PwC exec: Millennials just as productive as boomers

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

Millennials may have invented the selfie, but when it comes to the workplace the generation born between 1980 and 1995 isn’t the cohort of narcissistic slackers they’re made out to be.

That was the message from Bob Moritz, chairman of the accounting and consulting firm PwC for the Detroit Economic Club at its Tuesday meeting. In fact, if allowed to work the way they work best, millennials can be just as productive as their baby boomer coworkers.

“If you engage your next-generation millennials, you’ll get more production,” Moritz said.

By 2016, 80 percent of PwC’s 195,000 global workforce will be comprised of millennials, making it crucial for the company to understand how to recruit, retain and work with people who are more globally aware, technologically-oriented and personally invested in their work and the world around them.

“It’s an open-ended world they live in,” Moritz said. As for the traditional corporate world, “That’s a world that’s totally foreign to them.”

A PwC survey called “NextGen: A global generational study” found that millennials desire flexibility in the workplace, the ability to use multiple forms of technology, to collaborate, to be mentored and supported, to feel that they are contributing to the corporate mission and to the larger community around them, Moritz said. Millennials at companies that involve them in corporate responsibility initiatives, for example, stay 1.5 years longer when “give that sense of purpose,” he noted.

The change in workplace attitudes prompted PwC to conduct an effort to identify new $100 million business opportunities into a crowd-sourced initiative among all workers that culminated in an “American Idol”-style live presentation of the five best ideas. The result was that 80 percent of employees were involved in the effort. That and similar moves have driven turnover at PwC to historically low levels, Mortiz added.

Moritz warned that all businesses need to focus on engaging the millennial generation in all aspects and not just as workers.

“When you come up with your business strategy, make sure that your more attuned to the needs of those millennials from a consumer, employee and investor perspective,” Moritz said, “because if you’re not, I would argue that you’re not long-term sustainable.”

Twitter: @BrianOCTweet


Appealing to the new workforce

Observations from PwC’s survey of millennials and business:

Flexibility is paramount: millennials want flexibility around when and where they work and what they work on. Technological advances have made working outside the office profoundly easier. By leveraging technology and discarding once common obligations (think putting in “face time” at the office and using an individual rather than a team to be available 24/7 for a client), organizations can give millennials and others flexibility without sacrificing quality.

Values matter: Organizational purpose may seem peripheral to some, but millennials focus heavily on whether their employer shares their values, including corporate responsibility. Organizations must give back to society, but corporate responsibility possesses the additional and critical benefit of improving the bottom line by increasing retention and performance.

Build skills and give feedback: millennials are more likely to shift organizations and career paths and are eager to start learning immediately. millennials place a higher value on frequent face-to-face feedback about their careers and want to feel appreciated. Providing in-the-moment feedback lets them address more quickly areas for improvement and build on their achievements.