Millennial values: A business owner’s guide to managing Millennials

managing millennials and millennial valuesYou’ve read the studies about Gen Yers having different values than Gen X or Boomers. You’ve heard all about work/life balance and why us youngin’s really value it. But when it comes to the practical ways we want work/life balance or why it’s one of the core Millennial values, there’s not a whole lot of information or insight out there to study.

So what do Gen Yers want when it comes to work? What are Millennial values? And how can leaders better understand, motivate, and utilize their younger employees? Through interviews with similarly-aged professionals, I’ve gathered some unique perspectives and suggestions to help build understanding in an area where there currently isn’t a lot of communication happening.

1. Millennials want to follow their own path

One of the personal reasons I value work/life balance is (and I know I can speak on behalf of some of my peers) is because I grew up seeing my parents work a lot. Both of my parents worked full-time growing up, and my Dad worked a LOT. The 90’s were a booming time, and unfortunately the notion of “flex time” was not an option for many, nor a “40 hour” workweek.

Because of my parents’ demanding work schedules, I was part of a generation of latchkey kids and was often home alone until the end of their work days. My Dad’s long hours and frequent travel left my Mom juggling us four kids around town to all of our practices, rehearsals, etc., and my Dad would try come to as many of them as he could, work permitting.

Of course, I can’t speak on behalf of every Gen Yer, but I know this scenario is true for a lot of us. And because of it, we know exactly what we do NOT want when it comes to our work schedules. Family is a high priority—so if that means following a different path than our parents took, we’ll do it.

Media reinforcements have also taught us that being a workaholic and toiling for money is never a good thing (Think movies like American Beauty, The Family Man, etc.) Nathan, a musician who works in medical billing, illustrated this Millennial value: “We’ve grown up surrounded by entertainment (movies, TV shows, etc.) and even seeing friends in the situation where there’s an adult who works their ass off all the time chasing money, but they’re still miserable.”

Takeaways: No, we’re not saying all of the adults we’ve seen growing up were miserable, but we have witnessed what long hours and inflexibility does to family life and general happiness. So, remember:

  • A core Millennial value is maintaining a schedule that allows for family time and pursuit of personal interests
  • Millennials have grown up with media reinforcements that say too much work is a bad thing

2. Millennials need work/life balance (and can’t field emails 24/7)

As I mentioned, we’ve seen our parents bend over backwards for their jobs our whole lives—and the toll it takes on them personally, with their family, and on their health. So, one of the core Millennial values is to make a conscious effort to find a balance between working hours and non-working hours.

There seems to be an assumption that since Gen Yers love their smartphones, they’re willing (and should be required) to answer emails on nights, weekends, and vacations. But in reality, nobody likes to be a slave to their inbox—regardless of generation.

I recently wrote about my decision to disconnect from email during non-work hours and how it sets healthy boundaries for work/life balance that make sense to any working person, no matter what age or experience level you’re at.

I asked Ashley, a Gen Yer who works in event production, why she felt it was important to maintain personal time vs. work time. She replied,

“I think it makes me a better person. I can focus on my loved ones and really listen to them without worrying about my phone buzzing every 10 minutes or missing an important work e-mail. Being able to shut off my work brain nightly when I get home creates a healthier lifestyle for me, too. I feel less stressed, I can concentrate on my hobbies (gardening, cooking, reading,) and it makes me a more well-rounded individual.”

Takeaways: Yes, it’s true that younger employees need to “pay their dues,” but since you know how much they value their free time—use that Millennial value to your advantage. For example:

  • Incentivize with time over money (maybe offer a extra vacation time as a bonus perk to attract/retain talent)
  • Don’t require employees to field emails and work calls during non-work hours
  • Consider allowing remote work (even a day a week makes a difference)

3. Millennials want to do work they believe in

millennial interests

Growing up, Millennials were told they could be whatever they wanted to be. Astronaut? Sure! Doctor? No problem! “Whatever you want to do, you can do it.”

As a result, Millennials are passionate about work—and we seek something impactful, meaningful, and that fulfills those dreams we were told to go after. We look for total satisfaction in the workplace, and when we can’t find it, we’re quick to leave. In fact, a recent study showed that Millennials only stay in jobs for an average of 18 months.

In comparison, Gen Xers and Boomers pride themselves on loyalty, strong work ethic, and know that a job isn’t going to provide total satisfaction (but it’s a necessary part of life.) So while it’s not that strong work ethic isn’t a Millennial value, the difference is that younger employees want those eight working hours during the work week to be something that provides serious satisfaction.

Tim, a web developer, gave some personal perspective on this Millennial value: “These days you have to really prove yourself when you start in order to stand out, and I think one thing our generation runs into a lot is that they demand too much immediately. Personally, I don’t mind working extra hours not only because I’m proving myself, but also because the harder I work, the more I learn and the more I learn the better I become.”

Takeaways: A Millennial values work as a source of complete satisfaction. Expectations are high, so don’t be surprised if they are quick to search for another role that better aligns with their goals not long after being hired. With this information, you can:

  • Find ways to use your young employees’ passion to generate quality work
  • Build loyalty by speaking to what drives them professionally (Ask the question: “What are you looking for in your work?”)

4. Millennials place high value on personal interests

millennial interests

Some of my colleagues and friends have bosses that are inflexible. For example, if someone needed to cut out a little early one day to make it to their softball league, there would be no understanding. The boss would be offended that they had even asked.

But having interests outside work that allow employees to express themselves, get other experiences, and meet new people is incredibly healthy. And because young employees place such high importance in being able to pursue these outside interests, the lack of flexibility in some instances is extremely frustrating. And besides, would you rather have employees that all go home and watch TV and movies on the couch after work until bed? Or would you rather have employees who are involved in sports, clubs, volunteering, music or other activities?

Take Amanda, for example. She’s a Gen Yer who works in the business/marketing field. She said, “The whole point of making a paycheck is to do the things I really want outside of work. I feel I do better work when I have time and space to decompress and be engaged in other things outside the office.”

So for her, the job is a means to pursue those personal interests, and the personal interests are what sit at objective #1. When the job becomes an inhibitor to objective #1, that’s when we see conflict, decreased job satisfaction, and sometimes, employee turnover.

The best bosses I’ve had are ones that support me both at work and outside of work. They know I have a life outside of work and when they are flexible, it shows they invest in me as an employee, but also as person.

Takeaways: If your Millennial employee needs you to be a little flexible to maintain their desired work/life balance, find a way to make it work for both parties. And don’t be afraid to invest in your employees outside of work, either. That might mean:

  • Instead of requiring a 9-5 schedule, allow a 7-3 or 10-6 workday. Or rather, focus more on performance measures. Put it this way, do you care more about if they are getting their work done well, or do you care more about how many hours are on their time card?
  • Invest in them outside of work: Attend employees’ stand-up comedy show, sporting event, concert or event they’re in.

5. Millennials thrive on creativity

Need some fresh eyes or a new perspective? Have a tough problem that needs a creative solution? Throw it to your Gen Yers! Because younger, less experienced employees aren’t often included in upper-management meetings, they may have a unique, semi-outside perspective that can be helpful when the usual team members are stuck.

Obviously, your Millennial employees aren’t always going to have a solution that works and addresses the complexities of a big-picture issue. But by including them in the conversation and letting them chime in every once in a while, you’re doing several things all at once:

  1. Mentoring/Coaching (which they value)
  2. Increasing organizational understanding
  3. Showing them you value their thoughts and
  4. Tapping into another skill set.

I asked Josh, who works in Communications at an information systems company, about how his company utilizes him as a resource. He said, “I sometimes am invited to management meetings and have more than once been able to give kind of an ‘Aha!’ idea for issues being discussed. The normal participants in that meeting were all on the same page, so my outside idea was from a different angle they hadn’t considered.”

Millennials value thinking outside the box, and are eager to impress their bosses. Why not harness that creative energy?


  • Utilize Gen Y employees as a creative tool
  • Invite them into scenarios where they can offer a unique perspective

6. Millennials want to work hard, but within reasonable hours

millennial values

The days I know I need to leave early, I tend to be a lot more productive. If I know I have to leave by 5:30 for band practice, and I have A, B and C to do, I make sure it gets done before I leave. So while sometimes bosses might think an employee cutting out early is actually bad for productivity, it can actually be quite the opposite. The limited time frame serves as a powerful motivator.

And it’s not that Millennials aren’t willing to put in the long days when the team needs to pull off an important task, but it feels good when that extra effort is recognized.

Kaleigh worked in PR for several years and discussed how she appreciated one boss’s understanding when it came to long days. “If we had a 14 hour day, our boss was always great about letting us come in a few hours later the next morning—and sometimes even offered a whole day off (without making us use a vacation day!)” she said.

While a good employee will never come out and ask for that extra time to be made up for, a good boss is one that rewards hard-working employees by trying to stick within the 40 hour work week when possible (especially for non-hourly staff.)


  • Use the flexible schedule as a deadline and motivator to boost productivity
  • Try to keep the work week to the standard 40 hours, and reward employees for hard work and long days

Your Gen Y employees don’t have to be an enigma. They’ve grown up seeing their parents work one way, and simply desire an alternative lifestyle—which happens with every generation. You’ve heard it from their very mouths: They value work/life balance and flexibility, want to think creatively, and appreciate when bosses respect their individual interests. Basically, the Millennial generation says Time > Money.

Your turn!

What questions do you still have for motivating your Gen Y employees? Do you feel that Millennial values are resulting unrealistic expectations?

Photo credits: Pic Jumbo, Death to Stock Photo, Ryan McGuire,  HomeSpot HQ,  opensourceway,  tofslie

Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. Clair Elise Belmonte says:

    As a millennial with Boomer tendencies, I really appreciate the care you put into this list. The most powerful points for me were the second and third. It frustrates me to no end that, just because a boss believes I will be awake at 11 p.m. on a weeknight, he or she believes it is appropriate to send me a time sensitive email. I feel that I am at an extreme disadvantage because, since I am eager to prove myself, my bosses know that I am extremely likely to respond – a trait that my family and friends certainly don’t appreciate.
    Additionally, I can’t imagine working for a company that held values I didn’t agree with. For example, as an adamant supporter of the book publishing industry and of locally owned bookstores, it is completely counterintuitive for me to apply for a job at Amazon, who is putting these bookstores out of business. Although a job is better than no job and I don’t consider the company itself to be problematic, I know I couldn’t do my best work there because I don’t agree with their approach.

    • I am SO sorry for the delay in response, Clair! Somehow I missed this in our comments section. I truly appreciate your response and so glad it resonated with you. I have several other colleagues who have bosses that expect them to be on call 24/7 to field who are trying to work their way up through the company, but if you don’t, it doesn’t look like you are showing commitment. It’s tough. :-/

      As for holding the same values — when employees align with the company’s values, you build a great culture, a place people really want to work, which is great all around. And I’m so glad that our generation is recognizing this and taking action instead of just talking about it!

  2. I really like this article and it supports much of what we have researched over the last 18 months. We are finding an increasing interest in managers wanting to understand and know how to lead Gen Y teams to be most productive. However it is not all about Traditionalists, Boomers and Gen X understanding Gen Yer’s it is about all of us understanding one another. When we include this as a core topic in management training for new managers – how a Gen Y manager or team leader has to take into account the likely values and beliefs of other generations besides GenY. Then they come out much better prepared to manage multi-generational teams. You may like to see our ebook:-

    • Loved the ebook! I thought you guys were pretty on-point with your evaluations. You noted about Generation Z, which I actually think Generation Y cuts off early 90s. They are much more frugal in terms of education decisions and future long-term decisions. My younger sister is apart of this group and I noticed a distinct difference between her and her friends in terms of their decision making for colleges and saving money. Thanks for stopping by, Mike! Hope to see you again soon.

  3. Ben, thanks for your thoughtful response! I think you have made some very valid points. I do believe there are some real distinguishing differences between some generations, but there are a TON of similar commonalities between generations. Also, I would love to know where you got that 13% stat of employees engaged in their work. I’ve never heard of the number being that low before — holy cow!

Speak Your Mind