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Getting to the Truth of What Motivates Millennials at Work

Deidre Paknad  ::  Strategy & Execution

Millennials are the first generation in history to be blessed with instantly-accessible information. An unprecedented one third of those aged 20 to 29 have graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Reading about world catastrophes, Millennials grew up believing in the power of their own volition and mistrusting people in power (only 19% of Gen Y believes others can be trusted, compared to 40% of boomers, according to a Pew Research Study).

Equally notable, they are the largest, most multicultural generation to date.

Millennials are disrupting norms in the best and worst possible ways, and the future of your workforce rests on their frighteningly fickle shoulders.

The good news is that although Gen Y has its differences, it’s got a lot in common with you… especially the you from 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

1. Job ambiguity.
Well, kind of.

According to a Future Workplace study, 91% of Gen Yers expect to stay in a job for three years or less. Millennials also make up a staggering 29% of entrepreneurs, according to a Pew Research study.

Like generations that have come before, today’s younger generation is motivated by innovation and growth and looking for ways to progress quickly. Because they’re multicultural and extremely adept at multi-tasking, they will want diverse work activity and experiences. Keep job roles clear, then identify and offer opportunities for growth and creative expression that build or stretch their expertise.

Be willing to let Gen Yers explore other pathways your company has to offer, and give them opportunities to explore their interests outside of work by, for example, facilitating volunteer opportunities (they are just as altruistic as prior generations) and providing exercise classes. Millennials are expected to be the first generation with a shorter lifespan than their parents, so they’ll be thankful for your efforts in the years to come.

2. Mentors, mentors, mentors, advice and feedback.
Recent college grads have so much potential and energy. By tapping into it and mentoring them, you’re not only helping to give them guidance and feedback, but ultimately helping the company gain a long-term, inspired, and profitable employee.

What’s good for the mentee is also good for the mentor: In a Sun Microsystem mentoring program, mentees had a 23% higher retention rate than nonparticipants. The benefits were also reflected in their mentors — 20% were more likely to stay onboard when participating in the program. It saved the company a staggering $6.7 million dollars.

3. Forget the money.
For the first time in history, student loan debt outstrips credit card debt. But surprisingly, twentysomethings equate job satisfaction with good benefits and doing what they love. Money is not their first — or even their second — priority.

Building a goal-driven organization — one that has communicated clear priorities and outcomes — is key to success. While everyone dislikes bureaucracy, research shows Millennials like it least. By focusing on goals and outcomes and creating a transparent organization where teams can see each others’ priorities, you can best engage Millennials in your mission and it will help others in the company rally around getting great work done.

Millennials spent formative years sharing everything on social media; transparency is in their nature. By tying them into the organization at all levels and engaging them with clear, well-defined goals and outcomes, they will be motivated. No carrot/stick required. Just clarity.

4. Give constructive feedback.
Provide constructive feedback on employee work; no one likes to work in a vacuum and contrary to what you may hear, Millennials want direct feedback. Recognize exceptional work. Have one-on-ones. Set up team building exercises. Be transparent about how employee’s work affects the company’s future. Keep your team informed on company goals.

Many managers don’t provide enough feedback, and many more are scared to have the tough conversations that come along with management. If GenYers — the same generation that spends more time online Facebook than on TV — aren’t getting feedback, they recognize it as a lost learning opportunity and may assume their work is irrelevant. The result is disengaged and departing employees. All employees need and do better with feedback but young people do 70% of their learning on the job so it’s imperative. It may be tough to give weekly feedback, but it’s even harder to see talented young people leave the company because they feel directionless.

In sum, the numbers are clear: Millennials are a unique generation with unique experiences that are fundamentally different with previous generations. Their multicultural, inclusive, and digital transparency habits are phenomenal assets for growing and global organizations. Their motivation and willingness to work is not so different than previous generations, despite the buzz. By investing on developing talented young people, you will be developing the next great workforce.

— The Velocity Gurus @ Workboard

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