We’ve all heard the axioms about millennials in the workplace: they’re lazy, unmotivated, politically-charged crybabies. The term “snowflake” has surfaced in recent years, used derogatorily in an attempt to marginalize this ever-expanding segment of our population and workforce. According to a Pew Research Center study, millennials became the largest demographic in the workforce in 2016; a similar Pew study done in 2020 revealed that millennials also wield the largest consumer purchasing power of any generation. If we as leaders approach millennials with such a negative mindset, we are missing out on a significant opportunity to work alongside this critical part of our population. So how do we work with and lead this seemingly challenged demographic? It is rather simple when viewed objectively; here are several techniques leaders can use to understand, motivate, and communicate with millennials in the workforce.
This word is incredibly foreign to Boomers and Gen Xers, particularly in a work environment. Mid-year reviews, growth plans, and weekly sit-downs are ideas that make these two groups want to crawl out of their skin. The only feedback they were used to receiving from their superiors “back in the day” was a pat on the shoulder followed by “good job.” The need for constant feedback used to be considered a weakness, but for millennials, it is a necessity.
While more complicated, communication is vital to the millennial workforce. The “what” and “how” of the job are often less important to them than the “why?” This passion is almost entirely unique to millennials, and, according to a 2018 Forbes article, they’re willing to let that passion drive their decision-making. The younger generations want to know that what they do contributes to the overall success of the organization. After all, this is the most connected generation in history, with endless information flowing at the tips of their fingers. They know how to research the answer to nearly any question, so how can we expect them to just shut up and take what their superiors say as truth? They want to be able to ask questions and they welcome individualized feedback.
If you want to maximize the potential of a millennial, take the time to outline their potential through performance plans and communicate their strengths and weaknesses through quarterly reviews. Do so and they will thrive; fail to communicate, and you’ll have considerable (and expensive) turnover.
This is a word that, as a millennial, makes me shudder. I was raised a farm kid in Northern Montana, so balance in life is a foreign concept. You work until the job is done, then use the remaining time and bandwidth as you see fit. Oftentimes, late nights and early mornings throughout my military and corporate careers left zero time for my family, but that’s just what I thought was needed to succeed.
This dichotomy is vital to leading millennials. They need time to explore the world around them, hang out in cool coffee shops, and discuss topics that are important to them. Expecting them to put in 80 hours of work for extended periods of time is a recipe for an unstable workforce. Companies like Amazon have done a tremendous job of blending the personal and professional together by allowing time for “passion projects” while in the office. Get creative with your younger workforce and allow them to be creative with you! Provide them with a level of balance, and you will find them to be extremely loyal to your company.
You’re probably thinking, “Well no sh*t, Davin. Everyone wants opportunity!” Sure, millennials desire upward mobility within the walls of the organization. Where they differ is in the opportunities available outside of your company. Opportunities to give back to causes, for example, allows them to feel a deeper connection with their work. To connect with your millennial workers, take up a cause: adopt a park, clean up streets, or volunteer with a nonprofit organization. Not only will you find the younger generation eager to join such causes, but you’re also likely providing them a perfect opportunity to promote your company on their social media accounts.
Outside of external opportunities to give back, millennials are also the first generation who really soaks up and desires personal development training. Again, this ties back to connectivity and communication with your team. If you tie in training opportunities to their growth plans, you will find them highly engaged in their work.
As a career military man, it drives me insane to hear Boomer or Gen X leaders state their disbelief that millennials cannot be successful in the workplace. Sadly, this sentiment isn’t contained to work, but is used culturally across older generations in general. Look across the ranks of our military and what do you see? Millennials leading millennials into combat to fight and die for our country. You’re telling me we cannot train, communicate, and lead them in the civilian sectors? Nonsense! Leadership takes elasticity of the mind and spirit. Adapt to the needs of the younger workforce and reap the benefits; fail to do so and you’ll find yourself likely relegated to dinosaur status in the market.
Millennials want open communication, opportunities to give back, and balance between their work and their personal lives. Maybe they’re not that different from other generations after all.
Gain more leadership insights by listening to our podcast where we cover this same topic.