As employees and members of your team, Millennials are keen to engage in meaningful work and less motivated by the minutiae of post-college, entry-level positions. They want to be judged on the content of their presentations, not the prettiness of their Powerpoint slides.
Millennials are a crucial group to engage with in the workplace, since over half of them are 18+, and they will represent 35% of the Adult US Population (ages 18+) in 2022.
In the past ten years, working with teams of Millennials who have one to five years of work experience, I’ve noticed trends unique to these young adults. I work in consulting, which tends to attract a certain “Type A” undergraduate, just as it has for the past thirty years.
As a business analyst, it might be typical that 80% of the Millennial’s time is spent analyzing data and building models with Excel and developing presentations in Powerpoint. For perspective, while the work on model building and analysis has remained fairly constant over the past twenty years, the time spent on Powerpoint has increased dramatically. This means that much less time is spent in the areas of hypothesis generation, synthesis, team meetings and integrated thinking. These higher-level thinking areas are ones that Millennials value as meaningful. In classes and extracurriculars, they have typically held multiple leadership positions and worked in teams. To suddenly feel shut out from the process of arriving at integrated conclusions with others in a team setting can be jarring to them.
Recently, two extremely talented and driven Millennials, who I have worked with for years and respect, shared that the feedback they receive on their work often disproportionately concerns the attractiveness of their Powerpoint charts. One commented:
“I was recruited for my analytical skills, with an engineering undergraduate degree and an MBA from Booth. When I asked about the assumptions underlying the financial model we were using, I was told not to question it. The feedback I received was about the appearance of the Powerpoint lines, their position on the page and the color. While I understand that a polished presentation is important to the firm’s brand, the lack of interest in engaging on the analytics behind the model was a turnoff.”
“The work that I am given is not challenging, and the only feedback is about the thickness of the lines in Powerpoint. I can’t wait to leave to get my MBA.”
While I agree with the need for professional-looking work, these comments made me wonder how much management time in corporations is spent on color and font size in Powerpoint. It appears that this is the mark of ‘quality thinking’ -- not the content of the material, the strategy, or even the underpinnings of the model. A few years ago, the military realized this was an issue; I wonder if corporate America has the same problem.
Millennials who I have worked with tell me that some of the most meaningful work experiences they have had were in focus group debriefs (where we discuss what we’ve learned in the focus groups, which is often a new experience for Millennials), in team meetings where we discuss hypotheses, findings, and client questions, and in interacting directly with clients to understand their needs and questions.
One of my greatest pleasures in recent years has been working with and mentoring Millennial young adults. Much has been said about their collaboration and ability to work in teams. Much has also been said about their lack of humility and unwillingness to climb the corporate ladder in traditional ways. I find these complaints to be, in the most part, a generational misunderstanding. In my experience, Millennials are eager to engage in work they find meaningful, like actual problem-solving. The challenge for companies employing Millennials now and in the future will be to connect meaning to the tasks at hand.