engaging millennials

Engaging Millennials: Unleashing a Generation in the Workforce

Millennials is a strange word people use – often with some derision – to refer to a younger generation of workers. Many falsely believe they’re different from other generations, and that something might be wrong with them. What’s probably driving much of this sense of enigma is that Millennials are less engaged at work than older generations. Much ink has been spilled on the topic of engaging Millennials more.

Many business leaders think engaging Millennials means coddling of some sort: lots of perks, free soda, or more time off. This is all just guessing, and it doesn’t work. For example, young people voluntarily put in far more hours than their older colleagues. On the contrary, our experience, and good research, both show young people are far more engaged when they’re set up to give more to the business, rather than take from it. Here’s how to help them–and your business–thrive:

  1. Set them up to make a real difference to the business
  2. Hold them accountable
  3. Focus on results

Making a Difference

Millennials, more than any previous generation, value having a positive impact on their organization, and are the first to make it their top career goal. Such a desire for impact means conventional task-based jobs could become highly demotivating.

The good news is Millennials want to help beyond the sphere of accomplishing tasks. To engage them, let them loose on improving the business itself. Help them find valuable, visible problems to solve, and outfit them with skills to solve those problems by teaching them behaviors that will help them solve these problems. Demonstrate why these problems will have a large impact on the business.

Investing in these skills takes work, but the work pays for itself. As Millennials learn better problem-solving behaviors, set them forth on easier problems in the business to build their competence and confidence. When they progress to harder problems, their engagement will increase. As a bonus, employees across all generations become more engaged when they’re learning more. The process of solving valuable problems for the business will have the dual effect of increasing total value immediately while simultaneously improving engagement.

Holding Them Accountable

Millennials prefer more structure in the workplace than previous generations. This level of clarity helps them measure their own performance and its connection with the business’s goals. A majority of Millennials don’t understand their business’s strategy, or the expectations managers have of them. This is a problem.

As you set your young employees to solving problems, give them measurable targets to reach. Make clear how these targets translate to the business’s goals and strategy. Don’t leave them working in the dark or try to make them “comfortable” by not holding them accountable to getting results. You’ll find engaging Millennials easier when they have a clear goal they can meet to help the business.

Focusing the Results

Millennials want to succeed, and are willing to put in the work for it. They want to advance their careers through their work: they want to work hard, and to be rewarded for their successes.

Millennials often want more flexible working schedules, or the ability to work from home. This is often thought to be driven by laziness or a desire to dodge oversight. But it’s more likely to be a rejection of the idea that a commute and a rigid 8-to-5 schedule will let them do their best work.

When evaluating your young employees, stop worrying about hours put in, and be more results-focused about individual contributions. Millennials are less inclined than Gen Xers to believe everyone in a team should be equally rewarded for the team’s success. Reward individuals for their results, and engagement will increase.

Young people are not an enigma, and contrary to the stereotype, they’re neither lazy nor interested in being pampered. Engaging Millennials means setting them up to go solve some hard problems in the workplace, holding them accountable to clear targets, and celebrating their individual success.

What problem solving behaviors are the talented folks in your workplace ready to bring to bear on your hardest problems? Find out in this online quiz.



Nat Greene

Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

  • Jeremiah Melville

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  • Interesting article. I get the sense that there’s a suggestion in there that perhaps millennials aren’t so different from any other generation entering the job market. I tend to agree. What’s changed more than anything is the market itself. I can appreciate millennials wanting to do things like work from home.There was a time when a one-hour commute in heavy traffic to get to the office paid larger dividends in terms of pension, benefits and salary. Things have definitely changed in this area. It seems only fair that as companies seek to cut costs, millennials look for ways to save too.

  • I like this take on millennials. Am I the only one who seems to think that people have a negative connotation with that word and the generation associated with it? We have millennials in our company and they bring in a new energy to the team. I agree on focusing on the results. They like to know more that what they’re doing is effective and has an impact on the company. The more you see them as lazy or passive, they more they’ll act like one when – in fact – they aren’t.

  • I like Brookes comment. No, you are not the only one. We also had ideas about “that” generation and how lazy the seem. But looking deeper in the group and talking with many others, you know other than my two oldest kids 21 and 22, we started to see a generation that really does look at the world in a vastly different way.

    I see that millennials are a pathway to a new scope and need in business. One of our companies it marketing and building directly with this spunky generation of young genius minds.

    I the video at http://www.MichaelLeavitt.com/EarnMore you can see the aggressive angle we are using to approach and secure millennial talent.

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