News Release

February 17, 2017

Managing Millennials

Changing Perspectives for a Changing Workforce

Millennials, people born between 1979 and 1996, are projected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Understanding the preferences and desires of this emergent segment is therefore essential to recognising future workforce trends, and yet there appears to be no consensus on how to understand this population.

Millennials have certain needs that are the same for any generation entering the workforce for the first time. However, they also have unique needs that are shaped by technology, constant feedback (social media), changing workforce composition and a volatile economy.

Workforce and organisation design

The key word that keeps emerging throughout all of the reports on millennials is flexibility. In our most recent workforce mindset study, 60.3% of millennials cited having a flexible schedule as one of their top priorities. Likewise, millennials are hungry for promotions, which mean organisations can benefit from examining job titles, organisational structures and job levelling.

A changing workforce also will require new forms of communication, which will change the boundaries of work-life balance. This is a generation that is 'always on', with a growing interest in telecommuting. This will require organisations to reshape work communities around an out-of-office population who is used to communicating through technology and who wants regular feedback. New communication strategies will likely take the form of using text messaging, using personal devices, gamification systems and internal social media platforms such as yammer.

Acquisition and development

Millennials are significantly more concerned than other generations with having access to valuable career and/or development opportunities and cite development opportunities as key engagement drivers.

Millennials also have had to become savvier about hiring than other generations, having faced entry into the economy in the wake of the great recession. They have learned to use every hiring resource at their disposal, with 41% using employment-oriented websites such as LinkedIn. Organisations can continue to ensure that they are attracting the best talent pool by leveraging technology in their acquisition processes and being mindful of the brand's online presence.

Total rewards

Base pay isn't everything. In fact, millennials indicate that flexibility, incentives/bonus pay, benefits, work/life and well-being programs, as well as career and development are also top determinants of job satisfaction. This fact should not be misinterpreted as millennials being unconcerned with pay. They are. But a lot of millennials are experience driven, eager to enjoy their youth and are hoping to find jobs that accommodate their wide array of needs. Just as priorities change with age, so do interests. And, a lot of these younger employees are displaying total rewards preferences that are typical for an emergent generation.

Firms also should consider using recognition as a means to engage this new population. Traditional recognition programs were the least effective with millennials, with 23% of millennials describing their recognition program as ineffective. Nonetheless, the most effective recognition vehicles for millennials were handwritten notes, event tickets and a simple 'thank you' from peers, managers or other leaders.

According to our financial mindset study, there is mixed sentiment regarding millennials' financial outlook. 49% of millennials stated that they feel intimidated by financial matters. This population is also less likely to save for the future and consider retirement, but will strongly consider the value, meaningfulness and growth potential of their role. While younger millennials are more concerned with fun, established millennials are more concerned with empowerment.


Millennials want honest leaders that are both trustworthy and willing to give sincere feedback. In fact, our study of hourly millennials revealed that 83.8% of respondents voted trustworthiness as their primary concern. Millennials also value feedback more than any other generation, making mentorship an important component in leading millennials.

Organisations should also consider reverse mentorship, where millennials teach more senior employees about technology and acculturating senior leaders on new ideas, while millennials need role models from older generations who can teach the new entrants valuable lessons. Millennials are often more direct about their needs and can be surprisingly frank with their leaders, while current leaders may benefit from rethinking boundaries.


A changing workforce means a changing office environment. Millennials want to be engaged by their environment, which will require organisations to think about the entire work experience and how to actively engage employees. Employers should consider how workplaces may become more customisable to meet the changing needs of its talent. Although not all organisations require environmental makeovers, it's important to consider the changing needs of the workforce.

An actively engaged workforce in our engagement model – that is one that "Says" good things about their company, "Stays" at their company and "Strives" to give their best efforts to help organisations succeed, delivers superior results. Indeed, Aon Hewitt's global employee engagement index rose from 62% to 65% a significant improvement over the past year, although on the African continent it deteriorated 3 percentage points.

Future business success depends on balancing business objectives while meeting the changing needs of the workforce. These two objectives are not mutually exclusive but actually supportive of each other.

Aon's Talent Reward and Performance Practice provides' a simple yet effective framework for helping your organisation to adapt to the growing millennial population. Finding organisational design, acquisition, rewards, leadership, engagement and culture solutions to the changing generational composition of the workforce will be the key to future success, especially here on the continent.

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