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How to Motivate Millennials: 5 Tips to Engage with Impact

Many of our clients tell us they are sick of hearing so much about Millennials.  The irony is that many of them saying that are millennials!  Never the less, how to manage and engage millennials is definitely a Topic of the Day.  Every time we build it into a training class or coach someone from a different generation (let’s say older), the head-nodding seems to validate that the topic is still important and not everyone gets the difference between Millennials and other generations.  And here’s the reality: they are taking over….so help them thrive, so they can help you too.

Two of the primary differences in Millennials’ education are: 1) They learned by working in teams, and 2) They learned with technology.  So many of our tips flow directly from those understandings.  Generation X’ers did more individual work in school and tended to get trophies only when they won something, but Millennials did team projects in school and got participation awards for just being on the team.  That usually gets heads nodding and eyes rolling!

At 46 (heart of Gen X), I learned computers in a book and then touched an actual computer ½ hour per week.  Millennials grew up with iPads to take notes.  I used to hand write papers and then type when they were perfect. Younger Millennials may write on their “phone” and then email it to a Word document.  And even that probably sounds silly to some readers, as the dinosaur who is writing this is far from cutting edge.

So here are 5 Tips that we have found over the years that really can help get the most out of Millennials and make them happy and motivated in their jobs.

1. Flexible Working Arrangement Millennials don’t recognize the boundaries between work and life the same as previous generations.  They always have their phone in their pocket and are connected (to work and everything else) most of the time.  So they don’t see “butt in seat” as necessary to performing their work.  Whenever you can allow for that freedom.  You may find they give you more in the long run.

Allow them to work from home if possible.  Also acknowledge that if they worked overnight or over the weekend, then they may deserve some flexibility during the regular work week.  They grew up with more fluidity in terms of formality, so they may schedule a doctor’s appointment at 10 on a Tuesday and plan to make it up that night.  Everyone (all generations) wants freedom like this, but to Millennials it is in their DNA.  Truthfully, many of our clients tell us that these concessions result in more and higher quality work overall!

2. Flex Time This is very similar to the tip listed above.  But, I felt it necessary to call it out separately because it truly is fundamental to understanding Millennials.  8-5 Monday through Friday does NOT mean the same thing as it used to.  Everyone checks their phone during the soccer game or uses their kids nap time to fire off emails in a hurry.  But while Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers grew up thinking this was just a new part of the job, Millennials learned to do this as part of their work.  So the thinking is “if I did 2 hours on Saturday and 2 hours on Sunday, don’t I deserve to leave work at 3 on Thursday so I can coach my kid’s practice?” Like all of these suggestions, this one isn’t just a good one for Millennials.  As they take up more space in the work force and technology enables more connectivity all the time, the notion of Flex Time should really become more fluid, it is really just time….and time is going all the time, not just 8-5 Monday through Friday.  So acknowledge all the contributions that people make and not just “butt in seat” metrics.

3. Team Work and Group Interaction Millennials don’t see hierarchy the same way that previous generations did.  They see themselves as peer collaborators, even with people that have higher job titles than themselves.  They think their opinion matters Day 1, even if you don’t.  So use that to your advantage.  Maximize that propensity for collaboration by putting them in teams to synergize.

By giving them team goals, you can drive motivation and build in mentorship opportunities for the more senior members on the team and this can have great effects (see next tip below).  If they are relatively junior though, you may need to provide structure to the team so that it doesn’t get stuck without any progress.  You may need to assign a formal leader (who can report back to you) or if you have time you can create a milestone checklist and monitor progress yourself.  Teamwork is central to how Millennials grew up, but it is no excuse for delegating away one’s leadership and management responsibilities.

4. Continuous Learning and Development The desire for Learning and Development is growing with everybody in the workforce, but it is inherent to the Millennials.  There is no hope of one job and a gold watch and pension.  So Millennials know that they need to be constantly learning to thrive in this company or the next.  They want to work for companies and bosses that promote that opportunity.

Too many times managers tell us that their company doesn’t have a Training and Development Department.  That may be a hindrance, but the truth is that the best Professional Development doesn’t take place in a classroom; it happens on the job.

Here are some examples of the best learning experiences you can give your employees:

  • 1:1 time with you, focused on their development, NOT a review of tactical responsibilities.

  • Stretch Assignment (with proper guidance by someone appropriate).

  • Finding them a Mentor in another part of the company (committed resource to their development).

  • Working on a Cross Functional Team where they can learn about other parts of the organization and possibly get guidance from another leader.

5. Keep Them Informed I call it the Google Effect.  You know longer have to wonder about an answer, you simply Google it and immediately have the answer.  This has radically affected Millennials and how they operate at work.  They feel like they should understand the Company and the CEO’s Vision and be clear how that impacts them.  Any changes that happen, they feel that they should be informed.  It is anathema for them to read about some major company shake up in The Motley Fool.

Whether it is a Town Hall Meeting, Webinar, or simple written communique; they want to feel included.  They feel part of something when they are included and feel left out when they are not.  Again, this is something that everyone feels, but to Millennials it is something the feel “entitled” to.  And yes that is a buzzword for this generation, when juxtaposed to previous generations!  But it is nonetheless true, so fight it at your own peril, or get on board and use that affiliation to your advantage as an employer or boss!

TAKE-AWAYS These simple Tips can have really powerful effects, especially if they are being implemented for the first time.  If nothing else, I find that many people just like seeing it written down as it validates their experiences.  All these tips apply to everyone, and NOT all Millennials are the same, so take care in how you implement these learnings. At the end of the day, a one size fits all approach to leadership never works the best.

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