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Employee Engagement: What DO Millennials Want?

Employee Engagement: What DO Millennials Want?

If one were to believe media depictions, Millennials are lazy, entitled, way-too-sensitive kids, who expect plum management positions straight out of college and have no interest in “paying their dues” at work.

Or (hear us out) maybe they just have different aspirations and priorities?

Millennials—who are definitely not kids, with the very youngest of their generation rapidly approaching their thirties and the eldest now in their forties—have been devalued and misunderstood in the workforce. When engaged with their work and their employer, Millennials are driven, passionate, and eager to take on new challenges.

So … how do you engage them?

After witnessing (and falling victim to) mass layoffs, Millennials simply cannot be counted on to stay with an organization simply for the sake of tradition or loyalty. This is the generation that was just starting to climb the ladder when the 2008 financial crisis took place. And this is the generation that was first on the chopping block when the resultant mass layoffs occurred. So, they reason, if a company sees them as expendable, why not keep a constant eye out for something better?

What this means for you is that Millennials are a tougher sell when it comes to employee engagement. In fact, only 29% of them are engaged at work. This generation won’t be lured by a few team-building activities or motivational posters. Instead, they want to know that their employer genuinely values them, cares about them as people, and wants to help them do their job well.

Here are four high-impact changes companies can make to improve employee engagement with Millennials:

  1. Address problems collaboratively
  2. Have a mission beyond money
  3. Foster growth and learning
  4. Prioritize work-life balance

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Address Problems Collaboratively

All too often, companies will focus on symptoms. For example, they may notice that turnover has increased, so they start offering things like retention bonuses and service awards.

These types of initiatives may have a bit of an effect, but they don’t even begin to address the question of why turnover has increased.

Instead of applying easy-fix, bandage solutions to workforce issues, go straight to the source: your employees. Millennial employees appreciate being asked for their insight and look askance at any efforts to “motivate” them that were imposed upon them from upper management. So, consider developing an employee engagement committee with a strong cross-section of staff, giving your Millennial staff—and your other staff members—a chance to let you know what actually would increase their engagement.

Have a Mission Beyond Money

While Millennials, who are often racked with student debt and saddled with stagnant wages, certainly enjoy money, it’s not enough to make them want to stay with a company they detest. To truly engage them, it’s important to have a mission they can get behind: An in-depth Deloitte study revealed that 56% of Millennials have “ruled out ever working for a particular organization because of its values or standard of conduct.”

What this means is that Millennials are generally less impressed by working for a big name, preferring to be with an organization that they feel reflects their personal values. That’s not to say that every company needs to have a lofty, world-saving mission. Instead, simple things like ethical business practices and wanting to improve the lives of customers and the community can provide a flag for employees to rally around.

Foster Growth and Learning

Millennials are their companies’ up-and-coming leaders … but they don’t feel like they’re being supported in their roles. In the Deloitte survey, 63% of Millennials said their “leadership skills are not being fully developed.” And a full 71% are actively unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed.

The ones who are happy? They were more likely to agree that “There is a lot of support for those wishing to take on leadership roles” and “Younger employees are actively encouraged to aim for leadership roles.”

Remember, these are individuals who are now in their thirties and forties. They want to grow their expertise and advance in their company. And it is frustrating in the extreme when they are given no opportunities or training to develop their leadership skills because the c-suite devalues their potential.

Prioritize Work-Life Balance

We’ve all encountered employers who seem to think that no staffer should ever have personal obligations that interfere with the workday. Instead of accepting that as par for the course, Millennials are asking the important question: “As long as my work gets done, isn’t that the most important thing?”

Our increasingly mobile and connected world has made it much easier for people to get work done from home, from the library, or during off-hours, and Millennials want their employers to think beyond the rigid 9-5 and take advantage of this flexibility. Indeed, 75% of Millennials in Deloitte’s survey said they wanted to be able to “work from home or other locations where you feel you can be most productive.”

By offering this flexibility, employers send an extremely powerful message to their employees: “I trust you.”

Showing employees that you recognize that they have lives outside of work and that you trust them to effectively balance their work duties with their home obligations is an incredibly effective way to increase employee engagement and retention. In short, Millennials seek a more human, inclusive workplace that treats employees as people, not cogs in a machine.

Millennials may get a bad rap, but when you think about it, they’re owed a big debt of gratitude. These dynamic, tradition-smashing, creative individuals seek to build a workplace culture of caring where staff input is valued, where there is an opportunity for growth, where ethics and a mission are prioritized, and where employees are treated as human beings worthy of trust.

Let’s put them in charge—their ideas will benefit us all.

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