Engaging millennials

Young millennial with a beard

Michael is driven. Michael is connected. He has 492 friends on Facebook, a third of whom he’s ever met. He went to university. He works a part-time job as a barista. He has an unpaid internship at an exciting start-up tech company. He lives with his parents. He’s somewhat interested in politics. He signs petitions denouncing war and poverty. He didn’t vote in the last election. Michael is a millennial. This generation is the talk of the day and everyone wants to know what makes them tick.

Generational cohorts are usually typified through key events in their formative years. Thus, millennials are seen to be defined by 9/11, the recession, texting and wider advances in technological connectivity. Our connection to technology is considered by many to be the most important differentiator for millennials. As a tribe, we are known as ‘digital natives’; we’re wired, connected and some of us haven’t known a world without the internet. It’s certainly hard to deny that millennials are much more dependent on wireless communication mechanisms than their older peers. We’re not sure if this is what sets them apart, especially when it comes to engagement, but there might be other traits that do.

Four things to keep in mind when engaging millennials

1. Millennials thrive in a democratised, collaborative environment

The Millennial Generation Research Review published by the National Chamber Foundation suggests that millennials want an employer that offers a ‘democratised, non-tenured workplace, where authority is earned in a collaborative, casual office’. Hence the recent popularity of holacracy and flatter organisational structures. But, this total transformation of the workplace isn’t needed to create a collaborative workplace in which millennials can thrive (and the engagement needs of Boomers and Gen X-ers aren’t thrown to the wayside). Increasing transparency, encouraging collaboration and allowing employees a chance to participate in decision-making will drive engagement across generations and is something that we encourage our clients to do constantly.

2. Millennials need feedback and support

This generation has in large part grown up with more parental support and encouragement than Boomers and Gen X-ers. This is highly dependent on demographics, and I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s different from person to person, but some researchers say that because millennials are used to getting a great deal of emotional and financial support from their parents they require more direct encouragement and reassurance when working to stay engaged and enthusiastic.

Simple, bottom-up recognition is a great way to help engage this part of your workforce – acknowledging when their work has exceeded expectations through an email or face-to-face will help to keep them motivated and on track.

Creating a peer-to-peer mentor network is also a good way to encourage recognition and mutual support and will help those who need reassurance – millennial or otherwise – get the support they need without overburdening line managers.

3. Manager relationships are the key to their commitment

Manager relationships can make or break any employee’s commitment and engagement, regardless of when they were born. What sets millennials apart here is how they view their manager – they see them as ‘mentors and coaches’ with the Millennial Generation Research Review going so far as to suggest that ‘line managers are more able to earn millennials’ loyalty than the business itself’.

4. Millennials want more

Millennial workers are just emerging from one of the worst global recessions in modern history. A stuttering economy, difficult job market and general uncertainty has changed the way millennials view their working life. This is less a product of technological change than the economic ebbs and flows each generation has had to live with. Boomers and Gen X profited from low housing prices and the economic boom between 1997 and 2008, but they have also experienced austerity and cutbacks in recent years. A job for life is no longer certain, which has had an impact on both levels of commitment and the emphasis that millennials place on their working life. As businesses go through constant restructures and redundancy becomes a fact of life, it’s difficult to fight attrition amongst young, talented employees who are looking for more. Couple this with recruiters poaching talent and you have a toxic mix. Commitment is probably a big enough topic to warrant an article of its own, but we think it comes down to the fact that commitment is a two-way street, for everyone regardless of age. If you want a committed workforce, then you have to show your employees that you’re committed to them – to their well-being and, as much as is possible, their job security.

Posted on 10th July 2015 in Insight
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