Finding the Right Fit – Millennials in the Workplace

Finding the Right Fit – Millennials in the Workplace


Today, the labor force is spread out fairly evenly across the three generational pools as Baby Boomers delay retirement. Statistically, the total working population breaks down to 33 percent Millennials (ages 20-30), 32 percent Gen Xers (ages 31-50) and 31 percent Baby Boomers (ages 51-70), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. By 2020, the Millennials will increase to 40 percent of the total working population, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, this number will rise to a staggering 75 percent by 2030. These numbers alone drive top companies to take notice and understand what these groups are looking for from their employers and what motivates them in order to recruit and retain top talent. Focus initially is to the up-and-coming Millennial generation. According to the Pew Research Center’s “Social & Demographic Trends,” there are many misconceptions about Millennials, mostly because their actions are misunderstood.


Millennials are thought to change jobs frequently. Many do, but research reveals that it is to find the right fit. The majority of Millennials value job security more than any other generational group, including the Boomers, according to Pew. Financial security is essential or very important to 95 percent of Millennials, but they won’t stay at a job they don’t like, according to Rutgers’ “Net Impact Talent Report—What Workers Want in 2012.” The Rutgers report found that 92 percent of working Millennials queried feel like they are contributing to a company that is making a positive impact in the world. The ones who don’t are probably looking for another job. Millennials surveyed consistently stated it is essential or highly important that the company they work for is supportive of their

values; with 59 percent reporting they are willing to take a position with 15 percent less pay in order to obtain a job where they make an impact, according to the Rutgers report. This should not be interpreted to mean that Millennials do not value compensation. Because of their high degree of connectivity, Millennials tend to stay the most up-to-date with the current compensation range for a position. They consider it a lack of respect or devaluing of their worth if their compensation starts to lag the norm unless they see their employer as having high values with a

platform to allow them to make a difference with their work. Three things consistently stood out when this generation reported on what they considered the most important attributes in their job over various surveys, such as the Pew Report referenced above and The Liberty Group’s, “Survey of College Students and On Site Multifamily Employees.”

  • Positive company environment/culture
  • Competitive compensation
  • Upward mobility/defined career path

At first glance, this does not seem radically different from other generations, but the Millennial’s priorities can be significantly different than earlier generations based on different needs. They are slower than previous generations to get married and have children and have less desire to own “things” such as a car or home as long as they have access to them, according to Pew. According to the Liberty Group survey, when multifamily housing-employed Millennials were queried about unusual benefits they would value the most, the top-rated was corporatenegotiated employee discounts with vendors providing a range of goods and services. The least valued benefit was the availability of healthy snacks in vending machines. Of honorable mention, pet insurance made the list of valuable benefits.


Technology, not surprisingly, was high on the list of priorities. The Millennial generation is sometimes referred to as “digital natives,” because they have never known a world without computers, the Internet and digital communication. They have always had information at their fingertips and will be frustrated with systems that still rely heavily on reports sitting in a file cabinet or at someone’s desk. Millennials have a high comfort level with new technology, both hardware and software. They want to be part of a company that supports their employees with an innovative work environment and current equipment, viewing these items as essential tools necessary to do their job.

If a company is looking to upgrade technology, it would be a wise move to include a Millennial in the decision-making process. They are quick to recognize shortcuts and opportunities for efficiency and can become frustrated with working harder instead of smarter.


A Millennial’s concept of communication and friends are different from previous generations. They are the first generation to grow up with “social networking.” As a result, 83 percent are “always on,” sleeping with a cell phone next to them, according to Pew. The resulting impact is the line starts to blur between work and friends. Sixty-four percent of Millennials will inquire about your social media policy somewhere in the hiring process, according to Charlie Osborne’s July 10, 2012, ZdNet article, “Managing Millennials: Priorities in the Modern Workplace.”

They want to feel comfortable in their work environment and lean more toward a work-life blend in contrast to the work-life balance of those from Generation X. Millennials want to feel “at home” within their work groups and value the interpersonal bonds built within the workplace. According to data collected by PGI, they want to work with people they care about (and who care about them) with 71 percent of Millennials reporting they want their co-workers to be like a “second family,” according to the aforementioned Seattle Times article. The No. 1 reason given by Millennials queried in the multifamily industry for turnover was a lack of appreciation/recognition from their supervisor followed closely by an undesirable working environment, according to the Liberty Group. This strong preference for a more relaxed environment could be interpreted as a casual attitude toward work, but this would

prove to be an incorrect assumption. From childhood, Millennials were raised to be achievement-oriented and this is a core part of their makeup. They see a collaborative environment as the way to deliver the best solution to a problem in the shortest amount of time and they value efficiency. Millennials also value growth and learning.

Their work ethic as a group has been questioned, yet nearly 95 percent of Millennials reported that they are willing to go beyond what is asked of them at work, according to Chief Learning Officer’s May 2014 article, “Millennials—Separating Fact from Fiction.” This willingness, however, is often tied to their perception of how they are viewed by their managers. When Millennials believe they are respected and where they understand their contributions to the overall goals and objectives of the workplace, they are more likely to demonstrate their own commitment in return. If they feel their manager does not have an interest in their growth and development, there is less inclination to stay. Seventy-five percent of Millennials say they want to have mentors and view it as crucial for success, according to Rutgers. They want feedback to improve their job performance. Millennials have grown up with coaching and see this as an important resource.

Attracting Talent

It is often said that the secret to engaging Millennials is in effective communication. Millennials like their communication contextualized. Based on research, it would seem prudent to utilize the marketing savvy that multifamily housing companies employ to attract residents from this generation to also attract candidates from the same age group. A company with a branded image as a top property management company with attractive apartments at a reasonable price may lose in the talent war to a company who speaks “Millennial,” clearly stating the goals around how they do business.

Review any ecological processes that the company is implementing which could range from more efficient HVAC units to environmentally-friendly cleaning products, from efficient lighting to solar panels and market this to hiring candidates. This type of candidate will be attracted by the “sizzle” of a company’s mission of providing quality housing while maintaining a small carbon footprint. A job description could include the company’s commitment to finding new and improved ways of providing eco-friendly housing and services that support and enhance lifestyles while embracing “the green.” Additional benefit could be gained by explaining the organization’s goal to find the creative talent needed to make the world a better place. Companies with any LEED certifications on properties could gain additional value by making this highly visible to applicants. Additionally, many multifamily housing companies are active participants in their local apartment association and the many community causes led by the associations. Revising the information shared with potential candidates to increase the visibility of company community support in the interviewing process will make the company more attractive to a Millennial candidate.

What Some Companies are Doing Pinnacle.

Woody StoneWoody Stone is Executive Vice President-Eastern Division for Pinnacle, currently the third-largest property management company. He feels strongly about the impact its employees make. “With any candidate, I am a big believer in helping them understand how they can make a difference. In our business, we have a real opportunity to impact lives,” Stone says. “Our attention to detail and our genuine care for those who live in our buildings has a lasting impact on their lives. We truly have an opportunity to impact the trajectory of the lives of our residents. This opportunity resonates with Millennials who are driven by the greater good. This is a phenomenal generational attribute, and great companies will authentically embrace the chance to make a difference with the help of this generation. “With over 3,000 employees, we certainly have had a few offt the-wall requests for unusual benefits, but we have had some great ones too. One request we field often, and which we are adopting, is providing paid time for our team members to give back to the community. Third-party management makes this challenging, but we love that our teams are passionate about their communities and want to make a difference. We are always looking for ways to help our teams do this.” Allied-Orion Group.

Pamela McGlashenFlex hours are what is asked for the most often, says Pamela McGlashen, President of the Allied- Orion Group, the 10th-largest affordable housing management company in the country.

“This is difficult in our industry, but we are trying some different tactics to help this group adapt to our industry,” she says. “Millennials want to invest their time acquiring skills and knowledge to grow professionally. We are looking at different methods of training to not only keep them engaged but to keep them inspired! This group must be inspired in order to stay focused. One study shows that 75 percent of the respondents believed their organization could do more to develop future leaders of the organization. “As this has always been a part of our core values, we are tapping in to more inspired leadership training and staying away from ‘same-old, same-old’ training. As this group is interested in leadership positions, we are going to be focusing more training on how to become a great leader and holding very unique events that allow the Millennials to get inspired to be our next group of leaders!”

Prometheus Real Estate Group.

Terri Lynn CadonaThe largest private owner of multifamily housing properties in the San Francisco Bay Area, Prometheus’ Senior Vice President of Human Resources Terri Lynn Cardona says what is important to attracting Millennials is being able to offer them the perks and benefits that come from her company’s culture. “Of all generations, Millennials really want to be part of something bigger than just their job,” she says. “Currently, 75 percent of our field workforce is Millennial.” Prometheus has a culture where it uses think tanks to address such things as its “Neighbor Experience” (Prometheus refers to its residents as “neighbors”). “We make sure our Town Hall meetings (called “Call from HOME” at Prometheus) continually showcase how what each person does contributes to the larger organization and even more important, community,” she says. Many of the top leadership spots at Prometheus are held by Baby Boomers who believe “you have to earn your stripes to move up,” Cardona says. “We have to acknowledge that the next role a Millennial wants might need to come sooner than a Boomer would want to offer it. What I mean is, for example, we recently needed help in IT at our HelpDesk for a few weeks to cover a leave of absence. Rather than go find a temp in IT, we went to our ‘ranks’ and found a staff member who could bring her operations insight to the role. Talk about a win-win: She demonstrated great capabilities.” Cardona says demonstrating innovative technology “every step of the way” in the hiring process leaves a strong impression.

The company also allows its Millennials to use Facebook to interact with its residents and write responses on Yelp, among other things. “We have a culture of family at Prometheus,” she says. “We continue to work hard together and play hard together. We let teams form to do many things such as participate in our volunteer program, Our Front Porch, where our teams work in local communities, at causes they want to contribute to.”

Prometheus also acknowledges that Millennials are “focused on taking care of their world,” she says. “So we have a team made up of our Prometheans, leading the way internally focused on our ecological practices. We recycle all of our appliances through a vendor partnership, have community gardens, have several LEED certified builds and hold paperless meetings.”

Lincoln Property Company.

Sheri KillingsworthSheri Killingsworth, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Lincoln Property Company, currently the second-largest multifamily management company, shares, “Several of our company regions are currently using social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and attending career fairs to attract applicants. We try to showcase a fun workplace, providing the proper technology, willingness to be flexible with work hours as much as possible, and most importantly, showing them a roadmap to the growth of their career. The roadmap to growth is probably the most important, given that they want to know how fast they can move up the ladder to a managerial or executive position,” she continues.

Millennial applicants definitely want to know about policies, benefits and perks, Killingsworth says. “We’ve had applicants ask for flex hours due to other jobs or evening classes to continue their education and they tend to ask for, and expect, a higher salary than generations before. Millennials are also looking for all companies to be like Google in a sense that the workplace should offer creative workspaces, allow for casual attire, and provide relaxation or recreation areas on site. They also want everything to be digital and cringe at the thought of paperwork…as a lot of us do! “Some of our Millennial applicants are looking for minimal responsibilities after hours and do not want to work overtime or late. Many are looking for work-from-home options which is applicable for some positions. Finally, they are looking for free or highly discounted housing since they are working in the multifamily housing industry.”

Value Adds

Multifamily housing companies have a wide range of parameters, based on ownership and portfolio makeup. This can make some items such as flexible hours and increased time off difficult to impossible for a company to assimilate into their budgets and processes quickly, if at all.

However, two possibilities stand out as low-cost, quick implementation that could help a company gain a more competitive edge.

  • Company-negotiated discounted pricing for employees. Inclusion of items that are important to each generation will be important in conveying company recognition and value of each of their priorities. Gather all employees input to determine their areas of importance while remembering the priorities being sought by the Millennial candidates.

Attention should be given to marketing this new benefit to employees so they recognize the message: “We care about what is important to you and invested our energy in finding a way to add value to your employment with us.”

Some ideas suggested by individuals taking the survey included daycare, cellular and wireless services, home services, flooring, rental furniture, car wash companies, pet insurance and dry cleaners. Companies that already negotiate reduced pricing for their communities’ needs might use some of those vendors as a first effort where appropriate.

  • Improve company communication and train managers to be more effective communicators with their teams. According to the Liberty Group’s research, 69 percent of multifamily employees stated their preference to receive training/education about their job from their direct supervisors over industry trainers. In closing, the primary thing a Millennial looks at when evaluating a job is what a company does, makes or sells, according to Case Foundation/Achieve’s “2014 Millennial Impact Report.” Upon hearing this, the age-old parable of the three bricklayers immediately came to mind.

“Once there were three bricklayers. Each was asked what they are doing. The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third smiled, looked upward and said with great pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’ “ —Author Unknown

The multifamily housing industry competes daily for top talent with deep-pocketed industries such as oil and gas, aerospace and technology, but it, somehow, is losing the war. One must ask, “Why?” Multifamily housing has all of the compelling elements of great purpose and it should be “shouted from the rooftops.” Perception is an individual’s reality so communication with a Millennial should clearly include purpose, not just give the objective. State the end result and its benefits instead of just the tasks in the message and watch it eliminate obstacles, focus energy and provide the motivation for top talent to join the ranks.

Kenneth J. Bohan, CPC, CTS, is President of The Liberty Group, a national executive search and staffing firm for the multifamily industry and an NAA delegate for the Houston Apartment Association.
He can be reached at or 713-961-7666.