What Millennials Value Most in Relationships (And Why It Matters for Your Business)
When it comes to relationships and millennials, there’s no shortage of ink spilled analyzing the ever-changing whims of a digitally connected dating pool. Though exclamatory articles would have you believe that millennials these days don’t believe in love, commitment, or real relationships, studies have proven that what millennial daters are looking for in relationships – security, honesty, growth – hasn’t changed that much from our predecessors. What has changed? How millennials assess those “good relationship” markers, and what they are – and aren’t – willing to accept in the process.
As Gallup noted in a 2016 survey entitled “What Millennials Want From Work and Life,”
“More so than the generations before them, millennials are a group without attachments…Millennials are waiting longer to get married, and they are less likely than other generations to feel pride in their communities or to identify with particular religious affiliations or traditional political parties… None of this implies that millennials do not want to get married or find groups with which they can relate. But it does suggest that millennials view certain institutions differently than their predecessors do, and those views have shaped their decisions to engage -- or not to engage -- with those institutions.”
What does this all mean? That millennials aren’t the unpredictable actors the media paints them out to be, but that what they define as security and commitment in a relationship has changed to be far more than a definition on a piece of paper. Given that the average office worker spends 57% of their waking life at work, looking at what millennials value most in relationships can provide a strong rubric for identifying what millennials value most in the workplace.
When Fusion conducted their “Massive Millennial Poll” in 2015, one of the areas that showed the most growth from attitudes of even just a decade ago was how millennials viewed diversity in dating. 54% of the 1,000 respondents polled reported that they had dated outside their racial group, while a whopping 88% percent said they would be open to dating outside their race. This information was further supported by the 83% of respondents who said their parents would be supportive of them being in an interracial relationship, and 86% of respondents who reported that they had close friends of varying races.
This predilection for diversity is apparent in the millennial workplace as well. While it should come as no surprise that millennials put a strong emphasis on diversity in the workplace as well. How millennials view diversity, however, has changed a bit from their predecessors. As Deloitte found in a 2016 study entitled “The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion,” non-millennial employees were prone to viewing diversity by its most easily identifiable definitions: non-millennials were 21% more likely to focus on diversity from a representational standpoint – that is, making sure the office had a variety of racial and gender views – and 19% more likely to focus on said representation from the viewpoint of religion and demographics.
Millennials, on the other hand, were 32% more likely to focus on diversity from the lens of respecting identities. They were 29% more likely to focus on ideas, opinions, and thoughts, and 35% more likely to view co-workers with unique experiences as diverse. As Christie Smith, the author of the Deloitte study, summed up, “Millennials are more likely to define diversity as pertaining to the individual mix of unique experiences, identities, ideas, and opinions. Prior generations, on the other hand, frame diversity in terms of demographics, equal opportunity, and representation of identifiable demographic characteristics.”
Image by Deloitte University - Diversity Infographic
Rather than focus simply on having a room that’s diverse by the usual markers – race, gender, sexual orientation – millennials are looking to be surrounded by a diversity of viewpoints, and they’re aware that much of that diversity expands far past demographic markers. By reviewing hiring processes to be more qualitative, employers can find ways to get to know candidates as more than a sum of their parts.
Having a diverse room isn’t the end of the game, though. Deloitte’s survey found that a critical component of diversity for millennials focuses on inclusion. With 71% of millennials more likely to focus on teamwork, the driving force behind the push for group work is the premium they place on a culture of connection – meaning that they want all that diversity to lead to a more connected office place. In contrast, non-millennials were more likely to place a premium on acceptance and tolerance, as well as fairness of opportunity, when it comes to inclusion.
Image by Deloitte Univeristy - Millennial Survey Infographic
You can’t just look good on paper. Forget what the right-swiping patterns of a Tinder generation make you think about millennials judging books by their covers – what millennials are looking for in relationships and the workplace are infinitely more qualitative than a pretty package and name-recognition.
Millennials place a high premium on values – namely, developing and building a strong sense of personal ethics and idealism – both in their romantic relationships and in the workplace. Idealism is incredibly important to them, especially given that work-life balance has given way to work-life integration.
“Millennials are a largely optimistic group, and they believe that life and work should be worthwhile and have meaning. They want to learn and grow,” Gallup found in its millennial survey. 87% of Gallup respondents said personal development is important to them in a job. While opportunities for education and career development were placed at a premium, Gallup found that they also “look for work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important.” And when they find it, it matters: 71% of millennials strongly agreed that when they knew what their companies stood for, and how it differed from competitors, they were more likely to stay with their companies for at least a full year.
Company values – even over personal development, at times – are so important to millennials that Deloitte dubbed Gen-Y “The Values Generation.” In their 2016 Millennials Survey, the consulting firm found that 44% of millennials had turned down a job offer because of an organization’s values, while 49% have declined to take on a work task because it conflicted with their personal values. A whopping 56% of millennials pre-emptively ruled out working for an organization based on its values. Perhaps most importantly – millennials are now judging companies’ abilities to have a positive impact on society against more traditional employment pros, such as company reputation, employee satisfaction, and product quality.
Unsurprisingly, flexibility is one of the most important characteristics millennials value in personal relationships. The number of Americans living abroad has never been higher, nor has the number of Americans in long-distance relationships. Eschewing traditional dating advice, such as the adage that long-distance relationships never work, millennials are finding new ways to tailor their romantic relationships to their busy work and social lives.
It should come as no surprise then, that those attitudes are similarly reflected in the workplace. As a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study found, “The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1995, seek more workplace flexibility and opportunity for overseas assignments as keys to greater job satisfaction.” Their study also found that, if given the choice, 64% of millennials would like to work from home from time to time, and 66% would like the option to shift their work hours from time to time. Perhaps more staggeringly, 15% of male employees and 21% of female employees said they would give up some of their paycheck and accept a slower path to promotion if it meant working fewer hours.
But these aren’t the choices of an endurance-averse workforce. The reevaluation of work-day parameters is part of a larger trend of what millennials value when it comes to flexibility: questioning long-held institutional beliefs, to find the best current solution. As Gallup found in their millennials survey, “that’s the way it’s always been done” is not a good enough answer for the millennial employee. Millennials instead find that questioning current institutions to find the best solutions makes them more engaged as workers – a category that many millennials currently find unfulfilled.
As Gallup explains, “Millennials apply the same mindset of ‘change’ to the workplace. They want to be free of old workplace policies and performance management standards, and they expect leaders and managers to adapt accordingly. They see work and life as closely intertwined. Because of this, millennials want to have a different relationship with their manager. They want their manager to care about them as an employee and a person.” Given that 29% of employees don’t feel engaged at work, the correlation between holistic change and change simply for the sake of, could not be more apparent.
Simply put: the reason that millennials are so focused on flexibility and change in the workplace is because they want to feel that they’re a part of the corporate culture, not just a mere cog within an existing framework. By working with millennials to find the right flexibility in how work is approached, forward thinking companies are able to adapt much more holistically than organizations that take a top-down approach to leadership. And doing so isn’t merely a way to keep a fickle population happy in the short term – as Deloitte found in its millennial survey, when millennials had a number of leadership and development opportunities to get their hands dirty, the found themselves far more likely to stay at their jobs for upwards of five years.
Why They Leave
Image by ITU/Rowan Farrell - Flickr
When it comes to relationships, millennials are nowhere near as flighty as anecdotal data may suggest. Though they are getting married later, Gallup found that the rate of millennials choosing to settle down in long-term relationships or marriages has hardly changed from their Gen-X predecessors. Why then, does the myth that millennials don’t stay at jobs for longer than a year still persist?
Deloitte Global’s CEO, Punit Renjen, had strong words following his company’s millennial survey. “This remarkable absence of loyalty represents a serious challenge to businesses employing a large number of millennials, especially those in markets like the U.S., where millennials now make up more than a third—and the largest segment—of the workforce,” he claims. But is the “remarkable absence of loyalty” all that remarkable?
Many of the numbers comparing millennials are comparing them against their older counterparts - not against their older counterparts when they were in their young 20s. As data journalism site FiveThirtyEight points out, “comparing today’s 20-somethings to today’s 30- and 40-somethings misses the point. Younger workers do tend to change jobs more often than older workers, but that’s always been true. Numbers on job tenure for Americans in their 20s were almost exactly the same in the 1980s as they are today.” Even on a monthly view, the rate of job change for 20-to-29 year olds in the 1990s was four percent. Now? It’s just around three percent. So much for that theory that millennials are itinerant without any real loyalty.
But Renjen isn’t completely wrong - millennials do have a higher desire to seek out opportunities that meet a number of qualitative metrics, which can often lead to higher reporting of millennials who’d hypothetically leave their organizations based on idealist values.
When asked what the sources of their job dissatisfaction were, 63% of millennials told Deloitte researchers that they didn’t feel their leadership skills were being fully developed, even though 72% of millennials stated that the ability to take on a leadership role was one of the primary factors in evaluating various career opportunities. Only 54% of millennials who feel their skills aren’t being adequately developed are likely to stay at their organization for over five years - though, more alarmingly, 71% of millennials are likely to leave a job under two years if they feel their leadership and educational opportunities are insufficient.
Given that retention is one of the largest issues facing companies, finding a way to keep millennials tied into the workforce is critical; what most companies don’t realize is that earning a millennial’s loyalty isn’t rocket science. 16.8% of millennials report that a better work-life balance would foster loyalty, while 13.4% are looking for more leadership opportunities. 11% desired more flexibility in their work schedule, and just under 10% claimed that professional development and gaining a sense of meaning from their work would earn their loyalty.
When you break down millennial desires as more than just overarching headlines, it becomes apparent that they’re looking for more than just a quick route to the most success. Just as they’re searching in their personal lives for more meaningful connections, especially in a digital-first age, so too are they searching for the same sort of intimacy in their working relationships. If employers prioritize creating opportunities and room for growth over bottom lines and titles, they might just find their relationships with their millennial employees become all the more impactful, meaningful, and sustainable.