motivating millennials

Millennials and Work Ethic, Part I

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If you missed last week’s post on millennials and generational motivations, click here to read before you dig into this one.

I have owned companies that have employed dozens of younger people, and I still work with companies that employ hundreds of millennials. Sometimes, millennials do actually live up to the low expectations that their employers may have. Often, though, if I can adjust my thinking and really listen to what they’re asking, they can be spectacular. I believe that millennials are the smartest, most technically savvy, and hardworking generation: if you can motivate them correctly. That is the trick.

First, you have to understand their priorities. Realizing that millennials have lived a very different life than the rest of the world is one of the primary ways leaders can understand their motivations. Millennials believe, and have lived much more in a philosophy of abundance. As we discussed previously, very few, if any, have had any exposure to mass disease, famine, or World Wars. Baby boomers and Gen-Xers have certainly lived in a world of abundance, but without understanding the philosophy of it. As a result, many of us have raging debt, bigger waistlines, bigger houses, and more junk than anybody else (far more than our grandparents, and most likely more than our parents). Millennials are starting to ask “why,” and as a result, they often want to work less, even if it means living in a tiny house with less stuff. Instead, quality of work, quality of life, and quality experiences are their main sources of motivation.

Embracing this change in thinking, and being able to tap into this disconnect when managing and motivating millennials, is going to be important. Every generation looks at the new generation coming up as a bunch of slackers. I can only imagine what my parents thought of the “punk” or “grunge” movements. I believe that millennials asking questions around “why” when looking at their own work motivations scares the pants off most of us Gen-Xers. The main reason this scares us is that most of us middle-aged people haven’t taken the time to ask ourselves, “Why should we work 80 hours a week for a bigger house and stuff we don’t care about?” That’s a hard question for senior leaders to answer, because we often haven’t answered it ourselves and/or don’t understand it.

Millennials will work really, really hard, so it’s key to genuinely listen and understand what and how they’re working for. Millennials also need to manage the Gen-Xers and help them understand, “look, I don’t need three times the salary. I’m willing to work for half that, but I only want to work for thirty hours a week.” For most millennials, money is fourth on their list of requirements for happiness at a job. The order is different for them, than it is for a Gen-Xer.

  1. Millennials prioritize quality of life over everything else. Are they happy with their lives on a day-to-day basis? (This was never even on the radar for baby boomers, and certainly never discussed in an interview. It needs to be now).
  2. Next, are they making a solid contribution to what they’re doing? Is their work meaningful? (These kids have no idea what it means to work with a salt mines mentality. If they feel that they are not doing valuable work, or that it sucks to come to the office, they would rather quit and live in their parents basement until they do find what they like. There is less social stigma associated with this than ever before).
  3. Do they enjoy the environment that they’re in? (Yep, I know…touchy, feely, and “kumbaya.” But, how much more would you enjoy doing what you do if you “liked” coming to work?)
  4. How much money does the job pay? (What was the primary motivation for previous generations is dropping quickly).

Check back next week for the second part of this post, where we’ll talk about using the way millennials think to motivate them in the workplace. If you have questions about working with millennials or simply putting people in the right seats, feel free to reach out anytime. As always, I’m here to help, first and foremost.

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