Learning from Millennials’ Outlook on Work

Dan Steiner

The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 provides a window into this generation’s outlook on work. Those born after 1982 have become the largest generational segment of the American workforce, and report an overall positive outlook towards work. There are plenty of stereotypes out there, some of which depict Millennials as lazy and void of a work ethic. While stereotypes have roots in reality, I suggest we would be wise to listen to what Millennials have to say and consider how we might learn from them.

Here are three insights worth considering.

First, purpose around people matters.

Two thirds of Millennials express a desire to leave their organization by 2020. This doesn’t necessarily mean Millennials are anti-business or are unwilling to stick with a particular organization. What Millennials are unwilling to do, however, is stay with a particular organization if its purpose and priorities don’t align their own. According to the survey, Millennials prioritize providing a good income to our employees, being the best possible place to work, improving the skills of our workforce, providing services/goods that make a positive difference in people’s lives, and generating and supporting jobs. Whether they realize it or not, these priorities actually reflect a desire to build into the common good. Profits, growth, and notoriety are not as high on their priority list. Although making money and caring for people doesn’t necessarily have to be an either/or dualism. The question that needs to be considered is which will take precedent over the other.

Second, the worker matters.

Millennials would place far greater emphasis than current leaders on “employee wellbeing” and “employee growth and development.” They would be less focused on “personal income/reward” or “short-term financial goals.” Simply put, Millennials would rather be taken care of and developed than compensated. That isn’t to say they will turn down their salary outright, but if given a choice, Millennials prefer professional development over a bonus check, and being valued matters more than being used. Perhaps within these identified preferences is a Millennial ideology that making more money doesn’t matter above all else. Again, this doesn’t have to be another either/or dualism. Valuing the worker doesn’t have to come at the expense of organizational success. And valuing the worker according to their measure of value might actually be the ticket to keeping them around.

Third, sustainability metrics matter.

Millennials very much believe that business success is built on a foundation of long-term sustainability rather than pursuing short-term profit maximization. This builds upon Millennials’ desire to see the worker valued. Sustainability, in their minds, comes as a direct result of employee satisfaction, loyalty, fair treatment, ethics, trust, integrity, and honesty. It is interesting to note that only five percent of those surveyed thought profit-focused values would ensure long-term success. Clearly if an organization doesn’t have fiscal sustainability it will not survive. Budgets and those who are mindful of them are quite important for an organization’s success. But does sustainability need to be evaluated solely in terms of dollars and cents? Perhaps an organizations work force might be its greatest asset – a Millennial would look for ways to leverage the development and loyalty of the workforce to achieve long-term sustainability.

The Deloitte survey summary suggests we adjust how loyalty is nurtured in order to retain Millennials. I don’t believe keeping Millennials in our organizations should be the primary goal. Instead, the goal should be to work and lead in a way that builds into the flourishing of the worker, the organization as a whole, and the common good more generally. Is it possible that Millennials are inadvertently holding up a mirror to our workplaces which is unmasking some of our cultural ideologies?

I am getting an up-close look at this thinking as I lead one of the cohorts for the 5280 Fellowship. This particular group of young professionals is not content to just punch a clock and earn a paycheck. They want to make a difference, but not just for their own sake. They want to see the Kingdom come in Denver as it is in Heaven. That is what we should all want regardless of our generational identification. That is what we should all pursue together.


Dan Steiner

Dan Steiner Serves as Mentoring Director at Denver Seminary and leads one of Denver Institute’s 5280 Fellowship cohorts. With 13 years of ministry experience, he’s an expert at leadership development, personal growth, and spiritual formation. He’s passionate about equipping people to live their calling in the marketplace or local church. Dan received his BA in Youth Ministry from Western Baptist College (now Corban University) and his MDiv from Denver Seminary.