Engaging Millennials to Become Their Best, Most Authentic Selves at Work

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By 2025, nearly 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials. Today, Millennials are working their way up the org chart, making a bigger and bigger impact on businesses. Businesses that do not adjust to their sensibilities will not be able to attract and engage the very best talent of this rising generation. Having hired a couple hundred of them myself, here’s what I’ve learned about engaging Millennials.

Millennials are the most expressive generation in recent history. They expect a workplace culture where they can express themselves authentically and be heard. They perform best when they don’t feel the need to wear masks or inhibit their personalities. They thrive when they can express their ideas freely and can challenge the status quo. Businesses need to create space for authentic expression AND listening. Some ways to do that are:

  • Create a “Friday Bullets” tradition where every week, employees email their teams something they are excited about, and something they are concerned about.
  • Create a weekly “Q&A” where employees can teach and exchange information with each other, or regular Town Halls where employees can ask questions of the company’s leaders.
  • Treat them as thought partners. Ask them to give meaningful feedback on strategy, priorities, or work projects. Then act on their feedback.
  • Encourage authenticity by being your most authentic self.

Millennials don’t want a job, they want an experience. The concept of a job for life has long since passed, but most companies are still operating as if it exists. Millennials don’t want to climb a corporate ladder—they want to play on a jungle gym, swinging from one experience to the next. Some ways to support that outlook are:

  • Don’t provide career paths; provide career maps. Show employees not just how they can move upwardly in a role, but how they can change roles completely from one function to another.
  • Help employees identify and spend time on side projects that create value for the company but that aren’t a part of their job descriptions, per se. Bake these projects into your quarterly goal-setting process.
  • Support international work assignments. Short multi-week or multi-month assignments are great experiences.

Millennials expect rapid growth and recognition. If Millennials aren’t growing, they aren’t staying. The expectation of continual learning and development is core to Millennial DNA. This sensibility frequently manifests in the (not always realistic) expectation of rapid promotions and other forms of recognition.  Businesses can adjust to these ambitions by:

  • Training managers to give continuous feedback and coaching to employees.
  • Being deliberate about assigning employees projects aligned with their interests.
  • Recognizing employee success in ways large (e.g. stock-based awards) and small (e.g. a simple thank you). Finding ways to “gamify” recognition programs works with Millennials. For example, read about the Olympic Events in our onboarding process.

Millennials expect that their work will have purpose. Millennials sometimes resemble goal-oriented hippies. They have high expectations professionally yet their work has to have a bigger meaning. The need for their work to connect with their intrinsic motivations is important. When there is a work-values disconnect, Millennials can be quick to leave. Some approaches to adjust to this challenge are:

  • Explain the “why” behind the “what.” Don’t give assignments without context. Explain what business problem they are solving, what customer need they are filling, or how their work aligns with the company strategy.
  • Lead from your purpose. Whether you are managing a team, or leading a company, be clear in relating your organization’s purpose and speak about it authentically to your employees.
  • Create a career management framework that helps employees identify and connect with their purpose, even if it means they leave your team or your company. Millennials will, as they should, align with purpose before company loyalty.

Millennials cannot be “sold to.” Millennials have a sensitive BS meter. They expect transparency, and are attracted to authenticity. They quickly lose trust in leaders who do not seem transparent or authentic. To align with them, it is helpful to:

  • Trust them with the real story, good or bad. Don’t sugarcoat what isn’t working. Avoid hyperbole. Straight talk is the way to Millennial’s hearts.
  • Talk in personal terms. Reinforce your points with personal examples, sometimes showing vulnerability. Millennials want to relate to their leaders; help them by being relatable.

If we pull together all of these tendencies, what are Millennials really saying to employers? They want expression, life experience, growth, recognition, purpose, and authenticity. Don’t we all? The difference is that Millennials are demanding these things with a new intensity; anything less than that is a deal breaker for them.

Employers stopped showing long-term loyalty to employees a while ago. Millennials get that. They will act in their self-interest, the same way employers do. That isn’t a bad thing—I’d say it’s a great thing.  They are demanding that employers engage with them to develop into their best, most authentic selves.  Not only should businesses support that, but we should all learn from it. What if we all treated our professional journeys like paths to becoming our best, most authentic selves?


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