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By Sabine Hoover, FMI

Many American millennials graduated from college with staggering amounts of student loan debt and started their careers in one of the greatest recessions of all time. Seen as trendsetters, millennials are well-known for their outspoken qualities and knowledge of everything from technology to fashion to food. As a result, they have puzzled companies and marketers for years.

Furthermore, millennials often are saddled with a reputation for being entitled, disloyal, lazy or optimistic go-getters, but it turns out that they’re actually not that different from their older work colleagues.Millennials are an 80 million-strong generation today. In 2015, they surpassed the baby boom generation as the nation’s largest living cohort and now make up 34 percent of the nation’s workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. This number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2020.

In 2015, FMI surveyed nearly 400 construction industry professionals, more than 200 of which were millennials, to measure this young generation’s level of engagement and explore what a millennial worker is looking for in an employer.

The following article presents five key misconceptions of this young generation and explains what they are looking for in a construction industry employer.

Myths and Truths

The information and opinions swirling around the millennial generation can be broken down into two categories: myths and truths. Based on our industry survey and dozens of conversations with millennial employees in construction, we have uncovered the following myths surrounding this largely misunderstood workforce:

Myth 1: Millennials are lazy.

Fact: Millennials are eager to be challenged and ready to go beyond what is required to make their companies succeed.

For years, pundits and contemporary publications have criticized millennials for being lazy. It turns out, however, that this might be one of the greatest misunderstandings about this generation. According to a recent survey published by the HR Policy Foundation, two-thirds of the companies surveyed said that their millennial employees were making significant contributions in the workplaces because of their inquisitive nature, tech-savviness and drive for innovation.

Responses from millennials in the construction industry confirm this position. Nearly 70 percent of participants expressed their willingness to work beyond what is required of them to help the business succeed. Like other generations before them, millennials want to be challenged with interesting and meaningful work.

As one survey participant put it, “When trying to engage millennials, it is important to emphasize the appealing aspects of the industry. In construction, projects are always different. Showing millennials the challenges each project offers gives them a sense of purpose and greater determination. The constantly changing work environment offers a more exciting route compared with the monotony of replicated day-to-day activities.”

Not unlike other generations that enter the workplace, millennials have new perspectives to share, innovative ideas about getting things done, and interesting ways of tackling problems. They are less willing to accept the “old school” methods of completing work, and they are always searching for new ways to streamline processes and increase efficiencies. This mindset is critical for pushing the industry forward. Failing to nurture the innovative and inquisitive nature of younger workers will create disengagement among employees and result in a less productive workforce.

Myth 2: Millennials are job hoppers.

Fact: Millennials want job security and stability.

Much like their predecessors, millennials are interested in job security and stability. And despite popular belief, they aren’t poised to switch jobs as soon as another opportunity presents itself. That said, these younger workers come from a “connected” generation that values collaboration, teamwork and social opportunities. Our study also indicates that millennials value the use of new and innovative technologies to solve client and corporate challenges. Letting young people contribute and participate in such meaningful ways — and showing genuine interest in their careers and personal lives — is key to engaging them long term. 

Company cultures focused on employee engagement require a defined and well-communicated company vision. This point is especially important for young people who are kicking off their careers. By explaining the whole picture, company leaders can connect the meaning to their employees. This gives workers a clear sense of purpose and an understanding of how their efforts fit within the larger plan. According to our research, when the company’s vision is inspiring and clearly communicated, millennials are 25 percent more likely to stay longer with the company compared with those who don’t understand the company’s vision and direction.

Myth 3: Millennials are altruistic and don’t care about money.

Fact: For millennials, money is very important.

For years, thought leaders have been talking about how millennials are just out for a “purpose crusade” and how they are more interested in meaning than money. Our research paints a much different picture. When asked what’s most important to them, millennials rank competitive pay their highest concern.

Haydn Shaw, a renowned generational expert, confirmed this finding.

“The vast majority of surveys show that millennials rank base pay as the most important factor in selecting and staying in a job, just as the other three generations do,” Shaw writes. “They want meaningful work and a supportive culture to work in, but they want a well-paying job and career advancement more.”

Using well-defined incentives that motivate their employees to go beyond the call of duty, progressive construction firms are taking charge and improving company performance. Beginning with a well-defined incentive compensation system, companies can effectively develop employees who excel at maximum levels and beyond. With the right combination of clear direction, quality feedback and tangible rewards, employees become engaged and satisfied with their jobs. This helps create a situation where employees are inspired because management values their efforts.

Myth 4: Millennials want constant acclaim.

Fact: Millennials want regular feedback — not because they are looking for a trophy, but because they are still learning the ropes.

Feedback is a big topic for millennials in construction. Young construction employees are looking for mentors and coaches to help them learn the business and understand the ins and outs of their daily tasks and routines.

Progressive construction firms have started to create formal coaching and mentoring systems that support younger employees while providing an important platform for knowledge transfer. By weaving these programs into their company fabric — and making them a part of employee performance reviews — firms can effectively reach the 75 percent of millennials who see mentoring as crucial to their success. Unfortunately, most construction employers are still missing the mark in this area.

According to our latest Talent Development Survey, more than three-quarters of all participants (77 percent) are counting on annual reviews to increase employee performance and development. Conversely, nearly 50 percent of our millennial survey participants stated that they wanted feedback monthly — a key indicator of how this young generation is driving change in performance management and overall communication.

This generation is used to speedier reactions and responses; annual reviews are no longer viable. Employers must shift their mindsets and start developing mechanisms for frequent, in-person communication and information exchange across all company levels and age groups.

Myth 5: Millennials are entitled.

Fact: Millennials are ambitious and eager to make an impact in their careers, which sometimes can be misread as entitlement or even arrogance.

This young generation of workers wants to participate and contribute in meaningful ways. They enjoy collaborative employment opportunities that allow them to stretch their creative wings, share new ideas and actively participate in their companies’ successes.

Too often, old job descriptions and company policies keep younger workers from contributing at levels that would create value for their employers. In such cases, executives should think about how to change their work environments, team configurations and incentives.

Our millennial research also confirms that if employees feel like they are making progress and advancing in their careers, they will be more likely to remain with their companies long term. Of survey respondents indicating that they understood their career paths and opportunities within their firms, 81 percent of millennials expected to stay more than five years at their companies. Conversely, of those respondents not expecting to stay more than five years, one-third were unsure of their current roles, responsibilities and expectations.

Career development is particularly relevant for companies in the construction industry, where many firms lack well-defined job tracks or comprehensive talent development and leadership programs. With young, ambitious millennials wanting to learn, improve and advance through an organization, employers must develop better solutions and challenge the old ways of “how things used to be done”— starting with the ways people interact and collaborate with one another.

What Does This Mean for You?

As millennials become the dominant generation in today’s workforce, companies must be cognizant of the actions they take to engage these employees. Aligning each person’s development plan with the company’s vision and goals is essential in ensuring improved engagement. Millennials are especially eager to contribute and want to know that they are adding value to the company. Never before have the company’s mission and vision been so important to a workforce.

Sabine Hoover is FMI’s content director and chief editor for the FMI Quarterly. She has more than 10 years’ experience in the construction and engineering industries.

Reprinted with permission from FMI Corp. For more information, visit