Millennials and Business—A New Love Affair?

For years we’ve heard business complain about the new generation of workers. They’re self-absorbed. They object to long hours. They don’t want to pay their dues. But as more and more of the generation born between 1980 and 2000 enter the workforce, business and researchers are starting to sing a different tune.

Tom Agan is a partner in the brand consulting firm Rivia who says that millennials are uniquely positioned to help business innovate. Writing in The New York Times, Agan says millennials’ ability to collaborate, absorb information, form new groups, and be inclusive are the precise qualities that lead to innovation.

Agan explains the young workers’ facility with social media has created an entire generation that has had instant access to information, which in turn has led to its desire for transparency. Although such openness doesn’t always sit well with millennials’ older co-workers, Agan suggests that integrating the new generation’s values into traditional corporate culture may be just what American business needs keep its competitive edge.

As business begins to open its eyes to the positive qualities millennials bring to the table, researchers are likewise changing their initial reactions to the new generation. Recent studies indicate that millennials—who all agree have been given a tough economic climate to weather—may not be as self-absorbed as was originally thought.

Rather, it appears that after being handed a different game plan than they were promised, this generation has adjusted its idea of success. Although millennials’ older managers say the new generation is motivated by money, the young people themselves say they are driven by a need to make a difference. They want their lives to have value and meaning, and they want the work they do to positively affect others, two findings that consistently show up in current research.

To accommodate millennials’ values and keep their young workers happy, engaged, and on the payroll, businesses have had to adjust. Some firms are encouraging millennials to contribute their own ideas while providing them with opportunities to advance their careers. Others tap into their facility with social networking, an arena in which millennials can teach some of their elders a thing or two.

Many organizations have found that offering millennials constant feedback and guidance helps with retention. Millennials respond better to less formal one-on-one conversations than to traditional formal yearly reviews.

Perhaps the most critical component that millennials require to stay in a job and the one that business has been forced to examine is the insistence on work-life balance. It stands to reason that the generation looking for meaning in life also craves a life beyond work. American business may have a hard time letting go of its long-standing love affair with the 60- or 80-hour workweek. But to keep the new generation in the relationship, it just may have to.


Agan, T. (2013, December 10). Embracing the millennials. The New York Times, p. B1.

Smith, E., & and Aaker, J. (2013, December 1). Millennial searchers. The New York Times, p. SR1.

Ultimate Software Group. (2012, September). 5 Methods for managing your millennials. Weston, FL: Author.

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