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Are Millennials in the Workplace REALLY That Different?


Much has been said about Millennials in the workplace, and unfortunately, not much of it is very good. They aren’t motivated, they complain, they aren’t loyal, they feel they should earn more – the stereotypes go on and on. But here’s an alternative theory: maybe Millennials aren’t all that different from the rest of us.

Yes, Millennials are a new breed of employee. They are more confident, more self-aware, they know what they want, and are not at all shy about asking for it.

Instead of being dismissive, it might be time to listen. After all, as the generation most likely to be vocal in the workplace, the issues they raise may be more universal than you think.

That’s why offering all employees a chance to have their voices heard is so critically important. Let’s review four of the most common misconceptions surrounding Millennials in the workplace and why managing by stereotypes alone will likely lead to ineffective engagement strategies – or worse, inequitable ones:

1. Stereotype: Millennials are unmotivated

It’s easy to write off Millennials as unmotivated because they expect perks as part of their work experience. But perks aren’t just about things like free food or massages. Millennials in the workplace are looking for opportunities to influence strategic decisions and gain professional development. They want flexible schedules and recognition for a job well done. But doesn’t everyone?

Consider this: Gallup reports that around 70% of US employees report being disengaged at work. That’s a whole lot more than just Millennials.

Self-motivation only carries employees so far; they’re looking for you to meet them halfway and continue motivating them through learning opportunities, chances for advancement, and demonstrating that their efforts have a direct impact on the company’s success.

2. Stereotype: Millennials don’t respect authority

Many companies think Millennials in the workplace expect handholding despite not having enough respect for organizational hierarchy. The truth is, this group wants a leader who is more a mentor than a boss.

And Millennials have plenty of respect for authority, but they also appreciate knowing that their opinions are valued. Again, doesn’t everyone?

This speaks directly to your organization’s approach to leadership and hierarchy. Does your organization invite and appreciate employee feedback, or is it more of a top-down model? Here’s an even more important question: Do you want to manage employees or develop potential leaders? In some ways, your answer to the first is also an answer to the second.

This brings up another tough point you may need to consider: maybe your leaders simply aren’t very good at bringing out the best in your employees. As the saying goes, people quit managers, not companies.

3. Stereotype: Millennials don’t stay anywhere long

Yes, Millennials change jobs more often than the previous generation. But this concept isn’t unique to them; Gen Xers also change jobs more frequently than Baby Boomers.

It is widely known and reported that Millennials change jobs when they are no longer growing in their role or at their company. What’s not reported as often is that Gen Xers are also profoundly unhappy when they aren’t thriving in the workplace. While they may not leave at the rate Millennials do, disengaged employees of any age are a problem for organizations.

If your turnover rates are higher than you’d like, it’s time to look hard at the new opportunities your employees are leaving for, and start creating similar opportunities within your own organization.

4. Stereotype: Millennials believe business leaders are dismissive

When leaders neglect to communicate or fail to demonstrate the value they place on employee feedback, it perpetuates the notion that they are dismissive of employee needs. The truth, however, may not be that they are dismissive. In reality, the issue may have more to do with not knowing where to start.

A survey by the Harvard Business Review found that employees are more engaged when four core needs are met:

  • Value: Employees feel cared for by their supervisor
  • Purpose: Employees find meaning and significance from their work
  • Focus: Employees are able to prioritize one task at a time
  • Renewal: Employees have the freedom to take frequent breaks at work

Notice that the HBR survey said employees and not Millennials. It’s easy to make assumptions. What’s not so easy is developing a company-wide commitment to appreciating the truth behind all employee thoughts, feelings, and behavior. That’s why Voice-of-Employee programs are so crucial for organizations.

The Significance of Voice-of-Employee Programs

Millennials in the workplace are among the people who will lead your organization in the future. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon you to listen to their feedback and tackle those issues that are likely affecting more than just this younger employee population.

So how do you make Millennials, and all of your employees, feel valued? Offer regular opportunities for them to share how they’re feeling, what’s meeting their needs, and what workplace improvements could be made to make things better. This can be in the form of formal feedback programs such as Employee Engagement Surveys, Employee Net Promoter Score Surveys, and Employee Opinion Surveys.

And then, it’s about acting on that feedback, and demonstrating that they’ve been heard.

Equally important is making employees feel safe from retribution (this leads to truthful feedback). Unfortunately, though, business leaders tend to bring their own thoughts, feelings, and biases into the mix.

So, make sure you partner with an expert third party like Satrix Solutions who can gather information confidentially and analyze the results free from bias. Doing this will increase the credibility of these programs, thereby encouraging meaningful participation and yielding more credible insight.

But you have to do your part as well. Make the commitment to implement ongoing improvements in response to employee feedback, and keep all of your employees—not just Millennials—feeling happy, respected, and eager to come to work.