Every business wants motivated employees. A productive workforce, though, doesn’t happen by accident: Employers must create an operating environment that inspires their people and gives them the tools needed to succeed.
If the tools vary with the times, lately the times are all about Millennials. These employees, ranging in age from roughly 25 to 40, now make up the largest workforce component according to the Pew Research Center. Hard on their heels is the fastest growing labor segment: Gen Z, aged roughly 15 to 25.
Both groups tend to job hop more frequently than previous generations – all the more reason for employers to make the right moves now so high performing “A players” don’t jump ship for the competition.
(Note: Because they share many characteristics, Millennials and Gen Z will be combined in this article unless otherwise noted.)
“Millennials can be very loyal employees and can bring important talents to the workplace,” says Jason Dorsey, President of The Center for Generational Kinetics, Austin, TX (jasondorsey.com). “However, businesses must take the time to understand their priorities and recognize how to best meet them.”
So, what do Millennials need? It all starts with a connection between work and life outside the shop.
“While everybody wants to do meaningful work, it’s much more important to Millennials than to previous generations,” says Jack Altschuler, President of Fully Alive Leadership, Northbrook, IL (fullyaliveleadership.com). He describes the Millennial mentality this way: “If all I'm doing is putting a screw in a widget on the assembly line, I'm not going to be motivated. In fact, I'm going to be out of here as soon as I can find something else.”
Finally, the workplace must reflect an appreciation for diversity; the staff makeup should reflect the racial mix of the local community. “Millennials’ assumptions about diversity are quite different from, say, Boomers,” explains Altschuler. “Part of the reason you see so many young white faces at Black Lives Matter rallies is because they see people who are different from them as really pretty much like them. That’s a tectonic shift.”
But there’s a second level of meaning that’s crucial to this age group: The connection between their work and organizational health. Managers must communicate how employees contribute to the bottom line. One way to show the connection between employee actions and profit is to explain how quality work and service create loyal customers.
Even more can be done. Consultants suggest involving the staff in decision-making. “Consider establishing a rotating committee of employees to talk about the entire operational progression from the entrance of the customer to follow-up after the sale,” says Avdoian. “The committee can address questions such as, ‘How can the business increase the quality of its service?’ and ‘How can it improve interdepartmental relations?’”
If the boss isn't listening, they see it as a problem. They may leave for another company where they can share their ideas.”
Professional development is more important for Millennials than for previous generations. “Millennials need opportunities for learning on the job,” says Dorsey.
There’s a special reason for the long-range view of this age group: Their experience with the nation’s economy. “Millennials feel like they've been book-ended with significant negative events,” says Dorsey. “On the front end was the great recession, which led to unemployment and wage stagnation. On the back end is the Covid 19 pandemic, which has led to job losses and a slowdown in career progression. That’s not only because of restricted job opportunities, but also because the generations preceding them are staying longer in the workforce.”
Given this background, Millennials realize they need to lay the groundwork for their future security – and they expect their employer to provide guidance. “Just training Millennials for the work they are doing currently is no longer sufficient,” says Avdoian. “They expect employers to help them enhance their skills for positions they may take in the future.”
Feedback is the flip side of professional development. And, Millennials concerned about job stability and advancement need to know how they’re doing more frequently than older workers. “Millennials need interactions at least once a week from their direct boss, or supervisor, in order to feel that they're doing a good job and their position is secure,” says Dorsey. “It could be a text message, a Zoom session, or an in-person discussion.”
Flexibility And Mobility
As the above comments suggest, Millennials tend to look beyond the walls of the shop when they plan their lives. “Unlike previous generations, Millennials don't identify who they are by their job,” says Avdoian. “They are looking for flexibility in their daily work schedule.” Some are juggling work and children while others are holding down more than one job. [/quotesright]Because they have a variety of serious interests that they want to pursue, the usual 9-to-5 expectations may require modification.[/quotesright]
Mobility goes hand-in-hand with flexibility: Millennials want to work from home when they can. It helps that the generation is digital savvy. “Because they are technology driven, Millennials get work done differently and faster than Boomers,” says Star. The Millennial who quits work at 4:00 in the afternoon may complete a project by banging on a laptop late at night.
The same mentality that values long-range planning and work-life balance also puts a great deal of importance on benefits. “Healthcare and retirement matching are very important to Millennials right now,” says Dorsey. He adds that this is one area where there is something of a split with the younger generation. “While benefits are very important to Gen Z as well, health insurance does not seem to interest them as much as retirement matching.”
Gen Z also shows a pronounced preference for what's called “earned wage access,” a system in which employers pay half wages at the end of every shift. “This is an expectation that they are bringing to employers in many industries,” says Dorsey.
This article has highlighted characteristics common to a Millennial-friendly workplace. Perception, of course, can differ from reality.
While an employer may feel a workplace meets the needs of Millennials, they may have a different opinion.
Indeed, the wise employer will recognize the desire for organizational involvement by Millennials and will reach out for feedback before the high performing ones depart for greener pastures.
- What aspects of the company or your job excite you?
- What motivates you to succeed here?
- What would make your job more satisfying?
- Are you pleased with how we are recognizing and compensating employees?
- Are you happy with your work-life balance?
- What training would you benefit from?”
The answers to such questions can help any employer better understand the Millennial mindset and create a workplace responsive to employee needs. “What gets measured gets done,” says Goruk. “Companies which systematize their feedback process will continually improve because they are measuring what they are doing. And when they determine they’re not doing as well as they could, they can make refinements that will help them achieve greater success in the future.”