Millennials in the Workplace: Investing in a Generation

Behavioral Health News, Summer 2019
By Colleen Beagen, Vice President, Director of Human Resources

Millennials are now the largest age demographic in the country and the fastest-growing cohort in the workforce. Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is projected that by the end of next year millennials will make up 47 percent of the employees in the workplace, and five years later they will exceed 75 percent of the entire workforce. Given these statistics, it benefits organizations to tap into what motivates and appeals to this demographic in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Workplace trends and research on the millennial generation (generally categorized as born between 1981 and 1996), find that one of the most important characteristics for this age group is that they are primed to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back, being civically engaged, having opportunities for social impact, and making a difference are their priorities.

Purpose over paycheck

They don’t just work for a paycheck, they work for a purpose. That millennials are driven to be socially engaged is good news for behavioral health care providers.

When we asked our millennial staff members why they chose to work for Odyssey House, their responses were on target with workplace trends for their generation. When accounts payable specialist Wendolin Pantaleon graduated from college with a BA in Accounting, she hoped to work for an organization where she could make a “meaningful impact in her community.” She would pass by Odyssey House facilities in the South Bronx on her way home from college and was interested in pursuing opportunities to give back in her neighborhood. For Wendolin, presented with a choice of potential employers, she chose an organization with a reputation for investing in local services and investing in its workforce.

Other trends show the millennial employee is very interested in feedback on his or her performance. Millennials have received adult feedback throughout their earlier years. They’ve often had close involvement from parents in their education and individual support and encouragement from teachers and mentors at school. The contrast can be jarring when they arrive at their first professional position and suddenly only get traditional semi-annual or annual reviews. For them it’s too infrequent, they crave feedback, good and bad.

At Odyssey House, we have supervision schedules where employees are given feedback on a consistent basis. They receive formal supervision up to twice a month, depending on their job title, and more than that if necessary. Along with tuition reimbursement allowances, employees who are pursuing further education, advanced degrees, certifications or licenses receive additional structured supervision from a certified instructor.

Teamwork and engagement

Another key workplace expectation for this generation is an emphasis on teamwork. Many millennials have grown up under parenting styles that supported empowerment, where the kids were included in family decision-making. Now, as they enter the early stages of their careers, millennial employees look for employment with organizations that foster an employee-driven decision-making process. Not only do they want to share responsibility and decision-making, they want to discuss their ideas and be taken seriously as problem solvers.

When Elizabeth Gary found out Odyssey House was looking for social workers to work with pregnant women and mothers with infants at its newly renovated Family Center on Ward’s Island, she was excited to be a part of a family-focused service. For her, the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Families program that brings extended family members into the recovery process and provides young mothers with continuity of care after completion of residential treatment was a therapeutic approach that made sense and inspired her to apply to an organization that she says “has progressive programs where what I do has a meaningful impact and makes a difference every day.”

Adding to the sense of purpose she derives from her work with families, Elizabeth said she is further motivated by having a voice in the creation of the program. “Everyone asks me my opinion, and it’s really great to be encouraged to have input.”

Investing in technology

Up-to-date technology is an essential requirement when attracting and keeping millennials. This generation has grown up in the digital age. They have been exposed to technology and innovation from childhood and are comfortable navigating social media and adapting to new technologies and applications quickly and fluently. They expect organizations to stay current with workplace technology and invest in applications and training that take advantage of their digital skillset.

Shared values, shared purpose

Meaningful work, engagement in decision-making, investment in technology, opportunities for professional advancement through education and training, and flexible schedules are more important to millennials than traditional benefits of job security, a pension, or guaranteed retirement.

For millennials like Elizabeth and Wendolin, making a difference and being engaged in socially-minded services are qualities Odyssey House is proud to value and share with its employees.