The Honest-to-God Truth About Engaging Millennials

Millennials have become a force to be reckoned with in the business world, and no other workplace demographic has been subject to more analyses, surveys, and speculation in recent years.

In early 2013, Time published a widely circulated article called The Me Me Me Generation, which purported that Millennials are used to being rewarded for nothing, have little loyalty to organizations, and their technology-obsessed attitudes make them difficult to engage. The article even went so far as to insinuate that most if not all of Generation Y was suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder epidemic brought on by their “sheltered” upbringings.

This has all put a stigma on Millennials as being difficult to engage, but in reality they are not that much different than any other generation when it comes to engagement levels. They are simply another unique workforce demographic that requires a specific engagement strategy.

So how do you best engage a Millennial? Here are a few tips:

1. Be aware of key concerns

In an extensive survey by Robert Half International, Gen Y-ers were polled on what their top workplace concerns are. Surprisingly, salary and career advancement don’t even make the list.

In order of importance, the top three concerns are working for a manager they can respect and learn from, working with people they enjoy, and having a decent work/life balance. If your Millennial workers aren’t getting this type of vibe from your company, engagement levels may suffer.

2. Provide regular feedback

Millennials were raised in the era of instant communication, so they will look for more involvement with their bosses and more timely critiques of their work.

In fact, only 10 percent of Millennials are comfortable communicating with their bosses only once a week — most want daily feedback. Even if it’s a simple “Great job!” at the end of the day, constant feedback is what fuels Generation Y’s desire to achieve more in the workplace.

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3. Have a conversation

Greg Petro, retail analyst and frequent Forbes contributor, has perhaps the simplest solution for engaging Millennials: “…if companies want to know what Millennials want, they need to engage in a dialogue with them. It’s a conversation.”

An unfortunate side effect of all the Gen-Y hype is that they become stereotypes rather than individuals. If you are truly lost as to how to engage a Millennial, don’t hesitate to open an honest dialogue and get to the root of their personal concerns.

Resistance or rebukes toward the incoming generations by elder generations has been going on for over a century, and the accusation of being the “Me” generation has not only been leveled at Gen Y, but the Gen X-ers who came before them, and the Baby Boomers that came before them, and so on.

At the end of the day, Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers all want the same basic things from their careers: some respect, some recognition, and a manageable work/life balance. Is that so much to ask?

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

Cord Himelstein has helped HALO Recognition become one of the leading providers of employee rewards, recognition and incentive solutions. Since 2007, he has been responsible for leading the company’s strategic marketing initiatives and communications efforts. Cord works closely with customers to help them develop measurable workforce recognition strategies and create memorable experiences for their employees.

Cord is also a recognized thought leader in the human resources community, and is a regular contributor to the company's corporate blog, where his articles have enjoyed national exposure through major HR publications including SHRM, Workspan, TLNT, Smartbrief, and Entrepreneur. Prior to joining HALO Recognition, Cord worked in the entertainment industry for more than 15 years, where he held senior positions with Elektra Entertainment and EMI Music Group.



9 Comments on “The Honest-to-God Truth About Engaging Millennials

  1. According to this research millennial employees are concerned about “working for a manager they can respect and learn from, working with people they enjoy, and having a decent work/life balance.” In other words, they are just like every other generation of workers, at least those born after 1900.

  2. 2 makes sense, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, we do like instant gratification, but we also came of age in an era where the economy was highly unstable and people were losing their jobs left and right. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen to us, so personally I’d like to know where I stand with my manager, whether I’m meeting expectations or if there’s something I could be doing better.

  3. It’s the job of the older generation to trash the young generation; it’s always happened in the past, and it will always happen in the future

  4. I really wish publications (such as ERE, TLNT, SourceCon, etc.) would stop legitimizing the perpetual repetition of irrelevant and irrational generational stereotyping by allowing this content to continue to appear on an almost daily basis. Every single article on this tired topic seems to say the same exact thing and none of it adds any value whatsoever to diminishing HR’s reputation for being clueless dolts.

    1. Maybe you’re right about this topic being overdone, but one of the largest HR groups on LinkedIn just posted a manager’s choice question on “How do you manage and motivate Millennials?”

      Despite your hyperbole,this isn’t a topic that gets written about “on an almost daily basis,” and perhaps a lot of others are still struggling with this issue and looking for some guidance.

      I’ve written numerous times that I believe the notion that Millennials are somehow different from every other generation is nutty, and, that every generation has its own quirks and issues that we just need to get used to as managers. Have you not seen any of THOSE articles?

      1. Thanks, John! It IS nutty. I appreciate your position of balancing the apparent ongoing attraction to this subject-matter none-the-less. Perhaps daily is not the case here, but no doubt daily somewhere. Certain branding experts and content producers have built entire careers on everything millennial/gen-y ensuring the generational generalities and generalizations never lose momentum. However, there are many others from all gens that have stronger opinions about the absurdity of this obsession than I shared. I keep hoping if we ignore it, it will go away. But not calling out the obvious ridiculousness of it all seems to condone it instead. As for the LI HR group content, based on some of the discussion I’ve seen, critical thinking is not always demonstrated by many participants. Thanks again for addressing my vent/rant. ~KB @TalentTalks

  5. The key to any type of engagement is to discuss hot button issues that the individual you are reaching out to cares about regardless of their generation. No different than selling – ask probing questions to determine hot buttons, and provide goods and/or services that address said wants and needs. The challenge is providing content that they, Millennials want and need, not what we want them to have. Big difference.

  6. It seems that millennials are receiving a lot of “heat” for either wanting too much, not doing enough, being overly enthusiastic about their skills, etc. Every past generation has been criticized for this, as many of the comments stated. However, writing about the topic makes complete sense. Why? Because it’s important to be prepared and stay relevant as an employer. In 2014, millennials will represent 47% of the workforce in the US (source: LinkedIn). That is a staggering statistic, and staying informed on what attracts the best of these 47% will help shape the successful companies of the future.

    By definition, I am considered a millennial. I have both worked in a company and worked with millennials, and I believe feedback and communication are the most important factors in the retention process. What I mean by feedback is both criticism and praise (when praise is due). I understand that my generation grew up with receiving trophies just for showing up. And it is frustrating to think that a company needs to give feedback only in the form of praise. However when companies understand that a culture of feedback and learning increases retention and lowers turnover, then why not pay attention?

    Lastly, marketers have understood that advertising is no longer a one-way street. Setting up a system by which a company listens to the needs of the employees, can significantly reduce costs. For instance, if wellness initiatives are important for employees, building an on-site gym is futile if employees value more healthy lunch options or a flexible lunch schedule. Being aware that millennials are eager to jump in this conversation is an important insight.

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