Is the ability to engage & motivate Millennials the elusive unicorn?

Design 7

Millennials, boy they cop some flack in the media don’t they, but is it all justified? First of all, just who are the millennial generation? There are some varying parameters but most seem to agree it is the generation born between 1981 – 1996, so those aged between 22 to 37 in 2018 – a big chunk of your current workforce.

Also known as Gen Y, when generalised Millennials are extremely focused on developing themselves and thrive on learning new job skills, always setting new challenges to achieve. They are also the “can do” generation, never worrying about failure, for they see themselves as running the world and work environments.

Millennials commonly feel under-utilised and believe they’re not being developed as leaders. They continue to express positive views of businesses’ role in society; they have softened their negative perceptions of corporate motivation and ethics, and cite a strong alignment of values. However, Millennials feel that most businesses have no ambition beyond profit, and there are distinct differences in what they believe the purpose of business should be and
what they perceive it to currently be. Millennials often put their personal values ahead of organisational goals, and are known to have shunned potential employers that conflict with their beliefs.

When it comes to work life balance, Millennials are not willing to give up their lifestyle for a career. They have traveled extensively and value having flexibility in their daily lives. They choose careers that allow them to live the life they desire. Millennials are team-oriented, banding together to socialise in groups. In school, this generation was taught lessons using a cooperative learning style. Therefore, they feel comfortable working on teams and want to make friends with the people at work. They believe that a team can accomplish more and create a better end result. They also grew up in a multi-cultural world which enables them to work well on a team with diverse co-workers. They communicate in snippets through instant messaging, texting, Facebook and e-mail. Quick and efficient communication is the way Millennials choose to interact, not necessarily face-to-face.

But really, this kind of “kids these days” rhetoric from older generations is just history repeating itself. For the most part, Millennials and recent grads aren’t uniquely any more disruptive to the workforce than Gen Xers or Boomers were.

So how can business utilise this information to engage with, and motivate their Millennial employees? There is so much written about this very subject that when researching this blog post even I was overwhelmed with the multitude of “professional” opinions. So in an effort to sort the hay from the chaff here are my top 6 that I have found to be most successful at work.

Provide clear direction and purpose
Millennials are a generation that has had access to information like no other, and this means they are also inquisitive like no other. This means they will often question what they are doing when it is not immediately apparent that it serves a meaningful purpose. This can be misinterpreted as lacking in work ethic or as insubordination, when it really comes from a place of wanting to better understand the purpose. Obviously, this can mean different things for different people, but how the work is communicated and positioned is everything. Namely, people need a purpose and they need to know their work matters. It’s not always easy to do, but it needs to be defined and communicated thoughtfully in order to get an employee’s buy-in. The natural outcome is likely to be passionate and harder-working employees who are very likely to outperform the generations that have gone before them.


In my experience, there is a large percentage of the workforce that wants nothing to do with public recognition for a job well done (myself included, I once had a manager who took great pleasure in putting people on the spot publicly, for an introvert its the very definition of worst nightmare). What people and employees do need is some sort of acknowledgement that their work matters and is valued.

Millennials live in a world of instant feedback, Facebook & Instagram provides an avenue for continuous feedback which has created a psychological expectation to receive this in real life too. Most of the time, a simple smile and a “Thank You” from their manager is all that matters. Other times, it’s something else. Get to know your employees on a personal level and find out how they liked to be recognised and respect their answers.

Offer variety and learning opportunities
Millennials don’t want to be doing the same job, day in and day out, for the next, five years, three years or even ONE year. While promotions are fantastic motivators for Millennials, not every company can provide for these opportunities. Instead, focus on learning opportunities and career development skills on a regular basis. In fact in a recent study commissioned by PWC, career progression is the number one priority for Millennials in the workplace. In the same study, 52% of the respondents said this was the main motivation for choosing an employer, coming ahead of a competitive salary in second place (44%).

Learning & career development opportunities can take many forms. The goal is to be an organisation that promotes learning both formally and informally. Opportunities such as conferences, online courses, workshops, webinars & acting opportunities are all welcome by Millennials.

Work-life balance is a top priority
In the same study by PwC, a whopping 95% of Millennials say that work-life balance is important to them. For younger workers, success is defined by having control over when and how they work and collecting life experiences – both of which can only be achieved by having a healthy balance between work time and personal time. They work hard, but they are not into the sixty hour work weeks defined by the Baby Boomers. Home, family, spending time with the children and families, are priorities.

Provide structure
Reports have monthly due dates. Jobs have fairly regular hours. Certain activities are scheduled every day. Meetings have agendas and minutes. Goals are clearly stated and progress is assessed. Define the success factors, Millennials don’t need to be micromanaged but they do need to know your expectations.

Provide a fun, employee-centered workplace
Millennials want to enjoy their work. They want to enjoy their workplace. They want to make friends in their workplace. Worry if your Millennial employees aren’t laughing, going out with workplace friends for lunch, and helping plan the next company event or committee. Make it a habit to evaluate morale in your workplace; if it’s suffering, a break for fun can lift spirits and boost success. Give your team a chance to enjoy themselves; it’ll undoubtedly create a friendlier, happier, and all-around healthier environment for everyone.

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