Managing for the Future: What it Takes to Lead and Motivate Millennials in the Workplace

Millennials have gotten a bad rap in the media when it comes to work-related issues.

Take the recent story about a group of interns who were fired for petitioning for leniency in the company’s strict dress code.

The story reinforced the reputation of Millennials as entitled, lazy, narcissistic and difficult to work with.

But perception isn’t necessarily reality when it comes to the newest and largest generation of workers since the Baby Boomers.

For example, a 2013 study by PwC, the world’s largest professional services network, the University of Southern California and the London Business School, looked at the growing number of Millennials leaving the company after only a few years and discovered that what this generation looks for in a job is not unreasonable or unrealistic: fair compensation, flexibility and a company mission they can get behind.

The study also showed that what engages and motivates Millennials is also what sets them apart from their Baby Boomer and Generation X counterparts.

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A Generation Trying to Prove Itself

The Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, came of age in a digital era that made information readily available and easily accessible. They are tech-savvy, well-educated, self-confident and want the opportunity to prove themselves quickly in today’s workforce but not at the cost of their outside lives.

Millennials strongly value work/life balance and therefore strive for time with family and friends, volunteering and hobbies, while still having a fulfilling career. This diverse generation values flexibility, opportunities for growth and advancement in the workplace and understanding how what they do impacts the organization as a whole. They rely strongly on mentors who communicate clear expectations and how they’re stacking up.

Millennials also make up the largest segment of today’s workforce and will make up 75 percent of the total workforce in the next 10 years. Attracting and retaining millennials is, therefore, critical to any company’s future and success.

Managing for Your Company’s Future

The average millennial only stays with a company for about two years, which costs companies both money between $15,000 and $25,000 per replacement hire and talent to lead the company in the future. 

In fact, 60 percent of millennials have changed jobs between one and four times in the last five years, according to State Street Global Advisors. Money certainly can play a role in that, but so do other factors like not feeling valued and a lack of flexibility in how and when they work. Companies that challenge traditional work practices and expectations may give millennials a reason to stay and to give you their best work.

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Best Practices for Engaging Millennials

Here are some things your company should consider when trying to attract, retain and motivate Millennials: 

  • Focus on results, not working styles. Millennials are just as committed to the success of your company as their counterparts, but how and where they work are important factors to their job satisfaction. Millennials want flexibility and autonomy in how and when they work. Allow for these types of flexibilities, and they will deliver.
  • Invest in Millennials not with gimmicks like lunchtime yoga, game rooms, and never-ending snacks, but with growth opportunities, such as training programs and decision-making responsibilities. Millennials want the chance to practice what they’ve learned while addressing real-world problems and are prepared to accept the consequences if their work is not up to par.
  • Embrace transparency. Millennial workers are more likely to support your company’s mission if they fully understand it and how their work contributes to it. Sharing how and why decisions are made and asking for their insights can help workers feel more engaged and committed to your organizational goals.
  • Recognize their contributions. Millennials value real-time feedback on how they’re doing in a job and one-on-one mentoring when it comes to career planning. Empower your managers to reward workers for a job well done outside of traditional performance evaluations.
  • Invest in technology that’s mobile. Millennials are used to working on computers and smart devices, so there is an expectation that companies offer easy-to-use tools to do their jobs. They may see technology that ties them to their desks as inferior and may look for more technologically savvy and data-driven companies if they’re not happy with your offerings.
  • Build a sense of community. Provide opportunities for Millennials to connect, collaborate and build networks with their fellow workers. Consider implementing social responsibility programs that encourage employees to work together for the greater good. Employees who share common goals and passions with their cohorts are more likely to stay with an organization.

In the follow-up to its 2013 survey, PwC made a variety of changes to its organization, including more flexible working arrangements, training opportunities and increased organizational transparency and communication to help attract and retain their millennial workforce. By increasing its focus on how to engage workers of all ages, PwC has seen increases in engagement, training hours retention and performance.

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Recognizing One Size Does Not Fit All

Embracing change can be difficult for organizations that have done things a certain way for generations. So don’t be hasty in implementing new management practices no matter how good your intention. It’s important to look at the generational difference in your own organization by determining what drives and engages your workforce.

What works for you may not work for your competitors or partners. Experiment with solutions to address the changing needs of the organization and supports a sustainable future with Millennials at the helm.

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