On a recent tour of seven top tech firms in Silicon Valley, our company learned what these industry giants know that most leaders don't. We learned something else as well, but it wasn't from the tech companies themselves--it was from their employees.

Look around companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Airbnb, and something about their culture will jump out at you. Yes they've got a lot of cool toys in their open-plan workspaces, and a lot of amazing food in their cafeterias. But what's even more notable is that their workforce consists largely of Millennials, ranging from just-out- of-college to early thirty-somethings.

Why have the tech firms recruited this younger age group? One obvious reason is that research has shown they're more tech-savvy than their older counterparts (Millennial teens even more so than twenty-somethings). With those valued skills, studies have revealed that the main objective of a surprising number of young workers is to improve the world rather than become personally wealthy, making them prime candidates to help further the tech industry's mission of global connectivity. Many are also unattached, taking their time to marry and start families--and thus they often have the bandwidth to spend more time working on projects in which they believe. Not burdened by years of demoralizing office politics and bureaucracy, Millennials additionally offer unjaded perspectives and openness to explore new ideas--both essential for creativity and innovation.

While this relatively new cohort of creative minds may represent a great catch for the tech giants, why do these coveted workplace newbies flock to tech? The truth is they might not, if the top tech firms behaved more like traditional Corporate America. If there were more rules and guardrails, higher walls between workspaces, fewer slides and foosballs, and less transparency and collaboration, Millennials may have thumbed their noses at LinkedIn and Instagram alike. But as you'll see in my last post, that's not the way it is in Silicon Valley. On the contrary, the industry has built its entire successful empire around doing what works best for these key junior players, so that they in turn can help the companies realize their business vision.

Clearly, although they are green, these young talents wield considerable power and have lessons to teach their veteran colleagues--as well as their bosses. Here are six things the rest of us can learn by following the Millennials' example:

There's more to work than money. Millennials were the first generation to demand a workplace culture that speaks to their hearts, not just their wallets. Motivated by intrinsics like purpose, autonomy, and mastery (for more on these concepts in general, read Daniel H. Pink's Drive), Millennials made it known that they wouldn't sacrifice meaning for money. They sought the ability to make a difference through their work first and foremost, and rejected all offers that didn't provide this. If you've lost sight of why you're working so hard and feel devoid of passion for your job, it might be time to talk to a Millennial for perspective.

Learning matters. A 2012 study from Adecco found that nearly 70 percent of Millennials rank the opportunity to learn and develop on the job as a top professional priority. This is why the major tech firms support and promote ongoing learning opportunities, from philanthropic leadership training, to guest lectures and speakers series, to mentorship programs where they can absorb wisdom from the brainiacs both above and below them.

Since Millennials' desire to grow, innovate, obtain mastery, and keep developing is so important to them, prospective employers should find ways to offer these benefits--through the roles themselves as well as through the education and training opportunities that the company provides--and emphasize these points in their recruitment efforts. If your job opportunity grants these younger workers a chance to learn something valuable that will further their careers, fuel their passions, and (for bonus points) effect change in the larger world, it's a huge win for everyone.

Experiences count. When was the last time you thought about work primarily in the context of what kind of experience you're having versus how much money you're making? While salary is an important component of your career, Millennials don't make it a deal-breaker...but doing a job that's not fun or inspiring is. They believe that there needs to be more to work than just the work itself, more than simply task completion. They care about what it is that they spend their time on.

What matters to this generation more than anything else--more than money in the bank, more than hours on the job--is having a higher purpose and doing something that matters. They want to find a place where they can learn, innovate, grow, and make a meaningful impact. If you aspire to do work in the world that makes you happy, it's not a bad example to follow.

Even so--perks work. Company founders in every industry who hope to attract Millennials to their organization would be wise to pay attention to Silicon Valley culture. Once you've found a way to offer a meaningful work experience with continuous learning and stretch opportunities, unique and useful amenities aimed at your target employees can help seal the deal. While you might not need to offer an indoor slide like Google, take the time to think about what kinds of benefits and flexibility could help blur the line between work and play.

You can ask for what you want. Millennials didn't let the fact that they were the new kids in town stop them from essentially dictating that an entire industry be designed around their whims and wishes. In the tech industry, a totally new way of doing business has been developed precisely to cater to the likes and dislikes of this age group.

How did these novices change the game? Simply by telling the traditional enterprise business world that it no longer has what they want. Because they aren't willing to sell their souls for money or do a job that they don't perceive as world-changing, they've caused a seismic shift in the world of work. Can you say the same?

Published on: Nov 4, 2014
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