Millennials and Engagement – A Two Way Street

I recently came across another report from Gallup on Millennials. Millennials –  those born between 1980 and 1996 are the generation in the workplace most likely to change jobs. They found that 21% of Millennial workers had switched jobs in the last year, a number that is more than three times higher than non-Millennials who report doing the same. Six in 10 Millennials say they are open to different job opportunities, which is also the highest percentage among all generations in the workplace. And Millennials who want different roles or new opportunities aren’t staying with their current company to find them. A separate Gallup study shows that an overwhelming majority of Millennials (93%) say they left their employer the last time they changed roles. Only 7% took a new position within the same company.

This is a huge issue, and opportunity, for employers who need to attract and retain these young, talented people. Managers in the Boomer and Gen-X generations must learn to understand and adapt to the values and desires of this generation. Complaining and pointing fingers isn’t the solution. The cost of turn-over is always high, not just on the bottom-line, but also to the people and culture of the organization. People of all generations, at the core, are looking for the same things in their work. Millennials will simply act quicker when they find they are not getting what they think they want in their jobs. The task for leaders is to learn what motivates this generation, and then feed them that!

Gallup asked workers how important particular attributes were to them when applying for new jobs. Among Millennials, they discovered that the top five factors are:

– Opportunities to learn and grow

– The quality of their manager

– The overall quality of management

– Interesting work

– Opportunities for advancement

As I look back over the past 30 years, I have tracked the many studies and lists published in business journals about what were the top motivating factors that people were looking for in their jobs. The list below has been so very consistent, not only in the content of what people say they most want, but in particular the order of importance they rank those very desires. The list typically is as follows:

– Interesting work

– Being appreciated for work done

– Feeling of being “in” on things

– Job security

– Promotion and growth opportunities

My experience is that, no matter your age, we all want very similar things at work and from our work. We want work that stimulates us, keeps us learning and growing, has opportunities for advancement, to be respected and trusted to be told what’s going on, and to work with leaders who see us a human being and get to know who we are and what motivates us. Beyond basic pay and benefits, these are things we inherently seek, and when we don’t get them, even if only sensed subconsciously, we become more and more disengaged, and then find ways to exit. I think the Millennials are simply acting on the disengagement-factor quicker and jumping ship, whereby older workers just “stayed and stuck it out” for the duration. Either way, the cost of unengaged workers is the number one problem and opportunity facing us at work today.

A challenge to the Millennials is also in order here. Business, beyond the profit aspect, is about serving people’s (customers) needs and wants, and if a business isn’t capable of delivering the goods and meeting or exceeding customer’s expectations, no money changes hands, therefore no business. The key here is that we all have to deliver, we have to perform, we have to work together and make good stuff happen. While we all want to have things our way, we do at the end of the day have to get stuff done to someone else’s satisfaction. Look for the best place to work yes, but there is a reason we call work “work” – unless we get stuff done and deliver, there is no business, no job, to be had.

I also want to offer the Millennials another challenge. I have told all my coaching clients over the years that their role, and business in general, is the greatest ‘personal growth’ opportunity on the planet. I suggest you look at yourself as a business unit of one, and then look for other business opportunities that fit who you are and what you best have to offer. Get clear about who you really are – uncover your core values, connect with your root passion, discover your true gifts that in combination make you unique, and set a clear purpose of who you are and what you can best bring to the workplace. With that clarity, searching for firms who align with you becomes easier and more fun. Going into interviews is now more of a mutual exploratory conversation than the typical one-way monologue. And when the time is right to make a decision, you can say yes to a place where you see your motivators being honored, where you fully utilize your talents, where growth opportunities are what you make it, and where you feel you are a significant contributor to something that brings you more alive.

Engagement is a two-way street. Leaders must see how they can better understand their people and human nature in general, and then work to create cultures that ‘plus’ people rather than diminish them. Millennials also are responsible for their own engagement, and will have the better end of working when they see they generate their own connection to the company. If you’re not getting what you want at work – bring that up to your supervisors. Jumping ship has one common denominator – YOU. ‘You’ go wherever your new jobs are, and if you don’t see how you are truly motivated, or better understand the nature of work, you will never fit in, feel accepted, and then feel you have to seek relief by quitting.

I feel the Millennials are causing the biggest shift in management systems and leadership practices the world has seen. So I suggest we learn as much about them as possible. And I hope the Millennials will take the time to learn about themselves more as well soon, and then take that wisdom into their work.


If we all take responsibility for making work a noble practice, then problems turn into opportunities that can be easily resolved!

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