Got Millennial workers that appear to be slackers? Wish you could find a way to light a fire under them? Tired of seeing them “phone it in” on the job? Disengaged Millennials can be very frustrating to work with. However, there’s a way to turn them around–and it’s not what you think.

Raised on Praise = Driven by Recognition

Millennials were raised on bribes. In his book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, author Alfie Kohn outlines how a constant use of external motivators, i.e., incentives to perform, has trained this generation to focus on the reward. The biggest reward they seek? Praise and recognition for a job well done. Money is nice, but it’s not the main motivator.

You-Can-Be-Anything Generation Expects Equal Opportunity

Millennials were also raised by parents who used lots of positive reinforcement to build their self-esteem. Things like “you can be anything you set your mind to” and “you are special” have led Millennials to believe they’re capable of anything–if just given the chance.

Which means, when Millennials see someone else getting 1) recognition they aren’t and 2) opportunities they’re not, they are driven to step it up. Don’t believe me? I recently polled a group of Millennials about what drives them to worker harder, and here’s what they said:

I would say if someone else is successful it instills a drive in me to bring myself up to their level and succeed as well. I want to be just as good if not better than them. – Greg

I want to work harder when there are things that seem like a big opportunity (like a chance to prove I’m capable of tackling a big project on my own), whenever there are big changes in hiring/structure/projects (want to show that I can add value in my job), whenever a peer is promoted (want to step up my game and show that I also recognize how to go above and beyond). – Shelby

About seven months into my first full-time job after college, my manager left unexpectedly and I was immediately promoted to his position. Getting all of this responsibility thrust upon me so suddenly not only motivated me to work harder, but it also allowed me to push my limits and accomplish more than I thought I could during that time. It was definitely the push I needed to give me the confidence and work ethic I have today. – Colby

Made a mistake in front of my boss (or my boss found out) and now I have to prove myself. – Jane

Heard someone compliment a person who is in the same position as you for their great work. Makes you want to show them that you are just as good if not better. – James

Found out that there is a promotion up for grabs. – Brittney

A project that I believe in being known as “mine.” – Andrew

So, while you might think the last thing you should do for a slacking Millennial is to give him or her more responsibility, turns out the exact opposite is true! Instead of waiting around for Millennials to suddenly get excited about the work they’re doing, motivate them by pushing them out of their comfort zone and giving them a chance to shine. As long as you are ready to hand out praise and compliments (both of which are free), and possibly a promotion (which, if earned, means you can afford to give it), then the only thing holding you back from getting your Millennials to work harder is giving them opportunities to impress you.

P.S. If you feel like you’ve given your Millennial staff some great opportunities, and they aren’t succeeding …

One of two things can be going on:

A) You aren’t communicating with them properly. (This Inc. article on Millennial-speak explains more.)

B) You’re failing to leverage their strengths. (This video series on Millennial development can help.)

Either way, you need to address your ability to tap their potential. Millennials can be amazing assets to an organization when given the right professional development–which is something they crave as a result of being coached their entire lives.

Don’t give up on disengaged Millennials too quickly! Now that they account for 50 percent of the work force and climbing, you will need to learn to work with them to keep your business in business. Better to learn how sooner than later.