You cannot sit down and talk with a group of HR managers or executives and not have a discussion at some point about the challenges of managing millennials in the workplace.
Preconceived notions such as “millennials are not loyal” or “they are lazy” or “they all want a trophy for just showing up,” dominate the discussion around this generation. As is the case with any generalized statement, we can all find examples to reinforce a stereotype.
What types of generational observations have value?
When it comes to the massive amount of data that exists examining each generation’s work attitudes, we need to proceed with a little caution. Even the most scientific-minded people have a tendency to look at their own generation preferentially. But too granular a focus on any generation can give way to ill-informed assumptions and self-perpetuating cycles of thought.
In the past decade we saw many labels tossed out towards millennials: they’re entitled, lazy, narcissistic, and they hop from job to job. But how much of that information was founded in fact? As more thorough research would eventually show, millennials’ work attitudes are more similar to past generations than you might believe. Not only do they align with other generations on core work values, millennials actually change jobs at about the same rate as young working Americans nearly 30 years ago.
Upon even closer examination, the aforementioned labels were once ascribed to Gen X by the boomers, which were previously given to the boomers by the Silent Generation. What many feel are generation-specific observations are actually reiterations of the tired and timeless divisions between old and young workers.
These misconceptions about managing millennials in the workplace only complicate a challenging situation for HR leadership trying to manage a workforce that is more diverse by the day. We all recognize that the nature of work has and continues to change, so why would the way we engage employees remain the same? Below are a few suggestions to improve your employee engagement with millennials.
1. Recognize they are motivated by impact more than work
Science shows that millennials differ from previous generations when it comes to their preferences to work hard or to work extra hours. However, this should not be misconstrued as millennials being “lazy.” Many studies highlight that millennials are driven by a desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Millennials presently divide their time and energy between their work lives and personal pursuits, where they feel they are making a difference. Although millennials feel like they can make the biggest difference on society through their work, they struggle to make connections between their day-to-day duties and a broader impact. Organizations can better target their engagement with millennials by making clear the impact and purpose of their job roles. By aligning millennials’ altruistic desires with company values, organizations can better connect and engage this generation.
2. Take a personal interest in each person
Millennials want to feel as though they are part of an organization who supports them both inside and outside of the workplace. Being treated as a person, and not just as another employee is one of the top five drivers of millennial employee engagement.
Millennials value work-life balance above everything else. By treating them as another employee and not taking a personal interest in who they are as people, companies are missing a significant opportunity to engage and ultimately retain millennial employees.
3. Make information convenient and relevant
The way we access and experience technology has shifted from a focus on work to social endeavors. The consumer marketplace is advancing the digital experience on a daily basis, and is showing no signs of changing directions.
At work, however, technology embedded in legacy systems is slow, outdated, and decidedly unfriendly from a user experience standpoint. If I can access every piece of information in the world, my biometric history, and my banking information from a centralized mobile experience at any time I choose, then why can’t I do the same with my company information?
4. Give millennials a voice
No one likes having a decision made for them, much less not being asked for their opinion, and millennials grew up in a world where they have a say. Instead of stifling this potential pipeline of ideas and innovation, look for ways to include millennials in the process. This is not the same as giving up authority or responsibility, but technology does make it incredibly easy to ask questions, collect, and analyze feedback. This is also a great practice to include every generation of worker.
5. Yes, give them a trophy
It can be hard for managers who did not grow up in the “everyone gets a trophy” era to offer frequent praise, especially if that praise is for small things. But this is the world many millennials experienced and it turns out it is for good reason. Recent studies on recognition indicate that although not all actions should be recognized equally, some form or acknowledgement produces better overall team performance. When the highest-performers on a team are recognized for their actions, it creates a spillover effect motivating other team members to achieve higher levels of performance.
6. Create clear opportunities to grow
Millennials are looking for new opportunities and challenges—and having watched their parents work through the negative impacts of the changing workplace, are looking for a healthier work-life balance. This is often misunderstood as constant need to be promoted without putting in the necessary work. In actuality, millennials view professional development opportunities as one of the most attractive qualities an employer can have.
Millennials desire opportunities to make a real impact in the workplace. Instead of thinking about work through a model of hierarchy, which defines interaction and opportunity, provide opportunities for all of your employees to be exposed to more complicated tasks and begin to value experience through multi-generational teams. The mentor-mentee relationships that arise from these teams provide valuable knowledge transfer opportunities that will prepare millennials for the career progression they desire.
No one can deny globalization driven by technology continues to dramatically change the work experience. Millennials are more a product of this change than drivers. It is foolish to assume that employee engagement, communication, recognition, and motivation would remain constant in the face of everything else in the world changing.
Millennials are only harder to engage in the workplace if you are attempting to use the same tactics and strategies that have been used in the past. Ironically, the hyper connected, global infrastructure that created all of this change also presents new solutions to communicate, interact, and engage millennials. To do so, HR leadership needs rethink its engagement strategy, turn it into an inclusive process, and begin building engagement models that are interactive, responsive, and flexible.
After all, there are more generations and changes to come.