8 Important Things You Must Learn From Millennials

Patrick Willer

Millennials are the last generation with a front-row seat to the change from analog to digital. Their youthful eyes have watched the world turn global and connected. They were witness to the introduction of the sharing collaborative economy. What can we learn from them?

What is a Millennial? Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are people born between 1980s and early 2000s.

Are Millennials different from non-Millennials when it comes to the workforce?
No. Recent research from Oxford Economics indicates almost no difference in the priorities and values of Millennial workers versus non-Milliennials.


So what is all the fuss about? Millennials themselves might not be so different from other people, but the change (and pace of change) they represent is significant. Millennials are an anchor for this change. Millennials have shaped and consumed innovations and they will soon be the most dominant generation in the workforce. How should organizations anticipate on these changes?

1. Focus on life phases rather than generations.

Approaching a group only by a certain age can be misleading. Ultimately it is behavior and thinking that determines what “generation” you are. It’s not the years; it’s the mileage that counts!

We are getting older, but we are living longer and thus spend more of our lives working/ The Oxford research shows that the older we are, the more we value work/life balance, which increasingly means making choices in how and where we work. Offering this flexibility to employees is a huge factor in attracting and retaining talent.

2. Have your workforce reflect your customer base.

Today we see five generations represented in our workforce. As we innovate faster, we change faster, so we will encounter more age diversity in the workplace. The challenge is to have your workforce composition reflect your customer base. This way you will better understand the actual needs of your customers. If your customers are Millennials who travel with Uber and sleep with AirBnB, then what’s the point of having a director who likes to buy paper tickets?

How can you do this? By doing strategic workforce planning: looking at the composition of your workforce today and in the far future.

3. Use gamification tactics.

Millennials have owned a Playstation 1, 2, 3, and 4. They have seen Pac-man turn into GTA5 (Grand Theft Auto 5 is the most successful game, earning over $1 billion US in just 3 days). Trust me, gamification works! This generation likes to compare themselves to their peers. How can you bring that into practice?

  • Create challenges and rewards. Have employees compete in “missions” for badges and points by viewing videos, completing quizzes, or uploading their own submissions to qualify for prizes or gain time to work on innovative ideas.
  • Make rewards public (because Millennials like to see their performance relative to others).
  • Give immediate feedback and comparison (because Millennials like immediate feedback).

Of course, gamification is not only bound to Millennials – I believe the mechanics of challenges and rewards appeal to any generation. But because Millennials grew up with games, they tend to be more connected to those mechanisms. Introducing more gamification will increase performance.

4. Use technology – always the latest and the greatest.

Millennials have seen the world transform from analog to digital. They are the first generation of digital natives, and their affinity for technology helps shape how they consume information. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information, and peer reviews. Instant access to information is the standard.

5. Offer more experiences!

Some people think Millennials are in the business of organization-hopping. But look closer: they hop from experience to experience (read more here). CEB picThis makes it extremely important to look at your internal career maps. If you have a large organization, turn its size into an advantage with rich internal career options. Your succession plans should encourage both vertical and horizontal options. and the culture should applaud horizontal moves. Break down silos that prevent people from sharing talent, and keep track of your key talent! You must offer a diversity of experiences – if you don’t, job hopping is the only remaining option.

6. Adjust learning and development to different generations.

Change happens to all of us, in every generation. More change means more development needs. And different generations need different approaches to learning. Multi-tasking Millennials have a shorter attention spans and often crave a “bite-sized” approach to learning, while many Baby Boomers prefer to read paper books.

Every generation needs to keep up with the latest to stay relevant in the workplace, so organizations should think carefully about the learning and development needs of various generations.

7. Pay for meritocracy.

Paying for seniority is outdated, unless you are paying for experience and the added value it brings.

8. Look ahead: iGeneration is coming

The difference between the iGeneration (Generation Z) and Millennials is greater than any generation gap we’ve seen yet. While Millennials have experienced the difference between the analog and digital worlds, the iGeneration (or heads-down generation) know only the digital world. They will try to swipe any graphic they see. They will not memorize anything that they can find with Google, and some will barely be able to use a pencil!


Millennials are living and breathing the change in our society from analogue to digital; from local to global. They have witnessed the introduction of the sharing collaborative economy, dedicated to wellness and living longer. They embody our human evolution and are the driving force of our economy. They will be followed by the iGeneration, which will use technology to redefine our way of living even more drastically. We can only admire the beauty of this diversity, embrace the benefits in our lives, and get prepared.

For more future-focused workforce strategies, see 4 Ways to Take Advantage of the Talent Ecosystem.

About Patrick Willer

Patrick Willer is a Workforce Innovation Consultant at SAP, responsible for helping organisations to maximize the effect of their workforce. In practice this comes down to discussing the clients strategy and evaluate together how technology can help the total workforce to execute the companies strategy.