“There’s No App for That”: How Millennials Are Making Their Mark on the Workplace

Group of Millennial workers in a coop


Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
May 23, 2024 at 9:23PM UTC

From dating to binge-watching TV, Millennials have grown up in a world of instant gratification.

“Everything you want you can have instantaneously,” Simon Sinek, an organizational consultant, author, and motivational speaker, says. “Except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that.”

Some Millennials have been in the workforce for more than 15 years, while others are relatively new to the job environment. (Roughly speaking, Millennials comprise the generation born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s.) As Millennials navigate the world of work, their pasts are catching up to them: they are learning that there’s no participation medal in the real world. So how does this generation, which came of age during the advent of many of the technological advances upon which we rely today and were often told they were special (according to Sinek) make it work at work?

Sinek says patience is key—and so is good leadership. Read on to learn all about Millennials in the workplace—how they work, what they bring to their companies, how they can thrive, and how other generations can succeed by working with them. 

Where Millennials Work

It probably comes as no surprise that Millennials are eager to find new opportunities. According to LinkedIn data, millennials are 50 percent more likely to relocate and 16 percent more likely to change industries than members of other generations. For job-hoppers, tech, healthcare, and finance are the top industries where Millennials are most likely to end up. 

Yahoo! Small Business identifies healthcare, manufacturing, retail and wholesale, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business as the industries in which the most Millennials are working. Of course, these industries encompass a wide array of roles and specialties.

As with other generations, Millennials can thrive in a range of environments. However, a Small Business Trends survey finds that 48 percent of Millennials hope to join the startup culture. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the ones at the helm, though. Entrepreneurship is actually lower among its members compared with previous generations, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. However, Thompson also notes that we could see a boom of Millennial entrepreneurship in years to come. 

How Many Millennials Are in the Workforce

As of 2017, there were 56 million Millennials working or looking for work according to Pew Research Center. They represent more than one-third of workers in the United States, which makes them the largest current working generation. 

The Census Bureau projects that the Millennial population will peak at 75 million, meaning they are unlikely to surpass the record number of Baby Boomers in the workplace—66 million in 1997.

Problems with Millennials in the Workplace

According to Sinek, the baggage Millennials bring to the workplace is not strictly their fault. “Too many of them grew up with—not my words—failed parenting strategies,” he notes. “They were told that they could have anything they want in life, just because they want it.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean Millennials are entitled in the workplace, but it could mean they feel dejected and often struggle with work issues and environments because they don’t know how to navigate real-world problems on their own. “In an instant, they find out they’re not special,” Sinek says. “Your entire self-image is just shattered.”

With low self-esteem that results from not having learned proper coping skills, Millennials may have trouble finding meaningful work, as well as dealing with setbacks in the workplace. And because they struggle with patience—after all, they grew up in a world of instant gratification—they may be unable to wait for the payoff of building skills and gaining experience and thus are eager to jump from job to job rather than waiting to climb the ladder at their current workplaces.

A frequent complaint among Generation X and Baby Boomers is that Millennials are overly reliant on social media. This, Sinek says, goes hand-in-hand with their lack of strong coping skills. Facebook and Instagram allow us to “put filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is amazing even though I’m depressed.”

The dopamine surge we get when we receive a text or like on Facebook is addictive—and it is a double-edged sword. We are depressed when our posts don’t get the response we want, and we’re less engaged with commitments like work because we’re so easily distracted by technology. It’s not uncommon for Millennials to bring phones and laptops to meetings or check Facebook several times throughout the workday—which can affect productivity and make them appear less engaged.

What Millennials Want in a Company Culture

Millennials bring different experiences, perspectives, and personalities to the workplace, which impacts the way everyone does business, given that they comprise a large portion of the working world. Here are some qualities many Millennials want from their work environments:

1. Flexibility

A 2017 Gallup survey revealed that 43 percent of employed Americans spent at least some time working remotely. Millennials want flexibility in where and how they work. And that includes the hours during which they actually do their work.

A study by Bentley University shows that 77 percent of Millennials believe they would be more productive at work if their work hours were more flexible—outside of the traditional 9 to 5 grind. In fact, the same study reveals that 89 percent of the generation regularly checks its email outside of traditional working hours.

To learn more about how to make working remotely work for you, check out Legitimate Work From Home Jobs That'll Make You Never Want to Go Back to the OfficeWork From Home Companies: 13 Sites to Find Remote Jobs, and Your 9-Step Guide To Making Work From Home Jobs Work For You.

2. Work-Life Balance

Along with their desire for flexibility in the workplace are Millennials’ close connections with their families and support systems. As many Millennials start families of their own and remain connected to their parents and other loved ones, they seek out perhaps an even greater work-life balance than that of previous generations such as Gen X and the Baby Boomers. 

The distinctions between work and personal time are also less clear for Millennials than those of their predecessors. Given how Millennials prefer not to adhere to traditional 9-5 hours, they might be checking their emails or performing work tasks late at night or on weekends.

3. Meaning

Perhaps more than previous generations, Millennials hope to make an impact on the world. Thirty percent of Millennials say meaningful work is important to them, according to the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. The idea of “meaningful work,” of course, is open to interpretation. For some, it means feeling passionate about their work. Others value purpose-driven workplaces and businesses that strive to promote issues like social justice.

4. Communication

While it may seem like Millennials are constantly glued to their phones, in actuality, they value face-to-face communication at work. A study by Millennial Branding and American Express found that 62 percent of those surveyed preferred in-person meetings with their managers over other forms of communication. Furthermore, the study found that Millennials want frequent feedback about how they are performing and believe a mentoring relationship would help them contribute better to their companies. 

5. Strong Leadership

“Corporate environments aren’t helping [Millennials] build their confidence,” Simon Sinek says. That doesn’t mean Millennials can’t succeed at corporations, but as Sinek continues, they need strong leadership in order to do their best. After all, this is the generation that needs encouragement and support to succeed. 

What does it mean to be a good leader? According to a survey conducted by Virtuali and Work Place Trends, 50 percent of Millennials believe it’s the empowerment of others. A survey from Future Workplace found that Millennials want management to listen to their ideas and allow them to really contribute. That means in order to keep employees around, leaders need to allow their employees to participate and make an impact—along with providing them with the flexibility, work-life balance, meaning, and communication they crave.

Millennials in the Workplace: The Impact

As the largest generation in the workforce, Millennials are making their impact on workplaces and companies everywhere. As more Millennials are moving into leadership roles, they are also influencing the way other generations work. And they’re not going away anytime soon. The Governance Studies at Brookings report “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America” projects that Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, which means the odds of working for a Millennial or having a Millennial employee are quite high, to say the least. 

As Millennials redefine work roles, trends are shifting with them. Remote work is becoming normalized, technology could create more, not fewer, jobs, and freelance work may be the path forward, according to Stephane Kasriel of Upwork. That means more opportunities for both Millennials and members of other generations, with the largest generation in the workforce leading the trends and making their mark.

To learn more about Millennials in the workplace, read Millennials in the Workforce: 5 Positive Changes They're Making and Why We Should Embrace Millennials' Work Ethic.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always