The issue of how we should engage millennials in the workplace has been the focus of much research and debate in recent years. Rightly so, as millennials will make up 40% of the working population by 2020 (Forbes, 2014).
As a result, many authors are advocating major changes in how we approach almost every aspect of work, culture and organisations in order to accommodate and engage millennials. This sounds like quite a challenge. It also sounds like something that we need to address pretty quickly if our organisations are to remain competitive.
When I read and consider the many articles on this topic, I am almost always drawn to ask the same question – is the answer to how we engage millennials that much different to how we should engage most employees? Is it really any different to how the workplace should be anyway based on many years of research in motivation, leadership and culture and so on?
It appears that much of what millennials want, and are asking for, resonates quite closely to the advice meted out in many leadership seminars down the years. There are, however, some key differences as well.
The Key Similarities
We have been communicating similar advice to leaders for years, and now millennials are asking for it. So, what are the key similarities between what we have been communicating to leaders and what millennials want from work? Here are just a few:
- Work-life balance – millennials want to not only achieve work-life balance, but to go beyond it into work-life integration.
- Greater Flexibility – a significant number of employees from all generations would actually consider lower pay and delay promotions in order to achieve a more flexible working schedule.
- Cohesive team culture – millennials want a work environment that emphasises cohesive team work with clear and transparent communications.
The Key Differences
Many of the differences between millennials and non-millennials suggest a shift in thinking to focus on how the workplace could effectively engage people rather than millennials asking for things that we had never thought of before.
- Millennials are asking, even demanding the implementation of the advice that has formed the core of leadership development for many years. As non-millennials, many of us need to ask why we didn’t make the same requests.
- Millennials prioritise social needs in the workplace such as flexibility, cohesive teams and support and recognition. Non-millennials were more focused on pay and promotion/development opportunities besides other more transactional aspects of work, despite the hours spent learning about leadership and motivation.
- Leading on from the point on ‘social needs’, millennials prefer a collaborative working environment rather than a culture based on competition.
What is the Problem?
Millennials are thankfully forcing us to consider how we should implement many of the workplace approaches we have advocated for years. The problem is that many of us non- millennials still just don’t get it.
So, What Should Organisations Do?
There are several key steps every organisation should take now to engage millenials and all their employees – made clear by the demands and shift in thinking of our millennial colleagues.
- Millennials form the future of our organisations, especially as they will represent 40% of the workforce by 2020, so management needs to learn how to attract, reach, motivate and retain millennials. Millennials are motivated to invest themselves in an organisation where they can make a difference.
- Leverage data and technology to both learn what your employees want and also to create a more flexible workplace. In many jobs, there is less need for employees to be tied to a desk. Increase flexibility and efficiency.
- Place an emphasis on team work and collaboration where support and recognition from supervisors and management is readily and transparently available.
- Finally, as stated in several of my articles over time, one size does not fit all. Millennials want to ‘invest’ themselves in an organisation so it is not good enough to take a blanket approach to employees. Build engagement from the bottom-up by recognising and supporting the individual employee.