It's become a sad, overused cliche, and we've all heard the sentiment: "Millennials are lazy, narcissistic, and difficult to work with--let alone motivate." Watch this video for a comic portrayal of all those Millennial stereotypes.

Perhaps that attitude explains the results of a recent Gallup poll that showed Millennials are the least engaged age group in the workplace, with only 28.9 percent who are considered "engaged." There are roughly 80 million Millennials, making up about 36 percent of the work force today, so moving them from unengaged to engaged is increasingly important for your company's success.

Most sources consider Millennials those born between 1980 and 2000, though some sources use the dates 1976 to 2001. Born in 1978, I'm at the tail end of Generation X, but my husband is a Millennial, so I can both respect and be frustrated with Millennials (especially if they text while we're in a meeting). From my experience, I offer this word of advice: the most important thing to remember about the Millennials on your team is that they can be incredible assets to your organization... if you take the time to understand them. (And, if you want to see how Millennial you are in your approach to daily life, take this quiz.)

Here are some important generalizations about your millennial workforce that you should keep in mind:

  • Millennials are likely the most technologically advanced age group in your workforce, and the most educated. They are skilled multitaskers. (They will move from smart phone to laptop to tablet to television an average of 27 times an hour. Yikes!)
  • They are the most diverse generation.
  • They have very different work values than their predecessors. They don't care nearly as much about making friends at work, having the "required" two weeks of vacation, or having a job that people admire.
  • Millennials want to learn and develop their skills. Training and the opportunity for growth is key. They want to lead and are ambitious.
  • The most important job criteria for Millennials are meaningful work, high pay, and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Roughly 33 percent will place mobile flexibility over salary when considering a job offer. They will also change jobs far more often than any other generation.

Despite these great benefits to hiring Millennials, many businesses still struggle to motivate and retain they. You'll also find it impossible to compel them to conform to traditional hierarchies, which is incredibly frustrating for executives and managers. Unfortunately, this frustration does not help engage Millennials, who may be more sensitive to disapproval than previous generations.

One potential cause of decreased engagement is that they're less likely to have jobs that utilize their best skills. Another Gallup poll estimated that Millennials have the opportunity to do what they do best only about 6.7 hours per day (lower than previous generations). Making an adjustment in this area would be a good place to start, but here are five additional pointers to motivate your millennial employees.

  1. Focus on the big picture. Millennials want to know why they are doing tasks and what they are contributing to the company as whole. Explain company goals and motivations, and be sure that they understand the underlying corporate culture. Millennials want to know that what they are doing has a purpose.
  2. Increase Responsibility. Millennials want to matter. They want to take on big challenges and have an impact. Provide tasks that will allow them to do that--give them "real" responsibilities with real consequences if the task does not get accomplished. This will give them a sense of ownership and motivate them to be more productive.
  3. Give them mentors. Millennials tend to like more guidance than previous generations; they want someone to show them how to be successful. Partner them with outstanding employees they can model themselves after. Mentors should also provide both constructive feedback and praise (as appropriate).
  4. Invest in them. Millennials respond well to opportunities for personal and professional development. Provide these tools for them, and give them the opportunity to test out their new skills by presenting them with new challenges. Call it selfish if you like, but Millennials enjoy improving their skills and having the opportunity to grow quickly. Keep in mind that they may expect results quicker than other generations, so companies may have to adjust promotion practices as the number of Millennials in the workforce increases.
  5. Be flexible. "Having it all" isn't some unattainable dream for Millennials; it is a real goal that can be accomplished. Let them work toward this goal by providing flexible hours. They want time for family and friends, volunteering, and personal hobbies. Sometimes you can integrate these concepts into the workplace (think of volunteering as your cause marketing initiative), but that isn't always possible, so flexibility is important. If your company doesn't allow (appropriate) telecommuting, you can bet the Millennials will be less than pleased!

Millennials like attention, flexibility, and growth. Feed these needs, and your business will thrive with serious productivity from the "busiest" generation. And if you can't seem to make peace with Millennials, show them this video so they can understand their Baby Boomer bosses.

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Published on: Feb 19, 2015
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