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7 ways millennials are changing the workplace for the better

The generation is spearheading change in the workforce — and they’ll switch jobs until they find what they want.
Image: Group of people with two laptops at a meeting
Only a third of millennials are engaged at work.Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

When it comes to the workplace, millennials get a bad rap. The generation (loosely defined as those born after 1982 and before 2004) tend to to be labeled lazy, entitled and glued to their iPhones. But a recent survey conducted by Gallup shows that they're more aligned with other generations when it comes to contentment in the workplace than you may think.

The poll garnered responses from almost 200,000 people from across organizations in a wide variety of industries to give us a snapshot of the American workplace today. One of the major findings: Out of the more than 100 million full-time employees that make up the American workforce, only one-third of them are engaged at work — which is defined as being "emotionally and psychologically attached to their work and workplace."

Only one-third of employees are engaged at work.

So, what gives?

Research shows that millennials are a driving force behind workplace change, so it’s no coincidence that the generation clocks in with the lowest percentage of engaged employees. This may be simply because as millennials get older they are able to navigate their career, finding work that better suits them, which in turn increases their levels of engagement. But the fact that they are the major advocates for change also suggests that they may feel like they're "waiting" for their employers to catch up with them, thus affecting how much they are able to emotionally commit at work.

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But what’s surprising is that the changes millennials are pushing for in the workplace are things that are desired by everyone. Regardless of age, we seem to agree on how we want to work and what we need as employees to be happy and productive during office hours.

Here are some of the key findings about what employees want — and you can thank the millennials in your life for demanding them.

They’re not scared to change jobs

There was once a time where we held on to our jobs with a vice grip — some of us may even have parents who stayed at a company for 20 years or more. Today, resumes with two-year stints at various companies are becoming the norm. Half of the employees surveyed say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings, and 35 percent of workers reported changing jobs within the past three years.

The change may be fueled by the fact that employees are confident in their ability to find work — whether it’s by choice or as a result of being laid off. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed believe it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that they would find a job as good as the one they have if they were let go — that’s a 21 percent increase from those who said the same in 2010.

And they want a salary boost to go with it

Employees aren’t just looking to hop around for the experience, they want a pay raise to come with it. About four in 10 employees say a significant increase in income is “very important” to them when considering a new job. This rang true for more male employees than female employee, and more millennials and Gen Xers than baby boomers.

They want work with a purpose.

"Most workers, many of whom are millennials ... want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life."

Thanks to millennials, long gone are the days where you log your eight hours behind a desk doing the bare minimum until you can clock out at 5 on the dot.

“Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations,” according to the survey. “They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life.”

Sixty percent of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is “very important” to them. All employees, regardless of age or gender, placed the greatest importance on this aspect of a job. But millennials are more likely than both Gen Xers and baby boomers to say a job that accelerates their professional or career development is “very important” to them. It seems they are not only looking for a job they are passionate about, but one that fits into the bigger picture of their career path.

They want perks — and will change jobs to get them

You’d think the benefits millennials value would be the juice bars, onsite gyms and pet-friendly offices. But the benefits they value align with those that other generations see as most important: things closely related to quality of life like health insurance, paid vacation and retirement plans.

According to the survey, “the benefits and perks that employees truly care about are those that offer them greater flexibility, autonomy and the ability to lead a better life.”

Where millennials differ from Gen Xers and baby boomers is in how strongly they value these things, which is so much so that in many cases they will consider changing jobs for a specific perk or benefit. “The differences are most evident for items related to children, development, education and flexibility,” the survey found. “Millennials want benefits and perks that directly impact their lives and the lives of their family members, and they show a greater willingness to switch jobs to secure these elements.”

Image: Young woman studying at home
The study discovered that engagement climbs when employees split their time between working remotely and working in an office.Getty Images

They want stability

When they do change jobs, more than half of employees rate greater stability and job security as “very important” in their new role. Millennials and Gen Xers of both genders feel equally as strong about this, while less than half of baby boomers say this aspect of a job is very important to them.

"Candidates want to work for companies that provide solid footing and are poised for growth. The more stable they view an organization, the more likely they may be to see a future with it," found the survey.

They want to talk to their managers often

Once a year performance reviews (which tend to be one-sided, with your boss rattling off answers to a questionnaire) are out. What millennials seeks is ongoing feedback, clear goals and “collaborative goal setting,” which gives them a voice in setting performance expectations they see as fair, relevant and challenging.

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And the statistics show that the other generations feel the same: only 33 percent of employees report being engaged at work; a meager 21 percent strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work, and only 18 percent strongly agrees that employees who perform better grow faster at their organization. Add to that the fact that just 41 percent of employees strongly agree that their job description aligns well with the work they are asked to do (which, by the way would make them 2.5 times more likely than other employees to be engaged) and it’s clear there is a communication problem here.

More frequent, informal check-ins with managers allow employees to better see how their day-to-day work is linked to the organization’s goals (which makes them 3.5 times more likely to be engaged). Plus, employees who have had conversations with their manager in the last six months about their goals and successes are almost three times more likely than other employees to be engaged at the workplace.

The survey cites that "the process creates buy-in and helps employees define success in their roles. Accomplishing goals created with a manager feels all the more gratifying to employees because they are ‘our goals,’ not just ‘my goals’ or ‘your goals,’ and this shows in their engagement. While a mere 30 percent of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, those who do strongly agree with this statement are 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged.”

They want flexibility in when and where they work

A previous study on benefits and perks found that over half of employees would switch to a job that allows them flextime, and 37 percent would switch to a job that allows them to work off-site at least part of the time. In fact, Gallup consistently finds that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job.

The optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 to 80 percent of their time — or 3 to 4 days a week — working remotely.

All employees share this desire for flexibility, but none more than millennials. Previous Gallup research on the generation revealed that they care deeply about work/life balance, and place an importance on having a life — not just a job.

Flexibility and working remotely come hand in hand. Millennials tendency towards pumping out work in their pajamas or while sipping a latte at a coffee shop is often seen as lazy and entitled. But it seems they may be on to something: the study discovered that engagement climbs when employees split their time between working remotely and working in an office with their coworkers.

In fact, the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60 to 80 percent of their time — or three to four days in a five-day workweek — working off-site. Yep, you heard us right. Time to find a coffee shop with great lattes and strong Wi-Fi.