Rethinking the millennial puzzle
Thursday, August 04, 2016
Millennials. The business world has spent the last decade fixated on this growing part of the workforce, yet still seems to be getting it wrong. Armed with a belief that this population requires flexibility, fringe benefits and fun to be happy at work, businesses are bending over backward to make that possible.
Engagement efforts range from telecommuting to meditation rooms and are being offered whether they make sense to the business or not. And guess what? Retention rates remain low among millennials. Worse still, the effort to cater to them has led to resentment and frustration from older generations.
The problem is, we keep trying to engage millennials based on beliefs that just don't hold true.
Of course millennials want high pay, loads of benefits, flexibility and a full assortment of other goodies. Who doesn't? Those perks may lead to placement, but they don't build loyalty. Loyalty is a byproduct of motivation and has differed with each generation.
For traditionalists of the "greatest generation," loyalty was connected to fears of unemployment and the hope of a pension. Workers didn’t qualify until they’d held their job for 20 years. Boomers were enticed with health benefits and, as they were commonly the sole breadwinner of their family, job security led to loyalty. Gen Xers often came from broken homes or latch-key childhoods and wanted security for themselves and their children — more loyalty.
Things are different today in ways that have nothing to do with coddling our youth. Motivating factors just aren’t built from what they used to be. To understand what millennials want, consider how they are different from us — including how their upbringing differed from that of any prior generation.
More millennials come from families where both parents were actively involved. Their egos were protected both at home and in extracurricular activities (in which two involved parents was the norm). They routinely enjoyed heavy encouragement and received “participation” awards from coaches regardless of their skill or prowess. The outcomes of this have both benefits and drawbacks.
An advantage of being raised with a high degree of familial security and a low sense of competition, millennials matured in an environment that was highly inclusive and accepting. As adults, they are far more equality based than any preceding generation. Millennials are the first to see the LGBT community, mixed race and blended families as normal and healthy parts of our society.
The disadvantage, as we often see it, is they don’t recognize corporate and hierarchical structures in traditional terms. Millennials are likely to have an inflated sense of self-worth, and they are apt to overstep their authority or feel restricted by supervisors who try to reign them in.
But millennials aren’t merely a product of high egos and doting parents. Along with the feel-good environment millennials experienced through their coming of age, they were also exposed to a world paralyzed by fears stemming from terrorism and a global financial crisis. Through the internet, they possessed greater access to news and information — both local and international — than any prior generation.
These challenges and freedoms impacted millennials in their development as well. On the upside, their awareness of global issues and needs reduced their egos and caused many to strive to find ways to make a difference. On the downside (for the business community), rather than finding security in long-term employment, they find it through social connectivity. As such, millennials are not likely to consider long hours and working overtime as respectable priorities.
So yes, millennials are different. But not in the selfish, self-centered way that they are often depicted. Like every generation before, they look at life through their own lens.
To motivate millennials and build loyalty, you’ll need to call to their sense of purpose and their desire to bring positive change. This may be environmental causes, local initiatives, human rights or global concerns. Find out what inspires and encourages them (and other members of your workforce) and help them find a path where — through your company — they can make a difference.
If you are looking to build loyalty from a millennial, match perks to their vision of the future. Hint: They aren’t really in it for themselves.
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