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Millennials: they don’t just want a paycheck; they want a purpose

Introducing the “Talentsumer”

A generational shift in the workforce and changing conditions have produced workers with different values, desires, and expectations than their predecessors. Today’s Talentsumers came of age in a consumer-friendly atmosphere, in which they grew to expect and insist on responsiveness to their needs in the workplace to the same level of respect and attention. These job candidates, employees, contractors, and freelancers may have enjoyed more flexibility and open communication from their parents than earlier generations, and so they project these desires on the employer who might engage a majority of their time.

Bruce Morton
Bruce Morton

Because workers today face shorter tenures, less job stability, higher expectations, expenses, and potentially longer lives than those who came before them, they have a list of urgent demands. Talentsumers prefer to work for employers who meet their need to:

  • Build skills and expand the types of work they can take on
  • Work on projects with a start and end—not BAU
  • Receive frequent feedback and coaching from inspiring leaders
  • Get continuous training, development and visible paths toward promotion
  • Enjoy a flexible hiring status and work hours

Respondents of a recent survey we conducted perceived four areas of the greatest concern to those looking to find work with one company versus another:

  • Offering more developmental opportunities
  • Providing ongoing feedback and coaching from managers
  • Encouraging collaboration among employees
  • Recognizing and rewarding high performance

As workers in other age groups have seen the benefits of these conditions, they, of course, want them too. So, gradually, the key people that employers pursue have become Talentsumers. We want ways to enrich our lives, and in return, we contribute to the task at hand, the overall culture, and the company’s success. Everyone wins!

Before you discount the value of accommodating workers’ new attitudes toward work, remember that we no longer have the luxury of an “employer’s market.” Even as far back as 2015, a survey of three hundred HR professionals by Human Capital Institute and Allegis Global Solutions showed that the candidate, not the employer, now holds the power in hiring negotiations.The majority of respondents reported having shifted their hiring strategies, such as increasing starting salaries, due to higher turnover for key roles and a longer time to fill a greater volume of open positions. The candidate is now well and truly in the driver’s seat, and we had better hand them the keys.

Let’s consider more deeply why these things may have grown in importance for up-and-coming generations. Consider the world they will inhabit. Barring a cataclysm, the human population will continue to grow, and competition for resources and the work that provides them will as well. Throw the effects of climate change into the mix, and they’ll see even more competition for organic resources. The rural-to-urban trend will probably leave fewer jobs in outlying areas and create more in cities, where dense populations will vie for them, yet employers still may not be able to fully staff up from local pools. Travel or remote work will increase. And since the employment scene will be volatile, job stability will degrade even further from the thirty-years-and-a-gold-watch standard than it already has.

That’s not enough? At the same time, according to the Human Mortality Database, people will be living longer lives. Half of all babies born from this point onward in developed nations are expected to live past one hundred years.Yet, we continue to pursue our working lives as our parents and grandparents have done—enjoying a single major career path to a certain age, say sixty-two or sixty-five, and then retiring on money previously saved and invested. How many people in current and future generations will be able to afford retirement barely halfway through their lives? How many will be forced to change jobs or careers many times and start over building skills, income, and future plans?

In answer, today’s Talentsumers want to be able to appeal to a variety of employers in more than one niche. So, they seek to associate with companies that provide continuing education, training, and support for the work they are doing— real opportunities to push themselves and develop new skills and interests. Given the future of sixty-plus years in the

Our job candidates and employees want the right to guide their working lives into new territory. They’re serious about it. If they’re with you now, they want the tools to perform a cost-benefit analysis of how their investment in you is paying off. If they’re considering joining your team, they’ll want information at their disposal to help them gauge the potential relationship, on their terms. Think about how you can answer the big questions that will help them plot the return on their investment, such as:

  • How much and how fast can I learn?
  • How challenging, rewarding, and exciting does the work remain?
  • How much of my time is spent doing great and important work?
  • How much personal success do I achieve—however I choose to define success?
  • How easy is it for me to achieve what you ask?
  • How easy is it to achieve what I want?
  • How well, or poorly, do you use the assets I provide?

These are not necessarily “new” human desires. They are simply louder iterations of fundamental needs that are intrinsic to our nature. We hear plenty of business leaders lauding the work of Daniel Pink, a business writer and thinker who determined that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are all elements of fulfilment that motivate and engage workers and we want to think that our organizations provide opportunities in those areas. But how accessible are they? How easy is it for our employees to structure their workdays (autonomy), excel in their roles (mastery), and contribute to something larger than just quotas and deadlines (purpose)? In the midst of those pursuits, how easy do we make it for them to do their jobs really well and do their very best work?

The other shift in younger-generation employees is a natural extension of the work/life balance debate. Now that the majority of people are always connected and, therefore, always with work on their minds, they rightly feel the separation of work and life is bogus. This is what lies beneath the movement toward creating more holistic and satisfying company cultures. Yes, great culture helps businesses financially, and this trickles up or down to employees. But workers now understand that they contribute their personal as well as professional gifts to employment. The equation demands that they then receive a measure of their personal satisfaction from the arrangement.

Much of appealing to the Talentsumer mentality is connected with cultural improvement. So is the endeavour of optimizing our workforces and work processes. We should be looking to revolutionize all of this now, so that we don’t fall behind the steady march of technology and changing demographics and values. A vast break with the past is here, whether we like it or not.

Bruce Morton, Workforce Design and Talent Acquisition Expert and author of Redesigning the Way Work Works, available on Amazon