Patricia Milligan
President, Human Capital, Mercer

What We Want From Work: Are Generational Differences Bigger Than Cultural Ones?

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The President of Human Capital at Mercer, a global consulting firm, discusses one of the most interesting findings of the firm's international "Inside Employees' Minds" survey.

Patricia Milligan

Patricia A. Milligan is the president of Mercer’s human capital business, which serves clients in the areas of workforce strategies, human resource effectiveness, business transformation, talent and rewards and executive compensation. She is a member of Mercer’s Executive and Operating committees and Mercer’s Consulting Council.

Since joining Mercer in 2005, Pat has sponsored and led several key imperatives to enable Mercer to achieve its long-term strategic objectives, including the implementation of Mercer’s global client relationship management system and the repositioning of the firm’s brand in the marketplace.

Prior to Mercer, Pat led the worldwide markets business at Mellon Human Resources Services. She was also involved in Mellon’s HR Outsourcing and has first hand experience on how to integrate consulting and outsourcing capabilities. Pat also held a variety of business leadership roles at Towers Perrin, where she led the Human Resource Effectiveness business and built and led the Change Management, Communication & Measurement and People Strategy businesses. In addition, she was managing director of strategic planning, and sales and marketing. Pat was a member of Towers Perrin’s Board of Directors.

Pat has spent over 25 years consulting with clients and has extensive experience in strategic planning, business leadership and global human resources. She has partnered with and been involved in innovative and pioneering work in the area of talent strategy, total rewards, flexible benefits, HR effectiveness and outsourcing for a broad range of clients, including Colgate Palmolive, BP, Novartis, Dunn & Bradstreet, ACNielsen, RJR Nabisco, Sara Lee, BASF, Amoco, Alcoa and Xerox. Pat is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.



Patricia Milligan: I actually think we should be talking about cultural diversity and global diversity, not just generational diversity.  So, one of the things that was really heartening about Inside Employee Minds was the consistency we saw across the globe.  So interestingly, generations in 17 countries that we looked at had actually very similar attitudes to what they valued and what they cared about. Now why do we care about that?  Because actually there’s more sameness than difference as we look at what people value around the world, and I think that’s great.  I think as we think about how we move work and workers around the world, I think we can have more security that there's more things that are alike than different.  

That said, what the different generations value, I think, is dramatically different, and it’s not rocket science, right?  So, you know, you look at the boomers and the first thing they really care about right now is security and the ability to protect kind of the health, wealth, and security of their family, right?  So, they want to know that they’ve got secure work and that it’s meaningful work.  We look down to the millennials and they’re much less concerned about security.  They care much more about opportunity and advancement, and it’s a real challenge to develop programs and policies that really meet the needs of a diverse workforce.

It's a design challenge, it’s an administration challenge, it’s a communication challenge.  Look, a number of us grew up designing flex plans, right? And the administrative burden of saying,I have 15 people, I’m going to let them design exactly what they want, was one of the reasons why people went back to one-size-fits-all.  Nobody’s broken that code again and so that’s got to be a big part of where we see great companies focus is really on flexibility in action, and it’s not that easy to do. It’s easy to talk about, but it’s really tough to implement and really tough to administer.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd