Millennials In The Workplace | Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
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Millennials are not known for getting a positive report card in the workplace.

While they are portrayed as being confident, innovative, adaptive and technological savvy, Millennials are also apparently “tough to manage”. However, those born between early 1980s to late 1990s will comprise 50% of the global workforce by 2020, and 75% by 2025. They will soon outnumber their Generation X (born 1965-1980) predecessors in the workplace and are no longer considered the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders of today.

​Chantelle Solomon (pictured right), MPhil in Management Coaching​ graduate at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) says that popular perceptions and genuine generational differences can result in a misalignment in the expectations between Millennials and their organisations, negatively affecting their levels of engagement, performance and tenure.

Millennials are not afraid of changing jobs and in many instances careers. They will easily only spend a two year tenure at a company and move on. They have extremely high expectations of their role and the company they join.

A PWC CEO’s report found that one of the biggest challenges for organisations is engaging and retaining Millennials. Technology has exacerbated their sense of impatience, feeding the instant gratification tendencies of these young people who are used to getting what they want as soon as they want it.

Chantelle says Millennials currently make up 45% of the South African workforce, as compared with 29% Gen X and 21% Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) yet less than 30% of Millennials are engaged (emotionally and psychologically attached to their work and workplace), 55% are not engaged and 16% Millennials are actively disengaged.

“With just over 70% of SA Millennials anticipated to move to a different organisation within five years, it is high time organisations find a way to retain these talented professionals by being more intentional in managing their own and the expectations of Millennials.

Chantelle says that Millennials are often described as entitled, lazy, and inappropriately demanding. In addition, they are impatient, wanting to be promoted quickly.

“Older generations like to believe that the work ethic of the younger generation has deteriorated while research suggests that there are no differences in work ethic, rather Millennials have a different approach to how they work by being more collaborative and using technology and online resources more readily.”

“Millennials have low tolerance for entry-level tasks while older generations believe that starting at the bottom and doing the ‘donkey work’ is part and parcel of getting to grips with the job.

However, Millennials’ keenness to progress is tied into their need to grow and develop both personally and professionally and to be engaged meaningfully in their job. They are driven more intrinsically through personal motivation, rather than by extrinsic motivators such as status and financial reward as is the case with older generations.

Chantelle says gone are the days of sticking to one job for the rest of one’s life.

“Millennials are not afraid of changing jobs and in many instances careers. They will easily only spend a two year tenure at a company and move on. They have extremely high expectations of their role and the company they join, they want to learn and develop, nurture a good work-life balance which allows for flexibility around where and when they work, strengthen their talents and ultimate their job should fit their life.”

“Since they are self-assured, they have a higher need for feedback and recognition as well as engagement with management to be part of a more collaborative engagement and having a voice in setting performance expectations and negotiating a fair salary for the work they do.”

Chantelle says her research conducted amongst Millennials who have received coaching within their organisations indicate that coaching can have a major impact on bridging the expectations gap arising from generational differences.

“Generational differences can result in a misalignment in the expectations between organisations and young Millennial professionals. These expectations are embodied in the concept of a psychological contract which is an individual’s beliefs concerning reciprocal obligations in the employment relationship. The fulfillment of this contract and its suggested business benefits are more likely to materialise if the parties agree about their obligations towards each other and create and maintain mutuality (shared agreement) between the parties. Coaching can play a pivotal role in this transition phase.”

She says coaching enables Millennials to have an enhanced awareness of who they are and develop an improved authentic self-confidence. This allows them to articulate their development needs and direction more clearly and become aware that it is their responsibility to raise their psychological contract beliefs with the organisation, even more so where they perceive a difference in the understanding of their obligations and those of the organisation.

The inner benefits of enhanced awareness and improved confidence prepares the coachee cognitively to produce the outer personal benefits, which are visible to others in changed behaviours and enhanced skills. Improved confidence enables them to speak up more credibly about their strengths and contributions, and hold conversations that contribute towards clarifying the organisation’s expectations of them, and what they expect in return.”

“They are confident to take action concerning their own development – a valuable skill since organisations now expect employees to manage their own careers. Coaching assists coachees in their ability to handle tough conversations, imparting the skills and motivation to have candid and respectful conversations with their managers.”

Chantelle says that coaching appears to be particularly useful in aligning expectations regarding career development. Receiving coaching speaks directly to Millennials’ need for self-actualisation and contributes to providing the supportive and nurturing work environment in which Millennials thrive. Alignment of expectations regarding career development encourages them to adopt a higher level of engagement.

“It enhances their affective commitment, implying that these young workers feel a strong emotional attachment to the organisation and their work. They identify with the organisation’s goal and values, which in turn meets their need for meaningful work and positively influences their performance which results in a lower turnover of staff.”​​


*USB’s head of the MPhil in Management Coaching programme, Dr Salomé van Coller-Peter, is one of the presenters at the Crucial Mentoring Conversations Workshop. Click here​ for more information.
**A mentorship course will also be offered on a discounted price for registered USB alumni mentors later in May 2018.​


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