Millennials (generally defined as those born 1981 to 1996) get a bad rap. As members of the U.S. workforce, they’ve been called entitled, lazy, spoiled, needy and other not-so-nice (and factually incorrect) words. But behind those stereotypes are a gross generalization and vast misunderstanding of the generation that currently makes up more than a third of the U.S. workforce.

Millennials outnumber baby boomers and Gen Xers, and their numbers are only going to swell in the coming years. So, what does that mean for employers? It’s time to ditch the derogatory stereotypes and learn how to engage millennials once and for all.

Take advantage of their strengths

Millennials boast many positive qualities that should be viewed as strengths in any workplace. They’re tech savvy, team oriented, outcome driven and have a hunger for learning. These are all positive qualities that employers can and should take advantage of. How? Identify these talents in individual employees and involve them in the type of problem-solving that plays to these strengths.

Millennials are also known for the value they place on a work-life balance—also a good thing for any workplace interested in preventing burnout and turnover. Don’t fight it. Instead, allow these expectations to help inform your policies related to flexible work arrangements and time off.

Motivate by meaning

It’s incorrect to assume that millennials don’t value traditional workplace benefits like a competitive salary, health insurance and a retirement plan. They do, but those alone won’t keep them engaged.

“Millennials, more than other generations, approach their role with some pretty high expectations,” says XMI Executive Vice President Bob McKown, who leads XMI’s human resources outsourcing team. “They want their work to have meaning and purpose, both to the company and to the world at large.”

In other words, millennials aren’t content being cogs in a wheel. Take the time to help them understand the connection between the work they do and the goals of the company. Also, provide opportunities for workers to make an impact on their world. You could sponsor team-building events around volunteer opportunities, provide matching funds for charitable contributions or allow paid time off for volunteer work.

Provide more feedback

It may be seen as a negative, especially if you’re a boomer boss, but is millennials’ expectation of instant feedback really so bad? In the case of shoddy work, it can foster faster course corrections, and when the work is good, it can serve as a much-needed Atta boy, letting employees know they’re valued. That sounds a little like the one-minute manager approach.

“When someone turns in a project and does a good job, acknowledge it with a quick email,” says Michelle Thompson, XMI director of human resources. “Instant recognition for a job well done goes a long way.”

Thompson says prioritizing and formalizing a workplace communication strategy is key. And a monthly staff meeting probably isn’t going to cut it. At XMI, for example, teams meet in person once a week, and managers meet with each team member individually, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. “It’s important to think about and learn what individual employees need,” Thompson says.

The good news is whatever communication strategy you put in place should benefit the whole company, she adds. Every employee, even boomers, are going to benefit from more face time. They might not need it as much, but it should still be a boon for business.

Need help managing your growing millennial workforce or assistance helping generations work together more effectively? XMI offers a number of resources, including online and in-person workshops, to help you understand employee motivation and what your diverse workforce needs from their employers. Get in touch at 615-248-9255.

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