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  • Sher Lynn

Motivating Millennials

How do you motivate your millennial employees?

"Baby Boomers won’t get out of the way for us." – Kathy C, age twenty-six

Millennials were raised with five hundred channels of television programming of dubious quality or cultural value, Millennials now watch less and less LIVE television. Instead, they increasingly prefer to shift through their favorite shows using Apple TV, or streaming what they want using Netflix, Hulu, etc., when they want it and on whatever device; computers, tablets, or phones.

Also, for this generation, and increasingly for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers alike, simply watching doesn’t deliver the engaging experience they crave-more than 70 percent of people with tablet or smartphones are simultaneously watching television while viewing and interacting with others on another device.

Media’s ability to provide instant gratification is just one piece of “want it now” sentiment so many managers complain about when talking of their Millennial team members. One of my Baby Boomer clients observed Millennials “like variety and a fast pace, and seem to be very confident in multitasking. I’ve walked into some offices full of people where you could hear a pin drop because no one was talking, yet everyone had on their headphones and were working on at least two or more large screens, plus their mobile phones and tablets in their hands.”

This phenomenon has two large impacts on the office environment. First, “live” doesn’t carry the same weight with Millennials that it does with the older generations, except in sports programming. This translates into a “don’t need to be here now” attitude and the general understanding that “my time” is more important than the “show’s” time.

In an on-demand world, Millennials have grown up getting media and entertainment they want, when they want it, increasingly on any device, wherever they are.

The concept of time is different for Millennials than it is for those of older generations, who grew up waiting for the next episode to play Friday’s at 9pm. It is a different mind-set.

Millennials are dependent on their mobile devices, tablets, computers, and smartphones to communicate. The difference between the generations here is Millennials overwhelmingly prefer texting, chatting and social media platforms to phone conversations or even worse, face-to-face meetings. How often to do you see a group of twenty somethings sitting at a restaurant together, all swiping and typing on their phones instead of actually conversing with each other face-to-face?

Many leaders I have interviewed commented that decision making is happening in person, while time is eaten up with written communication that often lacks clarity on the writing end and comprehension on the reading and application end. Digital communication is dependent on words, acronyms, and emoticons, but this has not led to more effective written communication. On the contrary, while words are key to good business communication, effective writing that delivers nuance and impacts understanding is difficult to find in the workplace, no matter the generation, but more so with the Millennial generation.

The world is flat for Millennials who are used to having access to virtually any information they want, when they want it. With nearly unfettered access to billions of pages of information from around the world, Millennials are used to getting their hands on any data point they seek. As Millennials move into the workforce, they expect the transparency they perceive in their lives to be equally present in the office.

“Transparency is key—information that is readily accessible. We are very educated and we can see what else is out there,” explains Jay, a twenty-nine-year-old associate with an investment firm in Houston. Whether the data point is accurate or not, or whether it is well supported, is a different conversation.

When I was growing up, if I needed to conduct research for homework, I had two choices: search through the encyclopedias on our family bookcase and see if I could find the answer I needed or go to the library to conduct further research until I was satisfied I had gathered all of the information necessary to prepare a well thought out and researched answer.

For Millennials, they simply Google the word or concept and are immediately provided with thousands of options to choose from, and they typically choose the first or second answer. The challenge is there is so much shared on the internet that is not always correct and it takes away the opportunity for a Millennial to really research and present their own opinion as opposed to what they read on a paid Google ad.

According to one of my clients, Jennifer, an early forty-five Gen Xer, “they don’t seem to care about what’s behind the click, and don’t seem to know that the first thing is they see on a search result is not the only or best answer-it’s just about getting things done fast.”

Just as access to any information is taken for granted, so is access to anybody. This is the first generation that has been raised to call their parent’s friends and their friend’s parents by their first name. Not all generations want to be called by their first name, for some it is a sign of disrespect.

In the workplace, this shows up in two ways: the ability to get started and the ability to finish. “I work a lot with Millennials who are pretty bright,” says Elizabeth, a marketing executive in Dallas, “but I don’t see that they work any better than the people from other generations. Instead, I see they are not as good at self-motivating and definitely are not accountable for their work.” Elizabeth stresses that Millennials need “more context, more explanation, and more direction” to get started on a project. And they need a lot of guidance and positive feedback along the way.

John, a forty-five-year-old social worker adds, “This difficulty completing tasks manifests itself in tasks that are 70 percent done and things aren’t wrapped up as you’d expect them to be. When I go back to my people to get to the work finished, I don’t get a lot of push back, but the follow-up is not that much better. So, I either have to finish it myself or find someone else more senior to get it completed on time.” The problem with this manner of working with Millennials is that we are not giving them the opportunity to learn how to get from a 70 percent complete to a 100 percent when we take over the project or reassign it.

It takes time, but it is critical for our next generation that leaders spend the extra time mentoring their Millennial employees and transferring their knowledge instead of just finishing the task themselves. Millennials are very smart, confident and eager to learn new skills, all you have to do is facilitate a positive environment that allows them to grow and develop.

Feedback & Growth = Motivated Millennials

Millennials take their careers and feedback seriously and they value honest, frequent feedback from their leaders.

Feedback nurtures growth, which Millennials also highly value.

60% of Millennials consider growth opportunities to be the most attractive job perk.

46% of Millennials left their job due to lack of career growth.

80% of Millennials surveyed want feedback in real-time that is relevant and constructive.

Effective on-boarding can be an organization's launch pad for career success. Create individualized new hire tasks and provide access to resources to ensure new hires have a clear sense of how to excel in their role. Remember Millennials want to be part of something bigger than a “job description.”

Offer Genuine LIFE-WORK Balance

More Millennials are working as dual-income families and are having to work more hours at the job and home. This makes achieving a life-work balance challenging.

38% of U.S. Millennials say they would move to another country with better parental leave benefits, such as Canada, that offer a year of family leave.

57% said they would leave a job that doesn’t provide the life-work balance they want.

One third say that managing their work, family, and personal responsibilities has become more difficult in the past five years. Forty-seven percent are now working more hours, a higher percentage than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Equip Them

When asked: If you were able to choose your leader, which of the following would be most important to you? 72% of Millennials would like to be their own boss, BUT if they have to work for a boss, 79 percent would want their boss to act as a coach or mentor.

The TOP response of U.S. Millennials was: “Empower their employees.”

Millennials want to empower others; 40% said it was their biggest motivator to become a leader.

Motivation Tips:

  • Engage Millennials by highlighting the value of their work to the project and the company

  • Accurately assess candidates and onboard new employees to ensure they are the right fit for the team and organization

  • Solicit innovative ideas and adapt processes to support new ways of working

  • Outline expectations in a way that resonates with Millennials

  • Give clear, timely feedback

  • Provide valuable opportunities for younger employees to interact with other departments and levels of management

A practical and positive approach allows leaders to manage in a way that encourages not only Millennials but employees of other generations to succeed and contribute their best to the organization. Using real-world examples, you will receive data-driven steps that allow co-creation between all generations that guarantees a productive workplace for today and the future.


“Boomers work so many hours but are they really getting stuff done or just trying to show off for the boss?” – Susan, age twenty-eight

"I’ve got nothing good to say.” That’s the answer I got when I asked a senior executive of a global organization to talk with me about his experience with Millennials in his workplace. While the executives attitude was a bit extreme, this executive attitude sums up the general feeling I’ve encountered from Baby Boomers and late Gen Xers as I explored ways to bridge the gap that seems to exist everywhere between older management and Millennials, particularly the younger of the cohort.

A quick internet search on working with Millennials gives the impression that bitter feelings about the younger generation are a “new” phenomenon and Baby Boomers are the first generation to deal with the “ungrateful youth” around them.


“'Just because' isn’t going to work for me.” – Quinn C, age twenty-nine

“Why can’t they just do what I tell them to?” Gone are the good old days, when “Because I asked you to” was a useful or sustainable workplace tool. It might work once, but assume the icy stare or rolling of their eyes means that Sam is looking for a new job, and you’ll soon be starting all over again training his replacement. And while it might seem better to replace the eye-roller, it’s a costly slippery slope of extra time exiting one person and recruiting and effectively onboarding a new one. And high turnover drives down productivity and morale.

The replacement cost is more than just the 20 to 30 percent of salary that is widely held as the estimated cost of turnover per employee. Add job stress level and extra uncompensated hours to get the job done, and you can start to figure out the personal toll of replacing your team members before it takes a toll on you.

Understanding the bigger picture is critical to getting started with the task, never mind doing the work well. Millennials have been raised to know that they can make a difference and that their presence is important. They want to be confident that they are given the ability to make a difference in their work.

And they want to feel confident that what they do matters: that it matters to the team, the company, to the bottom line, and to the company’s mission and vision. They want to understand how what seems mundane to them can possibly be important in the world and to others.

This, of course, flies in the face of what many prior leaders experienced as they moved up the ladder. “No one ever told me why I was doing the work. They just told me to do it and I did and I felt rewarded by getting a paycheck,” says Curt M, age fifty-five.

I remember feeling bewildered about certain work duties of which I didn’t understand the relevance, and when I figured it out, usually by myself, the light bulb would go on and all of a sudden, I’d be able to do things faster and faster.

Ensure your team understands the value of their role in the larger picture. They should be able to answer these questions:

  • This position exists to:

  • My position is to make sure that:

  • If I wasn't here, this is what wouldn't happen:

The last step is critical. The individual’s immediate picture — why “I” make a difference is critical. It may seem excessive, I know, but if employees understand their purpose within the bigger vision, if they can tie their day-to-day work to making a difference, then work goes a bit smoother and more efficiently, with better output and increased morale across all generations.

When leaders meet with their employees one-on-one, it is important to take the time to convey how each employee fits into the team or organization. This gives them a better understanding. It helps them see how unique their role is or how their job helps the company achieve their goals and objectives.

Occasionally employers ask, “But Sherri, doesn’t this just feed into the problem?” No. This cures the problem. By creating a definitive line from each individual to the company vision and mission, you provide your employees a much clearer sense of why they, and by extension their work, matter. Say it once, then say it again.

Lather, rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat. On average, a Millennial requires up to eight positive strokes a day, that are genuine. This is how they know they are doing a good job and the only way they know that is if you communicate with them daily.

Tip: If your organization has not developed a company mission and vision statement, this is a must before you will be able to effectively attract, retain or motivate Millennials or any other generation!

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Generational Guru is an award-winning speaker, professional business consultant, and published author who energetically engages international audiences with her practical strategies for attracting, growing, and retaining top talent and loyal customers from every generation. Sherri brings over twenty years of hands-on experience to support you in designing generational solutions that address:

  • Cross-Generational Leadership Challenges

  • Generational Blind Spots in Sales

  • Effective Recruitment and Retention

  • Marketing to Millennials

For more information, please contact Sherri via email at or text/call her at 469-971-3663.

#motivation #MillennialsMatter #Millennials #leadership

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