THE BLOG

How to Motivate Millennials

04/08/2014 07:11 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2014

How to motivate Millennials is a subject executives ask me about often. There are many people I've met and spoken with who feel Millennials are not motivated. In fact, I recently received a similar comment in reference to one of the many millennial focused blog posts I've written called "Work Ethics In The Workplace: Generation Differences."

How To Motivate Millennials

The comment I received is as follows:

Regarding your statement -- 'Millennials have the reputation of having lazy work ethics and being hard to motivate which isn't true...' is itself untrue. Millennials absolutely do have lazy work ethics, and are among the most overwhelmingly incompetent workers I have ever come encountered. What's even worse is they don't seem to care.

Clearly this gentleman has had some bad experiences. I understand his frustration, but do not agree; therefore, to help explain the work ethics of Millennials I responded to him by sharing four best practices on how to motivate millennials. Because I have more room in this blog post, I've taken the liberty to elaborate and to include seven best practices.

My Expanded Response Is As Follows:

Thank you for your feedback (name removed for privacy).

I don't doubt you've had some challenging experiences. I think everyone has ran into a millennial who did not perform well. I have to balance the scale, howeve,r and say that as a Boomer -- I've worked with Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials who have fallen short of my expectations. I've also worked with Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials who have been amazingly hard-working, creative, devoted and who have sincere work ethics.

Speaking of Millennials specifically -- they are different -- no doubt about it. They cannot be defined in general terms as we've often been able to get away with when speaking about Boomers and Gen Xers... but good people from any generation can be good employees if motivated. The following are four ways (expanded to seven) to motivate Millennials. They are:

  1. Make sure Millennials know the company mission, vision and values. This provides meaning to the employee. All employees -- but especially Millennials are looking to take pride in their work as well as the company they work for. Sharing the companies value-based mission, vision and values and how you support your community as good corporate citizens will help the individual employee be motivated and engaged.

  • Make sure you hire a Millennial whose interests and talents match the work. As they gain experience you might need to restructure their job to keep them engaged and learning new things. Two, three or four years in the same job will be torture for most Millennials (Gen Xers and Boomers). If they have talent you want -- think about how to keep it. Perhaps job-sharing or cross-training is an option. NOTE: Millennials love to mentor others... and this enhances their leadership skills.
  • Millennials enjoy being friendly with the people they work with including regular customers and suppliers. So, focus on relationships to keep things interesting for them. Find ways to have fun and build camaraderie. Perhaps take advantage of how socially responsible they are and have them take a leadership role in developing a fundraising event to support a local charity.
  • A growing popular opportunity is to provide Millennials (and all employees), time to work on self-defined projects. This good for the company and the employee as it helps the employee feel more engaged and in control and boosts creativity and innovation within the company.
  • Another must-have for Millennials (and some Gen Xers and Boomers like it also), is to offer "respectful" flexibility. Being able to work from home one day a week -- or come in late/early will be seen as a great motivator for many, and adds to their loyalty to your company.
  • Millennials do better with very regular evaluation and feedback; this helps keep them motivated and on the right path. You don't need to make a big big deal about it -- letting them know verbally or with a short, handwritten note will let them know you care enough to notice... so will work well.
  • Treat them like adults. But be sure they know this means taking responsibility for successes and failures. Work with them to identify goals -- timelines -- and establish set times to mentor them. Remember -- their strengths are knowledge not 25 years of experience. They are energetic, creative, technically savvy; they are also a fresh perspective. Give them a goal and then come up with ideas on how they'll do it. If they suggest a way that will work within budget -- but it is feasible, let them go with it, even if it isn't the way you would do it.
  • Conclusion To: How To Motivate Millennials

    Millennials want work and work/life balance that most of us would want, no matter how old we are. Millennials want meaningful work that expresses their needs, values, talents and desire to learn. That doesn't sound like unrealistic work ethics; in fact, it sounds quite normal.

    The challenge is because Millennials rarely hold back (they were taught not to), they are going to actively pursue the career and the work/life balance they want. It's not that they are not loyal -- they are, and they will stay with your organization as long as their needs are being met.

    You might be interested in my recent blog post called "Baby Boomers And Millennials Are Alike."

    Happy communicating and creating workplace harmony.

    If you have questions please reach me at bruce@brucemayhewconsulting.com