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Millennials get a lot of heat for being a generation that struggles to fit into traditional workplace norms. Born between the mid-1980s and 2000, millennials are markedly different from their Boomer parents, and they’re reshaping the workplace to meet their needs - or they’re heading out the door.

Since millennials make up more than a third of the American labor force right now, and that share is growing, figuring out what they want and need is important.

This blog post will explore how to motivate millennials in the workplace not to quit.

Who are millennials?

Millennials are often thought of as simply young people - but millennials now are often at the peak of their careers.

Born between the mid-1980s and 2000, many millennials now own homes, have children, and manage millennial employees at work. (Don’t confuse them with Gen Z, the generation that follows them born after 2000.)

Millennials have seen significant upheaval in their careers, a prominent and pivotal generation. Many were just starting during the 2008 economic crash, and now they’re living and working through the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting global economic uncertainty as well.

Millennials are often seen as narcissistic and entitled by previous generations - they’re seen as glued to their phone screens, taking selfies, and neglecting to become serious adults fast enough. They’re reprimanded for wanting feedback and recognition in the workplace, even though that’s a deep human need.

And they’re seen as unserious job-hoppers who can’t stick with one role for more than a year before becoming bored and moving on to the next thing.

So why should workplaces care what these selfish millennials want, anyway?

Importance of millennials in the workplace

Well, millennials aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be most of the time. (I should know - I am one!) The need for feedback and recognition in the workplace is common in every generation, from the young Gen Z to aging Boomers.

And the need for a clear career development path is a typical priority for younger workers of every generation - if they can’t see how they can grow with your organization, they’re likely to leave.

And having employees leave is more costly than you think. Keeping millennials motivated and engaged at your workplace is important because they make up your workforce's largest part.

Losing too many of them can be expensive and destructive to the success of your business.

Motivating millennials to do their best every day, and giving them the tools to do so, makes them want to stay and do great work. And that benefits your business as well as your millennial employees.

How to motivate millennials in the workplace?

While millennials aren’t the mysterious creatures, they’re often made out to be. They have significant differences in what they want in the workplace.

Managing and motivating millennials successfully involves understanding what they want so you can adjust accordingly.

Here are nine ways of motivating generation z in the workplace:

1. Explain the big picture

Millennials don’t just want to sit at a desk doing busy work for years on end. (Does anybody want to do that?) They are much more motivated and engaged when they can see the big picture of what they’re doing and why it matters.

They want to see the real purpose of what they’re working for: a paycheck and a pension and how their work makes a difference in the company and the world.

Communicate this vision effectively to them, and you’re creating a highly engaged, productive employee.

2. Tech smarts

One of the biggest differences between millennials and older generations is that millennials grew up with a vast array of advanced technology, and they’re comfortable using it for everything.

Using outdated technology or overly manual processes is frustrating to them - they just know there’s a tech solution to be found. So take advantage of this tech-savviness and tap into their knowledge. Technology is exciting and engaging for millennial workers, so let them lead the way.

3. Focus on flexibility

Since millennials are so tech-savvy, they know just how much they can actually get done from home (or elsewhere entirely) instead of in the office. In fact, many of them find the office distracting and are more productive at home.

The ability to flex between their work and life is very important to them - and they know how to get it done if you just trust them to do it.

The 9-5 every day in the office model is getting outdated, and you could actually have more productive employees if you gave them the autonomy and trust to flex a little. Need help? Check out our tips for creating a flexible work schedule.

4. Design development opportunities

Plenty of articles has been written about how millennials are over-eager to tackle bigger challenges at work and move up the corporate ladder faster. But while that may present some challenges, harnessing that enthusiasm is powerful!

They want to gain more skills and contribute more to your business, which’s a great trait in employees. Be sure to offer them interesting and rewarding learning and development opportunities so they can continually improve their skills, and they’ll reward you with increased drive and productivity.

5. Recognize and appreciate

It’s not just millennials - everyone likes to see their hard work and accomplishments recognized and celebrated in the workplace. But millennials certainly value rewards and recognition highly.

And if they don’t get it, they’re much more likely to leave your company. In fact, 79% of millennial employees said an increase in recognition rewards would make them more loyal to their company.

Using a tech-enabled recognition platform like Empuls is a win for everyone here, so your younger employees can feel more valued and stay more loyal.

6. Health and wellness opportunities

Millennials are a generation that wants wellness - both outside of work and in it. They want to increase their health and decrease work-related stress as well, and they expect their employer to help them there.

Offering low-cost opportunities for growth but fun activities like weekly on-site yoga classes, discounts for gym memberships, and healthy food offerings at the cafeteria can all help delight and motivate your millennial employees to stay around longer.

7. Grow a social conscience

Millennials (and Gen Z after them) strongly value working for corporations and companies that contribute positively to society. Business for them isn’t just business as usual - they're more concerned about the impacts of climate change and workers’ rights than previous generations. In fact, both millennials and Gen Z rated the environment as their top concern.

You’ll retain millennials longer if you can show that your business contributes something positive to the world, or at least doesn’t make a negative impact by contributing to waste or pollution.

Deloitte found that millennials are more likely to stay at employers who work to improve society instead of just increasing profits.

8. Devote effort to diversity

Diversity and inclusion are also very important to most millennial employees when they’re thinking about employers.

They have grown up in an age that’s much more open about gender, sexuality, and racial issues and they expect to see that tolerance reflected in the teams around them and even in the management of your business.

Making a real, sustained effort to welcome and include everyone is just what millennials expect - they take tolerance as the status quo.

You can ensure you’re living up to their expectations by making inclusion efforts like using the correct pronouns for everyone and ensuring your leadership teams reflect natural diversity.

9. Don’t treat them as outliers.

While there’s been plenty of talk (especially in the last decade) about how different and challenging millennials can be in the workplace compared to those who came before them, a lot of it simply isn’t true.

Millennials mostly want the same things as your other employee's values - autonomy, purpose, training, and career development opportunities. Harvard Business Review found as much in their research. 

When you implement strategies that engage and motivate employees, millennials reap the benefits too.

Engaging and motivating generation z employees: The future workforce

Keeping your younger employees engaged and productive at work is a vital task for all businesses right now - millennials are too big of a group in the workplace to ignore. And if they do feel ignored, they’re not shy about finding another workplace that values and motivates them instead.

By focusing on and sharing a common purpose and vision for your organization, plus offering gratitude and recognition regularly, you can keep your top millennial talent happy and loyal to your company for years to come.

If you’re looking for a high-tech solution to keep your millennial employees (and everyone else) engaged and encourage regular recognition, try out the Empuls platform. Empuls makes it easy to reward and retain your valuable employees.

Motivate Employees through an Effective Rewards and Recognition Programs.
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Kathleen O'Donnell

Kathleen O'Donnell LinkedIn

Kathleen is a freelance writer and employee communications and culture expert, with 6+ years of experience in corporate internal communications.