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3 things millennials want in a career (hint: it’s not more money)

March 26, 2015, 9:00 AM UTC

What’s the biggest incentive you can offer a millennial to come work for you instead of your competition? If you answered “more money” you need to rethink your strategy, because you might not be as attractive as you think for the generation that will soon become the majority of our workforce.

Millennials view the workplace through the same lens of new technology as any other aspect of their lives: instant, open and limitless. The era they have grown up in has shown them that nothing is a guarantee. Instability and rapid change are the norm. To millennials, time no longer equals money. It is a limited resource to be spent wisely and actively managed.

To remain competitive, businesses need a fresh approach to compensation that reflects new values, attitudes and lifestyles. Perks such as free lunch and employee game rooms are great, but here are the three core values that really drive millennials in the workplace.

Bye, bye nine-to-fives

Today’s young job seekers live in a world where physical presence is optional: Banking, renting movies, hanging out with friends, going to school, ordering dinner have all transformed from a ‘place you go’ to a ‘thing you do’ from any connected device. Millennials view work in the same way; not to be measured by hours at a location, but by the output of what you do.

Today’s high-performing companies bake flexibility into the core of their corporate culture, letting employees set their own schedules as long as they get their work done. Plenty of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers care about it too, but millennials are leading the way in prioritizing job flexibility. According to PwC’s millennials at Work study, many would give up pay or delay a promotion to achieve an ideal schedule.

An unlimited vacation policy is one extreme example of this new compensation. Companies such as Virgin, Best Buy and Evernote are matching flexible working with unlimited vacation policies to empower employees to take time off as needed, as long as they are coordinating with and delivering for their teams.

Keep us inspired

Millennials don’t just want to spend their time earning a paycheck; they want to invest time acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to grow both personally and professionally.

This is a revolutionary shift from the traditional sense of on-the-job training. Training no longer exists solely to meet compliance or company-mandated policies. The best training program today is a rich learning experience that taps into employee interests, passions and career goals.

Learning to lead is a big priority. In Deloitte’s 2014 Millennial Survey, 75% of respondents believed that their organizations could do more to develop future leaders, which opens a massive opportunity for organizations that develop and become known for strong leadership programs.

Tied to learning is employee mobility. Most millennials expect to have multiple careers in their lifetime. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average young adult has held an average of 6.2 jobs by age 26. Why not enable them to shift careers within your organization? Give them access to the training and learning they need to move both vertically and horizontally. Let them experience the company holistically and build a lasting bond.

Make us part of the solution

Finally, more so than previous generations, millennials place great importance on social causes and sense of purpose – and they define that purpose two-fold. The first is self-purpose; how do they fit into the organizational puzzle? How is their work relevant? Does anybody care? Be transparent about how personal goals are aligned to the goals of the organization so that even a junior employee understands how their daily labors are aligned to what the company is doing as a whole.

The second aspect is the purpose of the company. How does the company relate to the wider world, and what good does it contribute? Does the company’s concern with social responsibility match theirs? In this year’s Deloitte Millennial Survey, six in 10 respondents said “sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose their current employer.

What has long been hailed as ‘the future of work’ is already upon us, and organizations have to move forward right now to meet the new standards for recruiting and retaining their most valuable asset – their employees. Competition for the best employees is at an all-time high; don’t let your compensation strategy leave you in the past.

Adam Miller is president and CEO of Cornerstone OnDemand, a Santa Monica, California-based provider of human-resources software.