How to Boost Millennial Engagement- 16 Experts Weigh In

Posted on December 16, 2016 by Ascanio Pignatelli | 0 comments

According to Gallup:

  • Millennials are the most likely generation to switch jobs
  • Six in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities
  • Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace

A lot of leaders I speak to find managing and engaging millennials the toughest part of their job. They're often frustrated and disappointed with their performance finding them to be:

"impatient and entitled know-it-all's, who care more about FaceBook than work."

And while it's true that millennials are the least engaged generation at work, it's also true that the problem could be easily remedied if managers made a few workplace adjustments and adopted a more coach-centric leadership style. That's my takeaway after interviewing 16 employee engagement experts for my forthcoming book "Engaging Millennials". I specifically asked them:

“Why are companies struggling to engage millennials and what do you suggest?”

Here’s what they shared, (or click here for their 20 key takeaways):

Brandon Rigoni (Workplace Consultant at The Gallup Organization)

Organizations need to understand exactly what millennials ARE looking for in a job and engage their current millennial employees to reduce turnover. Ongoing conversations and feedback are particularly important to millennials- probably because they grew up in a very digitally connected age with a continuous flow of information at their fingertips. 

Not all millennials are job hoppers looking for fun and informal work environments. It turns out that other aspects of a job like opportunities to learn and grow, working for a great manager and being interested in their work, are the most attractive things to millennials in a job opportunity and millennials who are engaged in their work do not tend to be job hoppers.

Furthermore, millennials want to be held accountable and engagement is highest when they are able to meet with their boss at least once per week - daily checkins are even better! 

Finally, organizations need their managers to be coaches and to do a better job creating that continuous flow of information millennials are accustomed to experiencing outside of the workplace. Leaders need to engage in ongoing conversations and delivering regular feedback all based on what their millennial employees do best rather than trying to fix weaknesses.

Mark Phelps (Chief Engagement Enthusiast at TNS Employee Insights) 

In many ways, millennials are just like the generations before them. They want to succeed, add value, and have meaningful work. Where they differ from past generations is that they have grown up in a totally connected society, where transparency is required, and employment for life is something their grandparents reminisce about. Engaging your workforce is always easier when leaders at all levels listen before giving commands, involve others to increase ownership, know how to be empathetic because it is the right thing to do, and provide proper support while making sure that millennials (and all others) continue to grow and learn from increasing responsibilities. 

QK Toralba (HR Manager | Employee Engagement at Acquire BPO)

Companies fail to involve millennials in the processes that involve change. The workforce is continuously evolving--millennials want to visualize clear and attainable short term goals then plan and set long term aspirations. In a fast-paced corporate world, it is very important that recognition is done in real time. Rewards that are tied to performance should be clear and set prior to any deployment. Letting employees feel valued, recognized and that there are opportunities for growth are key to having an engaged workforce.

Mark Fulford (Director, Client Insights - Employee Engagement at SMG - Service Management Group)

Millennials expect to be recognized much more frequently than members of previous generations. There is a great disconnect between perceptions of recognition given versus received. For example, if you survey 1000 employees if they feel they receive the proper recognition for their contributions few will say “yes”. Now, ask their managers and most would say they do. 

Nicole Cunningham (Senior Manager of Employee Experience at Knot Standard I Custom)

Companies are failing to focus on what motivates the individual. Although millennials enjoy working in groups and working collectively with the team, they are individually motivated. Every employee is motivated by something different, let that be investment in education, training and development, additional vacation time, or bonus pay. Companies should be investing in employees differently than they invested in generations prior and find out what motivates each individual, how they can work together as a team, and how as an employer, they can invest in both and map career progression.

Jonathan Villaire (Project Manager and Employee Engagement Leader at AIG)

The biggest hurdle is that too many leaders dig in their heels and refuse to adapt to the needs and expectations of their millennial employees. They take offense to these "entitled kids" daring to set high standards for their employers. It's a cultural attitude that's pervasive throughout the business world. Just scroll through the comments of any LinkedIn article on millennials in the workplace and you're bound to see heated debates among posters. Many will say things like "adapting to millennials is like the tail wagging the dog." That's a very dangerous position because they run the risk of disengaging their Millennials. Organizations today can engage millennials by simply asking them what they want and then make changes to address their needs and expectations. On average, Millennials seek frequent feedback, professional development opportunities, flexible and interesting work, and integrated technology. 

Lisa Morris (Employer Brand Strategy | Employee Experience at North Highland)

Companies are challenged with engaging all generations just as they seem to be with Millennials. The challenge comes down to employees wanting a work experience that is valuable and meaningful to them as individuals. Organizations on the other hand are focused on efficiency and effectiveness for the most part, not necessarily on providing an experience that connects with employees on an intellectual, creative, emotional, social and physical level in a sustainable way.

Elaine Sullivan (Employee Engagement Trainer & Enabler at Skybrook Consultants)

Companies are struggling because they haven’t quite understood millennials’ thought processes and values. Millennials seem to have a more egalitarian viewpoint, respecting those senior to them for their knowledge and experience but not necessarily rank, and look to managers and leaders not for answers and direction but for coaching and mentoring. 

Wendy Firlotte (Corporate Sustainability Engagement Specialist at Engage International)

When engaging employees in sustainability, millennials tend to be a particularly active group. This generation is enthusiastic about being innovative and making a difference. A common issue many companies are facing is they fail to gain or maintain their trust. 

The challenge here is leadership tends to waver in their commitment to truly employee-driven initiatives. They like the idea of employees being engaged, but their engagement programs are more focused on awareness raising rather than providing avenues for autonomy and employee ownership over initiatives. When millennials begin to recognize their lessened ability to affect change, they tend to become skeptical and loose interest.

Leah Reynolds (Principal, Employee Engagement & Communication Practice at Buck Consultants)

Millennial disengagement is a result of:

  • Employers who believe that millennials should adapt to the way things are and not expect to be “coddled." 
  • Internally competitive cultures with top down systems.
  • Advancing employees into leadership positions without training or baseline leadership assessment around communication account for both leadership deficits and outmoded culture behavior that turn millennials off. 
  • Poorly trained leaders along with culture conflict and foggy career paths lie at the core. These are all measurable activities so correctable.

The solution is an empowerment-based work culture with clear norms of behavior that apply to everyone; consistent and helpful feedback and learning about employees beyond simple job scope is required. This applies to everyone- not just millennials.

Elizabeth Lupfer (Employer Brand Marketing at Reynolds American, Inc.)

Companies should take time to 

  • Understand the needs of millennials and determine which attributes in their value proposition are most appealing (e.g., flexible work, career mobility and purposeful work). 
  • Identify attributes that they possess now or plan to have in the near future. 
  • Develop an employer brand based on their employee value proposition. An employer brand is communicates your reputation as an employer of choice. 75% of candidates consider an employer's brand before even applying for a job (2015 Employer Brand Study, CareerArc).
  • Offer career longevity that is inspired by the generation of workers that already exist within your company.

Ketti Salemme (Senior Communication Manager at TINYpulse)

Millennials are rejecting traditional rules about career development and work culture. Rather than wait years for a promotion, millennials are looking for fast growth. A Deloitte study found that this generation is 1.5 times more likely than others to focus on short-term opportunities. 

To keep millennials engaged:

  • Offer them perks that resonate. The Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC found that tuition reimbursement was a powerful attraction and retention tool for millennials. 
  • Give them a way to further their professional knowledge through classes, conferences, seminars, etc, is a great way to support this desire to grow professionally and personally.
  • Tear down cubes. Millennials grew up with collaboration and expect that in their workplace. Move to an open floor plan, and encourage face-to-face teamwork as much as you can.
  • Encourage team bonding activities like happy hours, creative work, and internal socializing areas is a great way to bond employees. In our own TINYpulse research, coworkers and peers are the #1 reason why employees feel engaged in their workplace. 

Joe Redmond (Director Learning Development at Tenneco)

Millennials:

  • View management/authority differently and prefer to participate in cross functional teams.
  • Tend to not want "managers" on the teams but rather have everyone working and contributing. 
  • Want to be promoted at an accelerated rate (not satisfied with the traditional 3-5 years approach), so focus on non-promotional development through projects that get them involved in experiential learning and development.

Alim Erginoglu (Consultant - Employee Engagement at Towers Watson)

Successful companies are connecting with their millennials not only during working hours- but outside of work as well. Millennials see work not only as a place to go and earn money, but a place to socialize, innovate, learn and enjoy. They amalgamate their life with work and as long as they can do that they feel engaged. Work does not limit their life but is a part of it.

Scott Simmerman Ph.D (Designer of Team Building and Engagement Tools)

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.” Millennials, and everyone else, should operate in an environment where they feel a strong sense of ownership and involvement. Yesterday’s workplace showed that many felt their bosses did not listen to them. That same statistic holds true 40 years later and might be more un-engaging today with the values that millennials show toward idealism and flexibility. Millennials are ready to leave if they feel their employer is not supporting their values and goals.

Carrie Zeigler (Human Resources Business Partner at Nielsen)

The problem is businesses put so much thought into engaging millennials the wrong way. Millennials are smart, ambitious and often don't have much holding them down, like a family, or mortgage, so they can move anywhere when a better opportunity arises. The key is to treat millennials like they are the intelligent employees that they are, even when they are in entry level positions. Companies should be willing to listen to their fresh perspective and trust them with large projects as they are working to prove themselves. They should also keep communication open and offer millennials career mapping, as they are constantly looking to grow and move into new positions: they won’t be happy staying in the same position for too long. And if they are talented, they will find opportunity. Shouldn't that opportunity be with you? 

Conclusion

You can start being a leader that truly inspires and engages your millennials by creating an empowerment-based work culture: trade your boss hat for your coach/mentor hat. Check-in with your team daily and provide them with feedback that is empowering, helpful and constructive. Find ways to make their work as flexible, meaningful and interesting as possible.

Remember that millennials value leadership and want opportunities to learn and grow. Give them the trust and respect they deserve, and involve them in the decision making process whenever possible. Figure out what motivates them personally, then lead accordingly. Lastly, don't forget to hold your direct reports accountable, always recognize their accomplishments and have them collaborate and involved in team bonding activities as much as possible.

About the Author

Ascanio Pignatelli helps Fortune 1000 companies unlock the full promise, energy and creativity of their millennials. Ascanio is an award winning speaker, workshop facilitator, coach, and author of the forthcoming book “Engaging Millennials: How to attract, retain and fully engage the most talented millennials." His company E3 Solutions helps executives improve their leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces.


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