At a recent roundtable event led by Econsultancy in New York, learning and development (L&D) executives discussed the challenges of meeting the disparate needs of a multi-generational workforce and shared ideas on what is working well now.

In short, millennials do not value the same benefits as baby boomers – things like stability and 401K contributions and good health plans are not motivating to them.

Instead, millennials seek “purpose” at work.  

They look for everything from supporting social justice to “work with meaning” to ownership of the company and the stated mission. 

Perks also vary and are often non-traditional, ranging from dogs at the office and beer fridges to flexible hours in remote locations.  

While everyone from Aristotle forward has lamented the “strangeness” and unexpected behavior of the younger generations, the values of millennials seem to demand a rethinking of  the foundational L&D precepts of our economy.

The challenges were nearly universal for these roundtable participants:

1. There is a significant gap between the oft-inflated self-assessment of most millennials and the actual contribution they make to the business.

This leads to title and responsibility conflicts, as well as poaching risk.

2. The most important skill that high performing employees need is the ability to learn quickly and change easily.

This can be very difficult to address through learning, and is instead tied to factors like company culture and individual personality and experience level.

3. Budget limitations demand that L&D teams prioritize program reach.

It’s difficult to fully support both the retention of high performers as well as the identification, assessment and development of rising stars.

4. Modern business operations and revenue models require cross-functional collaboration and thus demand that people frequently work outside their job descriptions and strict departmental remit.  

Goals and corporate structure must adapt to accommodate this, along with skills and sensitivity training.

5. L&D is under-appreciated for its effect on culture and thus, revenue and strategy.

Opportunities and objectives for the L&D team today do not always reflect the need or represent a desire for strategic change in the broader organization.

Strategies for success

Compounding these challenges is the need to “invest forward” in skills that will be needed in the future. 

Thus the complexity of creating an agile, always-on, continually learning organization can be exponential in scope.

There are some strategies that L&D professionals employ with success:

Highlight areas for improvement

While many millennials exaggerate it, there are very real working life stages that pose high risk for attrition.  

For example, the space between a senior entry level role and a junior mid-management role.  Millennials don’t generally accept things as they are, and this creates pressure on the organizational structure.

Use flexible tools – like a nine box assessment – to clearly show employees where they are in the value chain, why they are appreciated, and what skills they need to sharpen. 

New rewards

Critical to the first is a clear set of meaningful benefits and career path opportunities that will retain – and train – high performers. 

Some L&D pros found that cross-functional projects, job sharing and even job swapping between colleagues in different countries can be very effective.  

Travel seems to be a powerful millennial motivator. All these opportunities need to be clearly defined and strictly managed, and should be accessible only to select employees.


Gamification in e-learning is the most engaging format. Self-guided programs work best as part of a mix of online and in-person training. 


Mentoring that is completely flexible and informal can work well. Structure can often stiffen the interchange and restrict real outcomes.

Rather than a formal program, identify potential mentors and train (and reward) them to provide informal support to high value employees.

Involve senior executives to give them first-hand insights into shifting values of the workforce.

Retention vs. recruitment

To put the value of L&D in perspective, calculate the cost of losing people and then allocate that budget for training and retention.


What are you doing to adapt your L&D and professional development programs to the changing motivations of the millennial-led workforce? 

Leave your comments below.

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