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Management Consulting & Training


Millennials are Motivated - Maybe Just Not at YOUR Job

Posted on November 21, 2018 at 6:00 AM

"The twentysomething generation is balking at work... Why are today's young adults so skeptical? They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder... Companies are discovering that to win the best talent, they must cater to a young work force that is considered overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst... They want flexibility, access to decision making and a return to the sacredness of work-free weekends... Most of all, young people want constant feedback from supervisors."
- Time Magazine cover" target="_blank">story, "Twentysomethings"


Does this sound like criticism you have heard some Generation X manager say about their Millennial team members? Ironically, this quote actually came from a Time Magazine cover story in 1990 about Generation X workers as they entered the workforce. Today's twenty-and-thirty somethings in the workplace - a.k.a. the Millennials - are not that different than their bosses - a.k.a., Generation X - were at their age.


A big difference between the two generations is the emergence of the internet and the resulting changes in the workplace. Millennials have more options than previous generations on where to invest their talent and energy. If their full-time job doesn't excite them, a Millennial can dive into the "gig economy" on the side or as an alternative to a traditional job. They can drive an Uber or Lyft before or after work. They can do freelance work on the side through sites like Fiverr and Upwork. They can publish books, blogs, music, and other creative work through platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. In short, where ambitious Gen X-ers may have poured their time and energy into extra hours at the office, today's Millennials have many other options.


The key for Gen X managers is to figure out how they can offer in their jobs the same things that are motivating Millennials in extra-curricular channels. Here are a few things Gen X managers should try to work into their job designs to motivate Millennials.


Extra Income - In addition to a diploma, new college graduates today are weighed down by $37,000 of student debt, on average. Where young Gen X-ers may have seen extra money as nice to help buy their first house, today's new workers need to make extra money just to keep their head above water with their student debt payments. Employers that can find ways to profitably offer additional income opportunities to their young workers (e.g., overtime pay, incentives) can tap more of that motivation.

Feedback - Side gigs often give immediate performance feedback. Uber rides get ratings. Books get reviews. Blogs get comments. Freelance work gets repeat business. Formal performance appraisal systems that rely on annual or semi-annual feedback cycles are not enough. Employers that can find ways to get managers to offer immediate performance feedback can appeal to the innate desire for approval within Millennial workers.

Autonomy - Side gigs let Millennials be their own boss. They get to set things like their hours, colleagues, attire, and their working environment. Employers that can find ways to let their Millennial workers control parts of their working environments will appeal to this desire for autonomy.

Purpose - Millennials are skeptical about the ethics and motivation of big business, according to studies. At the same time, Millennials care a great deal about climate change, wars, and inequality, according to the World Economic Forum. Side gigs can be where Millennials find a way to do work that serves a bigger purpose than just making money. Employers that can demonstrate a commitment to ethics and contributing to social good can appeal to Millennials' desire to serve a larger purpose with their work.

New Skills Development - Millennials are quite aware how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence will change the workforce during their prime working years. They realize they need to build new skills, especially soft skills like confidence and interpersonal skills, but only 36 percent of Millennials believe their current employer is helping them prepare for the future workplace. Side gigs can give them the chance to build confidence and interpersonal skills in their own way. Employers that can help their Millennial staff build the skills they need for the future will be seen as having a competitive advantage.

Every generation is different, and generations are not monoliths. Individual members of the Millennial generation have individual needs. But smart employers can take some simple steps today to help tap into the energy and motivation that will appeal to many common needs of people in the Millennial generation. After all, Gen X-ers remember the good and bad bosses they had at that age. Why not make a few moves today that will make you the "good boss" your Millennial staff talks about to their Gen Z employees in the future?  

Categories: People Leadership, Performance Management, Coaching