It's not often that I engage in generational discussions-because those conversations often lead to stereotyping, arguments, and disagreements about what generational characteristics are most valuable in today's workplace. Baby boomers are more like this. Generation X is more like that. And, if you're a Millennial, then you must be thinking this way or that way. And, while I appreciate all these differences, I'd rather spend time learning from each other, than trying to figure out who's right or who's wrong. 

This is why a recent survey of 3,100 adults conducted by State Farm Insurance really grabbed my attention, as the study tried to understand key insights into what exactly motivates people to volunteer. 

The results are, without a doubt, fascinating as they relate to volunteerism. But, they were especially surprising as they related to Millennials (now the biggest segment of the U.S. workforce). But it wasn't the volunteerism aspect that fascinated me. I saw these results as something bigger-especially in an era where many business leaders are simply trying to get their paid employees to engage, strive for great results, and truly care about the work they do. If, as leaders, we can't figure out how to motivate paid employees, then surely we could learn from what motivates unpaid workers. 

"The results are telling," Steve Michaels, a researcher at State Farm told me. "As an organization we were surprised that 58 percent of Millennials visited a website to learn about volunteer opportunities. That rate declined significantly with preceding generations."

"What do you think that means about Millennials?" I asked.

"It could mean a lot of things," said Steve. "But, I think what it really means can be found in the rest of the findings."

Kim Kaufman, also a Public Affairs Specialist at State Farm continued to share other results from the survey that I couldn't help but see as markers leaders could learn from to engage their people-especially if you're leading Millennials.

"People want to see their impact," said Kim. "Everyone wants to know their work was worth it-that it meant something." According to the study, "43 percent of older Millennials and 34 percent of younger Millennials say seeing the impact of their time and talent reaffirms their commitment to give back."

As leaders, this is something we must learn to understand. In fact, other studies mirror these results. The Great Work Study, which studied 10,000 cases of award-winning work found that when people see the impact they have on the recipient of their work, they are 17 times more likely to be passionate about their work. In a nutshell, leaders need to communicate and show their employees where their work has value.

"People really want to learn more," added Kim. "Knowledge is power. Respondents said the prospect of gaining expertise in a certain area or learning a new skill inspires them to get involved." According to the survey, "40 percent of older Millennials and 31 percent of younger Millennials say this (the opportunity to learn something) opportunity would make them more likely to volunteer." 

Think about what this means for your Millennial employees. Are they getting chances to learn new jobs, wear new hats, and talk to people who know different things than they do? Especially with younger workers, are you, as a leader giving people the opportunity to figure out who they are and what they're really good at? This is a lesson all of us can understand-because we all remember the person who took a risk on us.

While motivation might be a tough concept for many leaders to truly comprehend, it's studies like this from State Farm that should be capturing our attention-because they reveal some of the things that intrinsically inspire people. And, until we stop to really think about the impact our people want to make in this world, and in our workplaces, we can only hold the title of manager. But, when we help people become their best, only then do we become leaders-at work, at home, in our community, and on this planet.

Published on: Apr 18, 2018
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