Motivating Your Millennial Employees
By Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky and Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed

When Amanda Ross learned that her company was planning to place several recent college grads in her customer service department she started to worry. Amanda herself had joined the company right out of college. Now 37 years old, Amanda has supervised Customer Service for the past five years and has worked almost exclusively with employees her age or older throughout her career. The prospect of supervising these “20-something” employees fills her with dread.
Part of Amanda’s fear is based on stories she’s heard about how different (and difficult) the younger generation is proving to be. Other supervisors in the company have suggested that Millennials expect instant job promotion and aren’t afraid to challenge company practices if they don’t agree with them. They also say that Millennials are constantly asking for feedback on their performance and demand a lot of face-time with their managers. One supervisor in another department even told Amanda that his new employees have the audacity to request flexible work schedules, even though they’re brand new to the job and the organization. Amanda’s worried that the challenge of dealing with these demanding new employees will eat up a lot of her time and disrupt the high department morale that she’s worked so hard to achieve.
It’s not that Amanda lacks managerial skills. She understands how to conduct effective performance reviews and she is skilled at confronting employees to solve job-related issues and problems. However, with this new batch of Millennial workers coming on board, Amanda realizes that she is going to have to figure out how to motivate her new, younger employees before their job performance becomes an issue. But guess what? Amanda isn’t the only supervisor facing this dilemma these days.
With Millennials now entering the workforce in large numbers your employee team could turn into a volatile mixture of four different generations. But, employees from the Mature generation (born between 1909 and 1945), the Baby Boomer generation (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1979) have all had time to adjust to each other in the workplace. It’s the newest generation – Millennials who were born between the years 1980 to 2000 – that are now shaking things up.
Millennials possess a unique set of skills and a somewhat different work ethic than previous generations. They will have a profound impact over the next five years. There are already around 35 million Millennials populating the workplaces of America and by 2014 there will be more than 58 million members of Generation Y employed in U.S. organizations.
Without question the culture clash between Millennials and earlier generations has already ignited. Veteran employees from the Mature, Boomer and Gen X generations frequently complain about the different attitudes and workplace expectations of Millennials.  Many do not understand why they are the way they are, hindering Millennials’ full engagement in the workplace.  Often this biased thinking prohibits managers from finding Millennials’ unique talents and skills that can contribute to company growth and profitability.
Yet … writing off your Millennial employees before they have a chance to prove themselves is a big mistake! Generation Y is already one of the best-educated generations in American history. They’re technologically savvy, embrace diversity, and have a strong preference for collaboration to solve problems and seize opportunities. They also have a strong sense of work-life balance or, as they would say, “we work to live” philosophy. If Millennials seem over-confident that’s because they’ve been taught to expect success by teachers and by “helicopter” parents (so-called because they hovered over their children).
In short, Millennials may be a challenge to integrate into your work teams, but over time they’re just as likely to become among your most energetic and successful employees. It is important, however, to adjust your  management strategies to take advantage of Millennial preferences and strengths.
Following are four strategies to help leaders adapt to the unique needs and perspectives of these new Millennial employees:
•    Ramp Up Your Onboarding Process – This is not your father’s new employee orientation program! In the old days new employees watched a video on company history, received a policy and procedures manual, and heard a welcome speech from the CEO or senior manager. Today we bring new employees “on board” by assimilating them into the company culture, providing exposure to different parts of the business, providing resources on the intranet for them to use at their own pace, and helping them to build relationships with current employees. Onboarding is ongoing, with lots of feedback, plenty of checkpoints and close mentoring. The goal is to ensure that all new employees – especially Millennials – become valued contributors while reducing turnover and increasing morale.

•    Profile Your Talent – An important part of onboarding, as well as career management, is to make sure your people are filling positions that are well matched to their talents, skills and interests. You can’t always rely on a resume to find the right fit, but you can use employee profiles and assessments to make a good match. But make sure you use well-designed instruments with high reliability and share those results directly with each employee. Profiles are not tests in the strictest sense of the word, but rather learning opportunities that can increase job satisfaction, provide valuable coaching suggestions to employees, and guide career pathing.

•    Correct Your Corrections – No matter how carefully you onboard your new employees and create a good job fit, the potential for performance problems always exists. But you have to be careful when providing corrective feedback to Millennials.  They’re accustomed to receiving a great deal of praise from parents and teachers and some may have a hard time accepting seemingly negative feedback, especially if overloaded with it or if provided in absence of recognition for work well done. Your corrective feedback needs to be specific and concrete, creating a clear picture for the employee of what was done well and what needs to be improved. Also be sure to refocus on your Millennials’ job goals and career path with the feedback so they can see how their actions affect others in the organization. When you keep your corrective feedback specific, solution-oriented and forward-focused, you can keep your Millennials motivated and engaged.

•    Create a Fun and Challenging Atmosphere – Millennials, like most employees, prefer to work in an atmosphere that’s productive but also fun. That can mean everything from changing the office layout to creating new opportunities for social interaction. Instead of classic “cubicle farms,” many organizations are adding open workspaces to encourage more employee interaction and collaboration. Managers can also reinforce teamwork by sponsoring “social” events, such as Friday afternoon “happy hour” (alcohol-free, of course) or teambuilding activities, such as scavenger hunts, Nerf battles, etc. Fun social activities are also a good way to celebrate victories, such as an important project milestone or a major goal achieved. The only limits are the leader’s imagination, but looking for ways to encourage social interactions is a powerful way to build a productive, high-energy workplace.
As you begin to recruit and integrate Millennials into your work team don’t be afraid to “change up” how you orient, train and manage new hires. Too often in the past, the members of preceding generations were thrown into a new job without much guidance. This “sink or swim” approach won’t work for Millennials, who have experienced extremely attentive teaching and parenting styles as they grew up. Given a fair chance they’ll make strong contributions to your organization and may lead the way to a more collaborative, productive and energetic environment.

Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), has more than 25 years of experience helping to create cool workplaces that attract, retain and get the most from their multi-generational talent. As founder of KEYGroup, she and Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed, KEYGroup president, provide businesses with insightful information to create engaged, productive and profitable organizations. Together, they’re co-authors of the best-selling book, “Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About It.” To hire them, visit: or call 724-942-7900.