Understand Millennial Motivation to Keep Them

Susan Hall
Slide Show

The CIO-Millennial Divide: Struggling to Keep Up with Younger Workers' Tech Support Expectations

After seeing several posts recently on managing Millennials, I'm wondering why there's so much fuss about this. Did any previous generation seem to quake so at the prospect of taking on a bunch of green, immature, but usually very eager workers? My colleague Ann All has asked whether they're really that different from the rest of us. In the end, they might improve things for everyone.


InformationWeek's "4 Rules for Managing Millennials in IT" covers familiar ground: Allow them to contribute right away, lavish them with praise, allow them the freedom to telecommute or work non-traditional hours, give them the opportunity to make a difference in the community.


I think the whole idea of lavishing praise, however, is misunderstood. These young workers really value mentorship. In a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey last year, they ranked training and development three times higher than cash bonuses as their first choice in benefits. They want to contribute quickly and they want to learn how to do that.


This Psychology Today piece mentions that impatience, an unwillingness to "pay their dues," that so many older folks find annoying. That article advises providing structure to harness their idealism and energy.


The Strategy+Business article "Five Millennial Myths" calls the stereotypes about Millennials "inconsistent at best and destructive at worst." Writer Jennifer J. Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego, Calif., writes of companies that "twist themselves in knots" in trying address these notions, only to have their young talent leave anyway. She lists these myths:


Myth #1: Millennials don't want to be told what to do.

Reality: Her research has found Millennials more willing to defer to authority than either baby boomers or Gen Xers. They want to be successful quickly, which to me sounds like where the mentoring comes in. She writes:

Managers can improve millennials' career trajectory (and make their own lives easier) by ensuring that they understand the organization's culture and know what the expectations are. Millennials are more likely to thrive if they know the ingredients for success in the workplace, starting with the basics.

Myth #2: Millennials lack organizational loyalty.

Reality: She says theirs is about the same as for other generations. She says they do change jobs more frequently than older workers, but she sees that as a stage of life:

When young people change jobs and look for new opportunities to learn and grow, it does not represent a lack of loyalty; it's simply the time in their lives when they are seeking these experiences.

Myth #3: Millennials aren't interested in their work.

Reality: Again, she sees little difference among generations in this area:

It isn't that Millennials aren't motivated; it's that they're not motivated to do boring work. And boomers weren't any more motivated by that kind of work when they were younger. If you want to motivate Millennials, it's a good idea to give them work they will actually enjoy and find meaningful.

Myth #4: Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay.

Reality: Again, little difference among generations, but the difference appears to be related to level in the organization. People who make less money are slightly more interested in extrinsic rewards, but she says:

You may think giving Millennials that iPad or handing them that spot bonus or letting them bring their dog to work is going to increase their dedication to the job, but it won't. It might make them think you (or your company) are cool (because everyone loves a free iPad, right?), but there is no evidence that it increases overall motivation.

Myth #5: Millennials want more work-life balance.

Reality: She calls this one "marginally accurate," but thinks it also has more to do with life stage.


She concludes:

Rather than trying to figure out what particular incentive or gimmick is going to make Millennials more committed and less likely to leave, focus on making sure they are fairly compensated; have interesting work to do; and have the opportunity to learn, develop, and advance. Executives can best manage a multigenerational workplace if they understand and address the reality of what their younger employees think and what really motivates them. The key is to separate myth from fact, and focus on creating an organizational culture that supports all employees regardless of when they were born.

In a side note, Erika Andersen at Forbes boils down fellow blogger Eric Jackson's piece on 10 reasons workers leave to just one:

Top talent leave an organization when they're badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.

To that, she offers two antidotes:

  • Hire good managers who are held accountable and rewarded for managing well.
  • Be clear about what the organization is trying to accomplish and each person's role in this hoped-for future.

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