millennials

How to Engage Millennials in the Workplace


They’re young, they’re ambitious, they’re digital natives, and they probably make up more than a third of your workforce. They’re the millennial generation — and while much has been written by, for and about them, it seems that many employers still don’t understand them. Depending on your news publication of choice, we should all either commend them for their ingenuity, ambition and “outside the box” thinking or bemoan their “8 second attention spans” and the way they appear to want it all and want it yesterday. Preferably via some sort of app.

Nonetheless, given the fact that the millennial generation is expected to make up three quarters of the workplace by 2025, engaging, motivating, challenging and retaining millennials needs to become a priority. With that in mind, here are some things you should consider when it comes to getting the most out of millennials in the workplace…

 

Give them ongoing support, training and development

A common complaint about millennials is that they’re “needy” and are constantly seeking praise. The truth, however, is that they’ve grown up in an education system that is driven by results, and they are accustomed to being prodded and jostled in order to achieve excellence. Therefore, when they look to you for reassurance or regularly check if they’re doing something right, that’s not an innate character flaw. That’s them showing you that they care.

That said, you can show them your commitment and support in more meaningful ways than providing verbal encouragement (although a sincere “thank you” goes a long way). Instead, show your support by implementing a course of ongoing professional development in line with their needs, aptitudes, areas for development and career goals. 

Give them extensive training, not just throughout the onboarding period but throughout their careers. Many millennials are great fans of video games… so why not gamify the training and development process, incentivising team members to level up their skills with tangible opportunities and possible rewards. 

Sure, training can be expensive and it can be disruptive… but nowhere near as expensive or disruptive as replacing an employee who got bored of feeling under-stimulated and under appreciated. 

 

Show them it’s not all about the money

Unlike baby boomers and Gen Xers, the millennial generation didn’t grow up worshipping the images of Wall Street excess that were portrayed as the height of virtue. They grew up in an atmosphere of stark warnings about climate change, wealth inequality and corruption — expecting to be exploited by avaricious employers before they even brought their skills to the marketplace. 

Millennials don’t just want to do well in their professional lives. They want to do something good for the world that has purpose. And engaging them is about far more than an impressive remuneration package. They want to work for (and buy from) companies with a strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). They gravitate towards employers with a strong ethical message who actually follow through on all the PR-friendly soundbites.

If your mission statement carries a strong set of values and a CSR mandate that’s ingrained in your workplace culture and operational procedure, you stand a good chance of attracting bright, committed millennial employees.

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Give them flexibility

Millennials are possibly the first generation in the workplace who value their time more than they value their money. And it’s not very hard to see why. For most, the idea of owning their own property is a pipe dream, they’d rather not drive if they can cycle or walk to work and most are so saddled with student debt that saving for a wedding is much less of a priority. They aren’t as money-driven as previous generations but their time is precious to them. And they’re right to value it. After all, it’s the one thing they can never, ever get more of.

Therefore, offering more flexible working hours or allowing them to accrue ‘flexitime’ can be a great way to engage millennial employees and show them that you’re on their side. Shorter working hours and giving employees the ability to work from home may seem like counterproductive strategies, but there’s actually significant evidence to show that they can improve productivity and engagement. Not just for millennial employees but all employees. So, thinking with your millennial team members in mind could greatly benefit the workforce as a whole. 

What’s more, enabling remote working for your employees can help to reduce your corporate carbon footprint and reduce overhead costs. Allowing employees flexibility can pay off!

 

Make their workdays more varied and interesting

Even if the stereotype about millennials having short attention spans were true, it’s not very hard to see why. This is a generation that has grown used to brands, celebrities and politicians alike screaming at them through their smartphone screens all their adult lives. With so much trying to occupy their attention, it’s no wonder that they may be prone to wandering minds every now and then.

It’s often said that millennials have a problem with boring or repetitive tasks… so find ways to shake things up. Encourage team building and socialisation rather than leaving team members to handle repetitive tasks solo. Identify opportunities for automation so that dull and repetitive tasks become less commonplace anyway. 

Implement BYOD days. As we all know, millennials love using their own devices. And because they’re so proficient with them, you might just be missing a productivity trick if you encourage them to leave their smartphones and tablets in their desk drawers and lockers. 

And always, always, always ensure that employees have a forum where they can voice their ideas for how to shake things up and make them more interesting and dynamic. Remember that employees have a more granular perspective of your operations than you can get from sitting in your office. Their ideas could radically improve efficiency and productivity… so make sure that you have the opportunity to hear them.

 

Implement a programme of employee recognition

By and large, millennial workers value the experiential over the material. So when it comes to recognising and rewarding their accomplishments, try to think outside the box of bonuses and shares. 

Millennial workers want to be praised and to feel as though their work is making a difference. And an employee recognition programme can give them exactly that. It can allow you to share and celebrate their achievements and encourage their peers to do the same. 

There are digital tools that can make this much easier. These tools look and function just like the social platforms that millennial workers are so accustomed to using, yet have the benefit of driving engagement rather than being a detriment to it. They can be used to keep employees abreast of the successes that they have helped to bring about. They can be used to call attention to a specific achievement, a target met or an outstanding effort by any one employee. Employees can also nominate one another for awards. You can even use them in conjunction with a rewards scheme — but remember, time and experience are more meaningful to millennial workers than money and material goods.

With a little imagination, these platforms can be a great way of showing millennial workers how much they’re valued. This will keep them engaged, loyal and less likely to cross the street into the open arms of your competitors. 

An employee being recognised for good work

An employee being recognised for good work