Employee Engagement

Beyond Badges: Why Your Millennial Work Force Isn’t Engaged


Millennials surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation, according to the Pew Research Center. They also make up the largest percentage of today’s workforce. The generation, made up of individuals born between 1981 and 1997, came of age in a time when everyone received a trophy at the end of the season and when encouragement overpowered constructive feedback. This building up of millennials is what inspired so many to take on the world. Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, created Facebook from his college dorm. Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are also part of the generation that doesn’t take no for an answer. Often described as entitled and impatient, Millennials are also driven by purpose, believe in giving back to the community, and enjoy constant feedback. So, how do you motivate a trophy-loving, know-it-all in the workplace? The answer is not a congratulations for just showing up. This is a group of people who ask questions. When assigned a task, they want to know the meaning behind it. So it’s no surprise that this group values information—both about their own progress and the progress of their team. In a survey conducted by TriNet, a Human Resources solutions company, “69 percent of Millennials see their company’s review process is flawed” because it does not include feedback in realtime. Similarly, three out of four feel “in the dark about their performance” and want ongoing check-ins with their bosses.  

They Need Growth

In other words, Millennials see no real value in being told “great job” just for doing the basics of their job. That’s what job descriptions are for, right? Despite being the inaugural class of helicopter parenting and coddling, or perhaps because of it, Millennials can smell inauthenticity.

Source: Etsy.com

Their radar for fake-praise only leads to the strengthening of their distrust for authority. So, instead of spending money on Employee of the Month mugs, managers who make time for feedback, whether through a weekly check-in meeting or progress reports showing weekly wins and losses, will find their Millennial employees are much more motivated to grow with a company—and Millennials love growth.  

They Need to Be Informed

No one can grow if they’re not aware of their progress. It’s understood that managers don’t always have the time to put together weekly progress reports and keep track of every employee’s milestones. When time is of essence, turn to an automated process. Many businesses are integrating their CRM reports to leaderboard systems to keep the whole team informed of progress in real time. In an age where you can find out if it’s raining across the world or see what the Kardashian’s are up to, it only makes sense for information to be just as readily available in the workplace. Millennials are used to getting feedback instantly with little to no work, so when you put in place a system that lets them know exactly how they stand in their current projects, they’ll be that much more excited to reach their goals. Even if you’re not able to be there for that weekly pow-wow, it’s important to have a system in place so that both parties can stay informed of how business is going. A quick glance at the leaderboard gives managers the peace of mind knowing their team is staying on top of their tasks, while giving individuals the motivation to know their work is progressing and not futile. When you tie your projects and milestones to a leaderboard, it’s that much easier for everyone to see the bigger picture and goal in mind of the company as a whole.  


They Need Encouragement

Determining the best way to prove the value of an employee is personal to every company and team. It takes time to learn the behaviors of employees and how they best respond to authority. But figuring this out is crucial, as Millennials are also the generation where a life-long career is not considered, spending on average one to two years maximum at a particular job, usually because they don’t see the potential for growth. Someone who figured this out early is Duke University’s famous Coach K–Coach Mike Krzyzewski–who coached the university’s basketball team to over 1,000 wins. After a big defeat, rather than taking his team into the locker room so he could break down every single thing they did wrong, Coach K treated the team to ice cream sundaes and “another practice to help the team recover from the humiliation of the loss”. His reasoning? It encouraged “team building and getting the heads of the young players ready for the next game”.  

This shift in how employees are treated at work does not need to be specific to Millennials. In fact, some studies suggest that both Millennials and older generations are more alike than different when it comes to workplace values and goals. Yet with the onslaught of Millennials entering the workforce, a major shift in company culture and HR approach packs a bigger punch. The IBM Institute for Business Value conducted a side-by-side study of Millennials, Gen-X, and Baby Boomers to better understand their approach to work and there was no greater than a 4 point difference between each goal—the 4 points were on work-life balance, which Millennials are notorious for putting their personal lives behind career successes. So, the next time you’re trying to decipher what’s going through the mind of a Millennial, put yourself in their shoes and try one of these tips (or all of them).