Career Management Lessons from Millennials

By Peggy Hutcheson

Author’s Note: This article, compiled by Peggy Hutcheson (far from being a Millennial), includes key ideas from discussions with young professionals. Their ideas about managing careers reinforce much of what she has been promoting to professionals at all career stages through career workshops and consulting.

The world, and with it the workplace, is changing; and every generation can learn some useful lessons from the newest generation of workers. Known as Millennials, they were born after 1980 and have grown up in this technology-driven, fast-paced, ever-shifting, global world. Often when other generations hear the term Millennials, there is a tendency toward disparaging comments such as, “lazy, self-involved and spoiled.” These labels often come from differences in values and expectations. Regardless of your experience with young workers or belief in the common stereotype of the Millennial generation, some of these values that are widely shared among this youngest generation of workers offer useful career lessons for everyone.

Although individual differences exist among the members of any generation, trends observed among Millennial workers point to several career beliefs that they hold in common:

  1.  First, Millennials know that no one else cares as much about their careers as they do, themselves. They recognize that finding success and fulfillment is up to each individual. They have seen organizations downsize, shift work overseas, and buy and sell divisions. They see technical skills rapidly becoming outdated, and they know that they must take responsibility for navigating through all of these changes.
  2.  A good paycheck is not necessarily the most important thing for Millennials. They believe that a good job includes work that not only uses your skills, but that allows you to hone existing skills and develop new ones. In addition, really good work aligns with your passions. Whether these passions involve working with new technology, making a meaningful social contribution or learning something new, the new generation of workers wants more than a paycheck.
  3.  Time at work should be fun. Even if the job is not considered a dream job, they want to find a way to enjoy the time at work. Collaborating with interesting co-workers, focusing on the big picture of what the work is contributing toward, or even giving back through volunteer projects can add fun to an otherwise less-stimulating job.
  4. Life is more than a job to younger generations. They appreciate the value of balancing time at work with time away from work. They are aware that having the freedom to align their choices with those things that are important to them is a big part of gaining an overall sense of satisfaction in life. Time away from work for family, hanging out with friends, pursuing hobbies or sports interests is vitally important.  Still, work-life balance includes more than time. It includes feeling good about your level of involvement in both work and non-work roles.
  5. Accustomed to constant communication, members of the Millennial generation expect clear direction and ongoing feedback. Older models of performance management with managers offering feedback once or twice a year simply do not work for younger employees. They want to be able to hear from supervisors and peers about performance anytime, anywhere. Even more, if they want to talk something over with someone in another department, or want to talk to their boss, or even the boss’s boss, they want to be able to do it. They want to be able to communicate with anyone ” anywhere in the organization ” and get a quick response.
  6. Good management does not include micro-managing. “Tell me what needs to be done, not how to do it,” is a common comment from young workers about the style of management that fits best for them. They do not hesitate to ask for more direction if that is needed, but they resent being given the play-by-play for a task that they can figure out for themselves.
  7. Stay nimble. This new generation has learned about commitment, and they have seen it turn to one-sided commitment for their parents when employers downsize or move jobs off shore. They understand that keeping skills current and continuing to grow are two of the tactics that everyone needs to stay up with the quick turns in today’s organizations. Millennials understand that being boxed in with few opportunities to learn is one sign that it is time to move on. They will leave a job for one with more challenge or opportunities to stretch their skills. On the other hand, they also do not believe that “goodbye” is forever. A growing trend is to leave a company to get acquire skills, then return.
  8. Social media has paved the way for continuous connections, and Millennials recognize the importance of staying connected. They also see the value of staying connected with a wide circle of people. Whether it is with friends, colleagues, alumni from their alma mater, professional associates, or even people they’ve not met, making and keeping connections is important.

Some are now probably thinking, “What about some career lessons for Millennials?” You want to talk about the value of hard work, paying your dues in the organization, and loyalty. Generational clashes are inevitable. Should everyone try to look and act like a Millennial? The answer is obviously “no.” Even so these eight trends among Millennials offer important lessons for everyone who wants to exercise career management skills. The value of taking full responsibility for your career, continuously seeking opportunities to learn and develop, working toward work/life balance, and finding ways to follow your passion are too important to success and fulfillment to be taken lightly.

Peggy Hutcheson, Ph.D, is a professor of communication at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. She is founding partner of the Odyssey Group, a firm specializing in products and services for organizations and individuals to connect people to changing work roles. She is a member of the IEEE-USA Communications Committee, and she has served as co-chair of the IEEE-USA Innovation Institute, and as chair of IEEE-USA’s Employment and Career Services Committee. Peggy is a speaker and author, having co-authored Helping Employees Manage Careers, published more than a dozen articles, presented a half dozen invited webinars, contributed to five books, and authored two IEEE-USA eBooks on Work-Life Balance. Her contributions have been recognized with leadership awards from ASTD, IEEE-USA, and Georgia State University.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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  1. Excellent summary. Points made by the author need to be heeded by many older decision makers and colleagues of millennials. Hopefully, these inputs will shape the future of our profession.

  2. Some of this unrealistic, and some is hardly new. Way too focused on views that are not yet tested beyond early-career stage.

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