Closing the gap between millennials and organisations

Career development, work-life balance, coaching and ethical values – these are the factors millennials care about in the workplace.

This generational cohort, often defined as those born between 1983 and 1994, will make up half of the global workforce by 2050, according to a survey conducted by PwC.

Going from merely a buzzword to something requiring a strategic roadmap, organisations need to figure out how to retain and keep millennials engaged. More importantly though, they’ll need to put an emphasis on how they communicate their values and define their culture.

With millennials already in some senior positions, organisations are having to take a hard look at what they offer and how they communicate.


Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2018 stated that if their values are not met “the vast majority of millennials are prepared to move, and move quickly, for a better workplace experience”.

The survey highlights a worrying turnaround as opinions of business reached their lowest level in four years.

More than ten thousand millennials were surveyed across 36 countries about their attitudes to work, including for the first time, the generation behind them, Gen Z. Deloitte defines Gen Z as those born from 1995 onwards.

Millennials recognise profit is “necessary and a priority,” but they also believe in a broad balance of business objectives:

  • Making a positive impact on society and the environment
  • Creating innovative ideas, products and services
  • Job creation, career development and improving people’s lives
  • An emphasis on inclusion and diversity in the workplace

The survey also found that organisational diversity and a diverse senior leadership team positively influence employee loyalty.

In a previous Templar blog post, we looked at research by The Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the International Coach Federation (ICF), which highlighted that millennials want coaches not bosses to help them achieve their career goals, and how this will require a shift in mindset from employers, who have generally reserved coaching for senior executives.


According to the survey, millennials and Gen Z have an overwhelming desire for career growth and purpose. Yes, most employees have a desire to learn and feel valued for the work they contribute to an organisation, but for millennials, it’s non-negotiable.

We know from research that a sense of purpose at work and in life results in higher levels of output and overall well-being.

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak, in his book, The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, looks at how the “love hormone” oxytocin is released during social bonding and how this can be used strategically to create high-performing organisations.

Zak, looks into how increasing employee trust ultimately leads to an increase in the performance of the organisation. “People will work hard if they feel what they’re doing is important and the people around them depend on them.” Zak said in an interview.

Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Dieners, found that an increase in employee happiness led to better well-being, work performance, job satisfaction, better productivity, creativity and mental health.

Dr Martin Seligman, often referred to as the founder of Positive Psychology, designed the PERMA (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement) model which comprises of five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. With a focus on overall well-being, this model can also be used by organisations to create frameworks to drive levels of employee happiness.

An understanding of what it takes to make humans thrive helps to set a framework aimed at building a flourishing team underpinned by purpose and value-driven performance.

What can organisations do?

A disconnect between employees and organisations takes place when there is a separation between written values of the organisation versus its lived values and behaviours.

Many executives avoid working on their firms’ purpose. Why? Because it defies what they have learned in business schools and, perhaps, in subsequent experience: that work is fundamentally contractual, and employees will seek to minimize personal costs and effort. – Creating a Purpose-Driven Organisation, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018

According to the article, Tony Meola, the recently retired Bank of America head of US consumer operations, was described as an excellent example of  “change is signalled from the top, and then it unfolds from the bottom”.

“Treating operational excellence as a destination and allowing no other pressures to distract from it” became his department’s purpose, which in turn translated into operational skills and leadership in training and development, and as a result, their purpose guided their division’s decision-making.

“When you hold it constant like that, when you never waver, amazing things happen. The purpose sinks into the collective conscience. The culture changes, and the organisation begins to perform at a higher level,” Meola said.

All leaders and boards will need a more developed sense of emotional intelligence (also known as ‘emotional quotient’, or EQ) in order to truly understand the role of the organisation beyond profit, and to be able to tap into the thoughts and feelings of their workforce. Since only 48% of millennials believe that businesses behave ethically, authenticity and the softer side of leadership become even more important.

Templar co-founder Joseph Bikart explains: “The frontier between hard and soft skills is becoming increasingly blurred. Our clients often comment their ‘soft skills have become the new hard skills’. Having the greatest of expertise in one area is almost pointless,  if you are not able to make a persuasive case to your clients and employees, and connect with them at an emotional level, beyond the mere rationale”.

American psychologist and author Daniel Goleman explained in his Harvard Business Review article, What Makes a Leader?,  that EQ enables leaders “to maximise their own and their followers’ performance.”

He emphasises the need for “great leaders to move us”.

“They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. The reality is much more primal: great leadership works through the emotions. Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest—not just in tangibles such as better business results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.”


“People rise in organisations because of their hard skills and fall due to a dearth of soft skills.” – Professor M.S. Rao

In his annual letter to shareholders, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, revealed a stronger emphasis on storytelling by banning PowerPoint in meetings. He called it a move to a “narrative structure” where insight is shared in six-page memos and where everyone will be required to read before the start of a meeting.

Templar consultant Paul Minx, who spent over 18 years in senior positions in global financial service firms, including Head of Leadership and Talent Development at Morgan Stanley, explains the importance of storytelling and how it’s one of the best ways to spread your ideas more effectively.

“Stories harness the same power you use when watching a great movie, writing a Facebook post about your holiday or telling your child a story before going to sleep. They enable us to link our experience with meaning for our own self and a sense of shared meaning with others. We all need to find out what comes next.”

Storytelling is by far one of the more undervalued skills in leadership and career progression.

A study from MIT Sloan School of Management surveyed new MBA students with the aim of finding out which communications skills they hope to master and how today’s workers interact.

“By far, students want to get better at presenting. What I hear from students in the classroom is that when they see leaders in an organization, one thing that consistently impresses them is a leader’s ability to communicate verbally. They feel the gap between where they are now and those leaders,” MIT Sloan lecturer Miro Kazakoff said.

It’s not surprising that a tech-savvy generation feel as though they lack and want more communication and leadership training. They often end up not properly developing other skills besides being digital natives.  A survey by Bank of America found that 39% of millennials  interact more with their smartphones than they do with their co-workers, friends or family.

To combat a soft skills deficit affecting hiring teams and millennials wanting career progression, organisations should make it a priority to equip both current and future leaders with the skills they need to thrive.

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