3 ways to get inside the heads of millennials

Graduates from Columbia University's School of Journalism cheer during the university's commencement ceremony in New York.

What can business do to earn the loyalty of their millennial professionals? Image: REUTERS/Keith Bedford

Punit Renjen
Global Chief Executive Officer Emeritus, Deloitte USA, Deloitte
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Leadership?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


Fresh out of grad school, I arrived for my first day of work at Deloitte ready for the long haul. For my generation, that’s what those early years were about – laying the foundation for a lifelong career with a great organization. More than 30 years later, I’m still with Deloitte and I have no regrets. But, mine is certainly the road less travelled by today’s young professionals, specifically millennials. According to Deloitte’s fifth annual Millennial Survey, nearly half of millennials say they expect to leave their current employer in the next two years.

What’s driving this inclination to exit? Our survey findings offer some compelling clues. There appears to be a “purpose gap,” or a disconnect between what millennials want from business versus what business currently offers them. In addition, a lack of development opportunities and feelings of being underutilized were also cited by many who are considering near-term career changes. If these issues – as well as others noted, such as work/life balance and the desire for flexibility – are not addressed, organizations will risk alienating and possibly losing a critical segment of their workforce, namely their future leaders.

So, what can business do to earn the loyalty of their millennial professionals? As I see it, there are three factors for organizations to consider.

1. The double bottom line is not just a nice “to do”

Millennials want to work for organizations that prioritize purpose, as well as profit. It’s as simple as that. According to our survey, 40% of millennials who expressed high job satisfaction, and who plan to remain in their jobs beyond 2020, say their employers have a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success. The figures among those expressing low satisfaction, and those planning to leave within two years, were just 22% and 26%, respectively.

So creating a culture of purpose is critical; however, that’s not to say millennials have their heads in the clouds. They recognize the need for businesses to be profitable, to grow, and to be well-known, just not at the expense of other arguably important objectives. What they want is to work for organizations that focus on improving the skills, income and ‘satisfaction levels’ of employees; that create jobs; and that provide goods and services that have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.

2. Who they are is what they do

A generation ago, professionals sought long-term relationships with employers. But, millennials are more independent and more likely to put their personal values ahead of organizational goals.

When asked to state the level of influence different factors have on their decision-making at work, “my personal values/morals” ranked first. Most millennials have no problem standing their ground when asked to do something that conflicts with their personal values. Survey findings showed that almost half of millennials (49%) have “chosen not to undertake a task at work because it went against their personal values or ethics.” This increases to 61% among those in senior positions.

To better understand the values of our millennials, we asked “what are the most important values a business should follow if it is to have long-term success?” In response, we heard that business should put employees first, and have a solid foundation of trust and integrity. Customer care and high-quality, reliable products also ranked relatively high in importance. Attention to the environment and social responsibility were also mentioned by significant numbers of millennials. It’s noteworthy that few (5%) of those answering thought profit-focused values would ensure long-term success.

3. They crave attention – in a good way

Six in ten millennials (63%) say their “leadership skills are not being fully developed” – this rises to 71% of those likely to leave in the next two years. A lack of leadership-development opportunities and feelings of being underutilized were cited by many who are considering near-term career changes.

This finding is consistent with last year’s survey in which we observed that, “regardless of gender or geography, only 28% of millennials feel their current organizations are making ‘full use’ of the skills they currently have to offer.”

The silver lining in all this is that in addition to revealing the gap between what they want and what businesses offer, surveyed millennials also provided insight into what businesses can do to successfully attract and retain their talent. Highlights include: providing opportunities for leadership development; connecting them with mentors; encouraging work/life balance; providing flexibility that allows them to work where they’re most productive; giving them more control over their careers; and fostering cultures that encourage and reward open communication, ethical behavior, and inclusiveness.

The writing is on the wall. Now, it is up to organizations around the world to not only take note, but take action.

Author: Punit Renjen, CEO, Deloitte. He is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
LeadershipJobs and the Future of WorkForum Institutional
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Progress for women in the workplace stagnating in four key areas, global study reveals

Emma Codd

May 21, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum