The Science Behind Motivating Millennials

Motivating millennials may just be key to the success of your business


Corporate leaders everywhere can’t stop talking about Millennials because they are stumped in figuring out what makes them tick.

Like all generations, Millennials have brought a wave of change to the workforce. Baby Boomers influenced the 'Mad Men' style of work, and Generation X brought about the technology revolution and entrepreneurship. In turn, Millennials have watched their parents struggle with waning retirements, disappearing pensions, and a host of other problems. So is it any wonder that they’re a bit jaded?

Rather than vilify Millennials or treat them as the 'other' executives, we would fare better by approaching our Millennial colleagues with a unifying olive branch. Yes, Millennials view the world through a different lens, but that doesn’t make them inherently good or bad. It just makes them who they are.

In an environment where there is a shortage of talent, learning how to work with — not against — Millennials is crucial for your business's future.

Dominating the workforce: The Millennial tribe

Millennials make up the largest group of workers. Thus, companies can’t afford to bleed out talent by ignoring their needs. As Gallup noted, about a fifth of Millennials have jumped ship from one employer to another in the past year, costing American businesses more than $30 billion in turnover-related expenses.

You can call this 'job hopping,' but don’t automatically blame Millennials without conducting an internal evaluation. If half of Millennials, according to the same Gallup report, say they want to stay with their current company for at least another year, this presents an opportunity for you and other executives to learn. Seek out the answers to the following questions: What makes Millennials engaged at their workplaces? What are those employers doing that others — maybe yours — aren’t?

Millennials present an untapped opportunity for organizations willing to do some serious self-reflection. In fact, nearly half of Millennials come to their positions with at least a four-year degree, according to Pew Research Center. They’re educated, and they’re intelligent. Isn’t that what leaders have said they've wanted all along?

To be sure, Millennials do have a penchant for disengagement, which presents a huge challenge. As further Gallup research shows, engaged employees are almost a fifth more productive and 41% less likely to call in sick than their disengaged counterparts. Knowing these facts, executives need to focus on adapting to Millennials’ proclivities rather than expecting the reverse. Otherwise, even the strongest leaders could find themselves in the hot seat.

For example, in the past two years alone, I’ve seen a shift of top longtime leaders with their jobs in jeopardy because they couldn't engage or retain Millennial workers. This reality should send a strong message: You’ll become a liability to your organization if you can’t grasp the Millennial motivation conundrum.

Using facts, not emotions, to motivate Millennials

As a business leader, you could complain all day about Millennials, but that wouldn’t solve anything. A better solution is to learn how to overcome hurdles by working to generate inclusiveness and unification. You can start by transforming your leadership strategy with the following tips:

1. Accept that Millennials communicate in novel ways

Writing significant copy such as reports? This type of communication is no longer vital for modern work, according to MIT Sloan School of Management. This infrequency is further shown in the research, with over half of respondents reporting they write long-form content once a month or less. On the contrary, Millennials are far more comfortable delivering presentations, with 85% citing that producing presentations provides a meaningful job responsibility. Why not help your Millennial employees enhance their public speaking skills by offering on-the-job verbal communication training? Many Millennials lack empathy and other soft skills due to their tendency toward technology, so they’re eager to understand how to make significant improvements. Another option for engaging Millennials through their preferred communication is by helping them beef up their data storytelling through a series of sessions on data visualization. The better they are at promoting knowledge dissemination visually, the better they’ll be at connecting with other Millennial co-workers, managers, vendors, and even customers.

2. Illustrate the power of mental agility

When my consulting firm studied Millennials, we discovered that mental agility — a notable soft skill — doesn’t come naturally for many younger workers. Even those who are smart and tech-savvy might resist making decisions in highly ambiguous situations when factors are quickly shifting. Instead, Millennials are more comfortable coming to conclusions in structured, collaborative environments. Don’t assume that your Millennial workers can’t learn how to make choices with limited information. They can and will with practice. Plus, they’ll do it faster and more confidently if you show them how, which is ultimately good for profits. A Development Dimensions International study found that investments in soft skills could reap an almost quadruple return. Clearly, there are substantial benefits when it comes to strengthening Millennials' mental agility.

3. Be a vulnerable leader

Millennials value authenticity. To encompass this, be a leader who inspires loyalty by being genuine. You’re human, after all, and your employees should see that you want to learn and make the world a better place just like they do. Share who you are as an individual, not just as a supervisor. Work alongside Millennials, and let them contribute their natural intelligence to conversations. At the same time, teach whenever you can based on your experiences. Millennial workers want access to learn from you in order to better themselves. Never be afraid to show your humanity to Millennials; they won’t see it as a weakness but as an indication of who you truly are.

4. Hold everyone accountable

Worried that if you address performance issues you’ll lose an employee? The exact opposite tends to occur. One Millennial employee told me he quit a previous job because his boss kept allowing him to make the same mistake and never called it out. His take? He couldn’t work for someone who didn’t care.

It’s OK to hold all your employees accountable, including Millennials. Although you might have heard that Millennials are spoiled and entitled, you’re only hurting yourself to feed those shallow stereotypes. Instead, be firm in your expectations. Millennials will appreciate your consistency and the fact that you're challenging them to perform at a higher level.

At the end of the day, leaders who don’t engage with Millennials will lose out. In an employee-friendly market, being able to recruit and retain the largest workforce group in decades is absolutely critical. See the challenge of retaining Millennial talent as fortuitous. You have the chance to tap into some of the brightest minds if you open your own just a bit.

Robots be recruiting

Read next:

Artificial Intelligence Is Giving Recruitment An Edge