Millennials are tired of getting a bad rap. They’re sick of being called lazy, entitled or high maintenance simply because they played on T-ball teams in which everyone got a trophy and grew up drenched in a constant stream of praise from adults.
That was years ago. Now, they’re starting families — or starting to think about it — in the face of an economy that hasn’t grown robustly in more than a decade. They continue to struggle to move up the corporate ladder while older workers delay retirement and hold tight to the reins of power. They want to be recognized for their contribution to their employers, despite measly starting salaries and zero job security. They yearn to work for managers who treat them fairly and respectfully, to form positive connections with colleagues and feel proud of what they do and its impact on the world.
Employers and corporations have started listening. After all, this segment of the workforce is growing fast and will soon overshadow the GenXers and Baby Boomers. Millennials are the 54 million adult Americans aged between 18 and 34 in 2015 and now make up one third of the American workforce, the largest generation at work. These digital natives grew up in the shadow of September 11th and the Great Recession, and are well adapted to change, technologically savvy, and are poised to unleash innovation — when given the right environment, support and autonomy.
“They will be the most high maintenance workforce in the history of the world, but they may also be the most high performing,” says Bruce Tulgan, consultant and author of It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss. Some of the negative stereotypes about this generation – that they’re narcissistic, disloyal or can’t interact face to face – can be turned into positive attributes when properly understood and leveraged, Tulgan says.
The companies that top Great Place to Work’s first-ever ranking of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials stand out for their ability to engage this generation, recognize their talents and give them a significant role where they can make a difference. At these companies, pay, profit sharing, and promotion decisions are executed fairly; everyone gets a shot at special recognition; and workers have a say in decisions that affect them. These workplaces exhibit strong, open, two-way communication; a high tolerance for risk-taking; high levels of cooperation and support among employees; and reduced roadblocks to innovation, such as internal politics.
Take insurance company Acuity, which includes all levels of workers in strategic planning to give them “skin in the game,” and ramps up the level of fun with a Ferris wheel and a gaming club. While the insurance industry isn’t known for early adoption of new technology, Acuity has proven a strong innovator, ranking as the highest-rated property and casualty insurer on the Information Week 500 for the past 10 years.
Or consider Workday, whose “Generation Workday” program for college students and recent graduates invites these junior staffers to senior leader meetings, offers mentoring and rotates them within the company to build their skills, networks and exposure to different divisions. Every employee from the chief executive to the newest hire receives the same $1,500 annual bonus.
Then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, which has revamped recruiting and training to address the needs and expectations of Millennials. For example, this generation particularly trusts and values information from contemporaries, so the firm incorporates peer relationships in its recruiting strategy and gives ongoing alumni support to former employees. Millennials have opportunities to work on high profile, pro bono, and influential client projects.
Millennials are notable for their commitment to friends, family and hobbies, even at the expense of face time at work. Companies on Great Place to Work's Millennials list are more likely to offer flexible scheduling (76% vs. 63% for other companies), telecommuting options (82% vs. 74%), paid sabbaticals (15% vs. 11%) and paid volunteer days (46% vs. 39%.) More winning Millennial-friendly companies offer perks like massages (65% vs. 26%) and fitness classes (70% vs. 24%) to their workforce.
Previous generations entered the workplace with different ideas and attitudes but quickly assimilated — remember when the now-workaholics of Generation X were seen as slackers? But as Millennials flood into offices, it’s more likely that the rest of the workers will shift their attitudes to become more like the newcomers, rather than vice versa. After all, the continuing economic uncertainty and technological change affect everyone. When a 20-something starts leaving early every Thursday for her roller derby league, a 40-something may start asking to leave early for his kids’ carpools. “We’re at one of the inflection points in history,” Tulgan predicts. “We’re going to get more like them.”
So what does this mean for employers? Certainly, it’s better to directly address the needs and understand the characteristics of the Millennial generation than to pretend they don’t exist. There’s evidence that this shift would ramp up innovation and even profits. Great Place to Work’s survey included 15 questions describing behaviors that drive innovation and found that Millennial companies’ results scored an average of 14% higher (and in some cases up to 20% higher) than the results tallied for other companies. In addition, net profit per reporting company for list winners averaged $532 million, but only $361 million for non-finalists.
This generation of young workers may have grown up in a digital world amid uncertainty and a shower of parental attention. But ultimately, they want the same thing that every employee wants: schedule control, meaningful work relationships, and choice of projects and learning opportunities. In focusing on the needs of the next generation, these companies are creating a better place to work for everyone.
See the full list of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials at fortune.com/best-workplaces-millennials/.