What Millennials Really Want

Winter 2014

New research that challenges stereotypes can help the commercial real estate industry recruit and retain young talent.

There’s an image of the kind of workplace that attracts millennials — a picture fed by movies like “The Social Network” — that emphasizes free food, beer on tap and piles of pre-IPO stock options. But that image is inaccurate. Industries that lack superficial glamour can still attract 20-something workers. And millennials will happily take jobs that lack sex appeal, as long as employers demonstrate the right values and offer ample opportunities. 

JLL discovered this by working hard to lure millennials. The firm’s facilities management platform runs buildings from the ground up, taking care of everything from the lobby to the elevators to the air conditioners on the roof. Like many American industries, it is facing a baby boomer-driven retirement tsunami that threatens to leave it without enough skilled workers to function. 

Knowing that JLL would need young professionals to fill the gap, the firm set about figuring out what would draw them to a business they might never have heard of. It commissioned a study by research firm Kadence International, which surveyed more than 200 millennials about their career preferences and ambitions. Half were students, ages 21 to 24; the other half were young professionals, ages 25 to 34.

The young engineers JLL studied were open to jobs in facilities management, once they saw that the field is much more than running buildings. The business relies on innovation and technology; it is focused on sustainability. The coming retirements will create tremendous opportunities to advance. Those things, it turns out, are the keys to luring millennials to any industry. 

Offer “Intrapreneurship”

It’s possible to put what millennials want from a corporate job into one word: “intrapreneurship.” Behind this made-up term lies a powerful concept: Provide avenues for entrepreneurship within a large company, by giving people the freedom to look at challenges in different ways. 

headshot of Chris Pesek

Chris Pesek

Some millennials are drawn to being entrepreneurs, but many more want steady jobs with clear paths for advancement. Those paths will be wide open for them, as boomers retire in droves and companies desperately need to rebuild their talent benches. 

Give Employees a Reason to Stay Put

The survey results revealed that millennials are surprisingly focused and will be loyal to an employer who creates the right kind of workplace. Forget the notion that every young person wants to work for a scrappy tech startup. In fact, 60 percent of those surveyed prefer to be associated with an industry leader. And, given the right conditions, they will stay put: Nine of 10 millennials have worked for only one company.

Autonomy is especially important to this group; 54 percent said one of their strengths is the ability to work independently. They want access to mentoring, formal training (even if it’s online) and on-the-job learning. They want defined career paths, and to know that the job they’re in can lead them to a variety of other roles. And, like everyone else, millennials want their ideas to be recognized and rewarded.

“Millennials stay when they feel like they have the opportunity to be innovative,” says Amy Lynch, president of Generational Edge, a Nashville-based consulting firm. For example, Lynch worked with a printing company — another gritty but important industry — whose owner required employees to submit an idea every six weeks for improving the business. The person whose suggestion received the most votes won an immediate $100 bonus, along with time and resources to pursue the idea.

Focus on Training and Development

Armed with this knowledge, JLL has refocused its business on the sweet spot for millennials. Over the past few years, the firm has completely reworked its employee development program. Previously, most training for facilities managers focused on compliance and safety procedures. Those are critical, but ambitious young professionals want more: They want to learn. Now, the program is 10 percent traditional training, 20 percent assessments and coaching, and 70 percent workplace experiences aimed at teaching. 

Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders, a Georgia-based nonprofit focused on youth leadership development, encourages employers to think less about an old-fashioned career ladder and more about providing “lily pads”: a series of new experiences that respond to millennials’ quest for variety. “They want to do something different after a year and a half,” Elmore says. “If companies can offer a variety of lily pads, there may be a great commitment to staying at that company.”

JLL organizes job rotations across multiple client accounts to broaden employees’ skills. The firm also runs an annual conference for training, collaboration and networking, where younger workers can meet executives who began as engineers and worked their way up. And it is increasing its investment in mentorship programs, which millennials said factor heavily in their career choices.

Technology Matters

JLL also makes sure millennials know how technology drives the industry. Seventy percent of survey respondents said they want to work with cutting-edge technology. With advances in smart buildings, which allow different systems to share data directly, and integrated energy management, building managers are making tangible contributions to environmental sustainability. To take just one example, JLL recently completed a five-year project to dramatically improve the efficiency of the 83-year-old Empire State Building. The result: a 38 percent reduction in the amount of energy the building uses. It now ranks, by efficiency, in the top 9 percent of buildings in operation. That’s the kind of thing that young people want to hear — and that will motivate almost all employees.