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How to Engage Millennials in the Workplace

Ideas and tools for engaging millennials with what your company has to say.

Jan 2019

How to Engage Millennials in the Workplace

There’s a lot of hyperbole surrounding the generation that we call the millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997). Companies want to employee them, social networking channels want to audit them and the media wants to undermine them (or so it seems, touché millennial writer here at your service).

Wherever you sit on the generational spectrum, it’s likely you’ll either be working as a millennial, working with a millennial or perhaps even working for a millennial (the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report suggests that millennials have launched twice as many businesses as the previous generation), over the next decade.

In this guide we’re going to look at what motivates millennials in the workplace, the factors they find most rewarding, seven methods that could help you to get them listening and lastly, why screens may help.

Who are the millennials?

Well, that kinda depends on who you ask. But a few things we know for certain:

  • “Millennial” is the name given to those born between 1981 and 1997 which makes most millennials today, in 2019 aged between 23 and 38.
  • They’re often called Generation Y, or Gen Y for short.
  • According to Wikipedia, the name came from the earliest members of the generation graduating high school as the class of 2000, i.e. the new millennium.
  • Given that Facebook was founded in 2004, Millennials are one of the first generations to grow up as “digital natives”, with the internet, social networks, search engines and low-cost broadband all at their disposal.

Those may be the facts, but there are plenty of other characteristics attributed to Gen Y by the media, memes and studies.

Articles suggest that Millennials are one of the most stressed out generations ever, coining the phrase “quarter-life crisis”. Having to find a job in the aftereffects of the 2008 recession, the pressure of growing up with Instagram and Snapchat and in a world spoiling by way of consumption and climate change, have all had a bit of an effect on what are often dubbed the “snowflakes” of the working world.

At the same time, there are plenty of positive attributes which have also been allocated to this generation. Some of the benefits of having millennials in the workplace include:

  • Deep-rooted motivation - studies suggest that 87% of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a role.
  • Fresh perspective - there are more college educated millennials than any other generation group and millennials are also more likely to have travelled and completed job internships, leading to a fresher and more well-rounded perspective.
  • Tech savvy - unlike many existing workers, millennials are digital natives which means they bring technical understanding and an intrinsic knowledge of channels like search, social and brand to their roles.
  • Social conscience - millennials are thought to be more socially conscious and motivated to work for companies, particularly startups, that look to do good beyond just revenue.

Similarly, millennials are programmed to prioritize their work and even to feel as though work is one of, if not the, biggest factors in their lives. As Anne Helen Petersen suggests in How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation:

“Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us.”

What motivates employees in the workplace?

As we mentioned here, one of the big internal communications trends for 2019 is that it’s the first year where you could legitimately see Baby Boomers (youngest age 55), Gen Xers (46), Millennials (23) and Gen Z (22) all sharing the same workspace.

Which means questioning what motivates employees in the workplace becomes, what motivates all of the different generations in the workplace? Trying to find one, or multiple strategies, that sit alongside each other could be difficult.

Let’s take a look at what factors we know motivate each generational group:

Baby Boomer workplace motivations

Baby Boomers are motivated by what many of us think as traditional work concepts: a large salary, bonuses, commitment to the cause (or presentism as we might now say), status amongst contemporaries and a passion for knowledge sharing (in a peacocking kind of way). This is the “meeting” generation, hardly affected by the internet and mobile phones and therefore more competent at face-to-face interaction and old school relationship-building tactics (think playing golf and alcohol-induced lunches).

Gen Xer motivations

Gen X were the first generation to have the internet and mobile phones. They embody the entrepreneurial spirit and are perhaps the first to look at the “work/life balance” conundrum. If Baby Boomers were organization-driven, Gen X is perhaps the first to be opportunity-driven, using the workplace as a jumping board to build their own skills and a future career. They’re also the first generation likely to be supporting both an ageing parent and a struggling child, so no wonder they’re the “work hard, play hard” generation.

Millennial motivation in the workplace

While it’s important not to alienate any generation within the workspace, by 2025 millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. This makes them a key part of the future, and one that it is essential for most corporations to engage with.

Some of the factors that motivate millennials in the workplace include:

  • Higher wellness for both customers and employees
  • A retirement savings plan - this survey by Capital Group suggests that millennials expect a retirement savings plan from their employer as a key perk.
  • More social work for disadvantaged communities
  • Less of a gender gap in both pay and positions of authority
  • The ability to make an impact - A study by Cone Communications found that 62% of millennials are willing to take a pay cut in order to work for a responsible company. “Making an impact” is indeed, said to be the holy grail of millennials within the workplace.
  • More economic opportunity for minorities and LGBT individuals
  • Rewards in the form of financial (shares schemes) as well as personal (regular feedback cycles, the chance for progression).
  • Freedom - 70% of millennials want flexible working, which might include the ability to set their own hours, work from home, or from a remote location.
  • Travel - homeownership rate amongst those younger than 35 has fallen 8 percentage points since 2004 to 35% in 2017, according to Wall Street Journal. Which not only makes help with mortgage payments or loans, an attractive millennial motivator, but may also suggest why millennials are more likely to add travel (aka “escape”) as an every-month part of their work life.
  • Mental health support - According to this Simon Sinek interview on Millennials in the Workplace, this is a generation faced with low self-esteem and higher depression rates. Sinek also highlights how important it is for corporations to support millennials with these issues and help them develop confidence and higher relationship building skills.

Gen Z motivations

What motivates Gen Z in the workplace? Some may argue that we don’t yet know. As a generation only just in its early 20s, and one that predominantly works from home, we don’t know much about the workplace motivations that will keep them engaged. What we do know is that not only are they digital natives, but they were also the first generation to have iPads, iPhones and iPods (the modern holy trinity?) before they could walk or talk. According to a study by Powwownow, which interviewed 1,000 18-23 year olds, fast promotion, recognition and regular change is what helps to keep this emerging generation motivated.

7 ways to engage millennials in the workplace

Now that we know the differences between generations, let’s focus on the core millennial group. Here are seven ideas on how to reach millennials in the workplace and keep them engaged with what your company has to say.

1. Digitize the workspace

Millennials grew up using the latest digital tools, which means their workspace needs to reflect as much, if not more, of the technology used at home. Many startups are adopting a “choose your own tech” onboarding procedure which allows new starters to choose the laptop/PC/headphones/design suite etc. that they wish to use.

This helps to keep them engaged, by providing a level of technology that they have become accustomed to.

Some of the ways you can help to digitize your workplace include:

  • Letting new employees choose their own tech stack
  • Ensuring that there’s a budget for new software or programs which could make your employee’s lives easier.
  • Adopting, or at least considering, innovative in-office technology, like a voice-powered sound system or a connected door system which welcomes entrants by name.
  • Using tools like information radiators to turn passive communication streams into active one-to-many broadcasts of information.

2. Create an employee-driven experience

More now than ever, HR pros are looking towards a candidate-driven recruitment process.

How can we give the potential employee the best experience possible? What does their journey look like?

Sound familiar? We design these types of journeys for customers all the time, it’s only natural we’ll start doing this for both potential and existing employees.

Defining an employee-driven experience might include:

  • Providing regular feedback cycles, outside of the once-per-year performance development review. Remember, millennials see regular feedback and promotion as an intrinsic workplace expectation.
  • Creating an onboarding flow for new employees with the same love and care you might give to a product one.
  • Designing a reward structure that matches the core values of that employee. For some this may be additional holiday, for others it might be financial rewards or stock options.
  • Making “employee care” a key part of your management system. This might involve free mental health counselling, regular check-ins on wellbeing or providing a fitness-led incentive.

3. Reinforce belonging

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, belonging is one of the highest attributes a person needs to feel secure and this doesn’t just sit within social or family constructs. Ensuring your employees feel like they belong to the team is also essential in keeping them engaged.

Image source.

For millennials in particular, the need to belong is strong and perhaps stronger than previous generations, where the fourth attribute of esteem (importance, recognition, respect) was often prized more highly.

Some of the ways you could help employees to feel belonging might include:

  • Regular team building days and exercises - activities outside of the regular working day helps to build relationships.
  • A no technology meeting rule - without smartphones and laptops as a distraction, employees can use downtime before or during meetings to learn about each other, inducing natural relationship building.
  • Memory sharing - shared experiences help us to bond. One of the ways we do this at ScreenCloud is by using Dropbox Gallery App to share a folder of photos from events our team have shared. Anyone can add to this folder and by sharing the photos on screen, it prompts discussion and moments where we can reminisce about a company event, or party.

COO David is his Christmas shirt is a company photostream favourite!

4. Share the purpose, regularly

Millennials are committed to a company with a cause. The trouble is, in most companies this cause is siloed to the founders, or only shared in marketing materials and not communicated regularly to the team.

One way to help share the company North Star is to have it live on digital screens throughout your office. There are many ways to share this information, from a written noticeboard, to a countdown calendar or even a progress bar showing where the company is in relation to its mission.

When everyone can see the company purpose regularly, it provides a sense of purpose and a feeling that we’re all in this together, with everybody rowing in the same direction.

5. Learning and autonomy

In The Big Four author Scott Galloway looks at the DNA of why Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have become such huge influences on our lives. One of which, is the autonomy these companies give to employees to instigate change and test new ideas. Amazon has a “build fast, break things” mentality with one key difference: at Amazon if a project isn’t working they shut it down and pivot quickly.

It’s no coincidence that three of the “big four” companies are in the top 10 companies millennials most want to work for, as told by this Survey Monkey study. The passion to be a pioneer and to innovate is a key employee incentive and helps them to achieve a sense of purpose, and ownership, over a project.

Ways you can create a culture of learning and autonomy within your company might include:

  • A training and personal development budget
  • Project-based work where teams are encouraged to plan, test and measure autonomously.
  • An open forum or “hack day” where employees are encouraged to work on something completely new.

6. More soft skill training

Ensuring millennials are provided training in the workplace is another incentive high on the list. It’s said that while this generation are key problem solvers, technically savvy and have the passion and motivation to work autonomously, it’s “soft skill” training that they may benefit most from.

Most millennials change jobs quickly, which means gaining knowledge from a close mentor or leader can be lacking. Similarly, knowing how to communicate well within a meeting and how to build relationships with other team members and superiors, is a soft skill that could be brought to attention within companies looking to engage this audience.

7. Seek continuous engagement

Millennials have grown up with access to real-time and continuous communication. Think how quickly you can gain access to the weather, the news or what your friends are up to via your smartphone.

As a result, keeping millennials engaged with their work, and the work of the organization, is key. One method we use in the ScreenCloud team is to ensure data is live and automated as much as possible. Seeing company KPIs which are 3 months out of date is seriously demotivating.

On our screens around the office we connect to real time data in order to seek continuous engagement with the reporting, feedback or metric information we have to show.

This helps to keep everyone engaged and not “tuning out” of the information our teams have to share.

How digital signage helps to engage millennial employees

Communicating well and often with millennials in the workplace is a huge reinforcer of many of the key values we’ve discussed above. Digital signage, which involves placing TV screens in strategic positions and linking them with dynamic content, is a method of communication which just won’t date.

Screens can be used to communicate the company North Star, metrics, social purpose, social media statistics, industry news...the options are endless.

If you’d like to begin engaging millennials in the workplace, try out our free trial of ScreenCloud. It could be the communication tool your employees have been waiting for.

Article sources:

Gen YBaby boomersGen Xtoolstacticsmethodsideasemployeeengagement