Motivating Millennials

Charlotte Nicol
Published on 30th May 2017
3 min read

For the first time ever, there are five generations in the workforce, and an estimated half will comprise millennials by 2020. Research on the multigenerational workforce found that by a substantial margin, HR leaders in both the US and UK identified millennials as one of the most complex generations to manage (Baby Boomers being the other). So how do we motivate this largest segment of the workforce?

Traditionally millennials have been perceived as job hoppers. However, research has dispelled this, putting forward a much more constructive theory which looks at the source of why millennials might leave their jobs more frequently than their predecessors; lack of engagement. Indeed, if millennials are engaged, they are twice as likely to stay in their jobs than those born ten years before.

The key question then is how do you really engage millennials? Flexible working, and creative workspaces will motivate millennials to an extent, but they are not enough in the long run when other opportunities beckon.

Pro Bono

The most explicit difference between millennials and the generations that precede them is the drive to do good as part of their work life. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that millennials place a higher priority on helping people in need (21%) than having a high-paying career (15%). Designating a company charity or allowing employees to pursue pro bono activities on company time meets millennials’ desire for social consciousness. It also recognizes that this young, bright generation of the workforce is perfectly capable of multi-tasking, maintaining a high work ethic as well as pursuing other activities that are close to their hearts.

Enable career progression

Millennials are in a hurry to climb the corporate ladder but not necessarily in the traditional way. For most of the 20th century, stability was key. Employees progressed in companies through a system of experience and rewards. They worked towards defined milestones on their course towards retirement in the same company and sometimes even the same department. The route was simple. Millennials, on the other hand, are seeking a much more unpredictable route. They aren’t interested in waiting three to five years for the next step up. They are looking for a progression of jobs in several different fields. Constructive support with target setting and clear career development goals will increase motivation and retention. Also, provide access to different opportunities within the organization so they don’t feel hemmed in or restricted.

Values and Vision

Millennials are not clock watchers. They want to be part of the fabric of the company. They are looking for meaning and impact in their work and want to be a driving factor in the success of their company. Unlike Baby Boomers who are driven by rewards such as money, prestigious titles, their own offices and parking spots, millennials care more about their personal impact on the company. It is important that you communicate your company values to them and help them understand their role in the larger strategy, therefore giving them a clear purpose within the organization.

Freedom to think

Create and maintain an atmosphere of trust, transparency and autonomy. Like Generation X, millennials like to have freedom in their work. Unlike generation X, they are less independent, craving much more engagement. Millennials are looking for coaching and mentorship so give them the flexibility to perform in a way that optimizes their skills and allows them the space to get the job done on their own terms. Offering them time to work on a project of their choosing could help them feel more engaged and in control and can also boost innovation within the company. This strategy proved successful for GE who commissioned a group of millennials to tell them what they would like to see in the company culture. As a result they moved away from the “command and control model” to a faster, simpler culture where individual teams have more autonomy to experiment and make decisions.

Recognition and regular feedback

Give millennials regular feedback, good and bad, but always constructive. This generation responds well to encouragement and immediate feedback. Overall, they want feedback 50% more often than other employees. Make it clear from the beginning that you reward good work, and then keep an open line of communication to let them know how they’re doing and how they can improve.

Personal development

Millennials continually want to improve themselves, enhance their knowledge and apply that to their work. In fact, this is no different to Baby Boomers and Generation X. Development is an intrinsic motivator for all of the generations, but it is displayed differently in each. Boomers are less likely to readily use social media for learning or seek regular feedback – a big contrast to the more techno and media friendly Generation X and Y. Boomers react well to classroom type training, Generation X generally like on the job training and millennials prefer more interactive training such as leadership training games, disaster preparedness and mindfulness games. Indeed, more and more companies are adopting a strategy of play as a tool for personal and professional development. Invest in training courses, send millennials to conferences, invite speakers in and encourage team-building exercises.

Millennials’ specific characteristics – their ambition, their thirst for knowledge, self improvement, and their desire to make quick progress, as well as their reluctance to put up with a situation they’re not happy with – requires a focused approach from employers. Rigid corporate structures are out – individual, considered, needs-based management is in.

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