent see mentorship as a segue to both personal validation as well as them owning their own business eventually.

Millennials are highly educated, but have a large amount of education debt, and like everyone else, they are seeking a way to pay that debt to increase their discretionary income. This means that they will always be on the lookout for a job and/or opportunity that will not only pay them more, but will also enhance and improve their current skills, teach them new skills and allow them to create a path to their own professional success. Finally, if an organization is one with a strong sense of social and corporate responsibility, then this is a bonus. Over 74 percent of millennials either contribute to charitable organizations or participate in charitable work. As a generation, they are very concerned with social and environmental issues and like to be aligned with companies and organizations that have a positive impact on those areas.


  1. https://www.bscai.org/Contractor-Connections-Hub/Recent-Article/managing-five-generations-in-the-workplace
  2. https://getlighthouse.com/blog/deloitte-survey-millennials-2016-takeaways/
  3. https://www.td.org/insights/atd-public-policy-council-updates-skills-gap-whitepaper
  4. https://hbr.org/2016/04/what-do-millennials-really-want-at-work

Suzanne Morrison-Williams


DR. MORRISON-WILLIAMS, in her capacity as the Vice President of Academic Affairs for City College, is responsible for the development and deployment of curriculum, student persistence, student success, student satisfaction, regulatory compliance, accreditation, faculty development as well as interfacing with Career Services on student placement after graduation. Dr. Morrison-Williams has worked in this capacity at City College since September 2009. She has 2 degrees from FIU. A Bachelor’s in Communication with a specialization in Public Relations (1993) and a Master’s in Public Administration (1997). In 2015, she earned an Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University. Her area of specialization for her dissertation was mentorship and the African-American female professional.

She has most recently taken on the role of not only academic management of City College’s online programs but also developing a new online learning module. Prior to joining City College in 2009 as the VP, she had worked with the company between 1997 and 1999 as a faculty member. Additionally, she has worked at Florida International University and The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, part of the EDMC system. She has worked as a Registrar, faculty member, Department Chair, Faculty Development Director, Assistant Dean and Associate Dean.

Dr. Morrison-Williams is a transplant from the island of Jamaica and resides in South Florida with her husband and son.

Contact Information: Suzanne Morrison-Williams, Ed.D. // Vice President, Academic Affairs // City College // 954-492-5353 // smw@citycollege.edu // https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzanne-morrison-williams-7467b07?trk=hp-identity-name


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