Learn from Millennials about Employee Motivation

millennials on phoneReconsider the tired, negative clichés about Millennials in the workplace and you may be surprised by what this youngest generation can teach us about employee motivation.

Many attitudes and habits shared by today’s twenty-somethings baffle older folks. As employees, this generation — also dubbed Gen Y — can be demanding, entitled, distracted and gadget-obsessed. Roughly spanning today’s cohort of 18-to-34-year-olds, Millennials were raised by hyper-attentive parents, started networking online in high school or earlier and entered the workforce during a recession.

Are they distracted by hyper-connectivity and stunted by an unwillingness to pay their dues in the workplace? Or are they dismantling the status quo by tapping into smart new ways to communicate and get quality work done?

The negative stereotypes about Millennials may be true at times, but they’re often misleading, as we’ve previously talked about here at gThankYou’s blog – Celebrating Work. (See our tips for recognizing and showing gratitude to Gen Y.)

Now let’s take a look at what we can actually learn from Millennials when it comes to motivating employees of all ages. Employee motivation is a vital part of keeping your workforce happy, focused and productive — no matter their generation.

Flexibility Rules
To the chagrin of their elders, many Millennials text with friends or check their personal Facebook or Twitter while at work. They’re also just as likely to answer a work-related email from their smart-phone, in bed at 11 p.m. They’re comfortable with this fluidity, and research shows their older peers like it, too.

“NextGen: A Global Generational Study” by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) found that Millennials “view work as a ‘thing’ and not a ‘place.'”

“Millennial employees are not alone in wanting greater flexibility at work. Millennials want more flexibility, e.g. the opportunity to shift hours to night, if necessary. But so do non-Millennials. In equal numbers. In fact, a significant number from all generations want a flexible work schedule so much that they would be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in order to get it,” PwC concluded.

How employees across generations use this flexibility may differ, but they’ll appreciate it all the same, according to Dan Kadlec, journalist and author of  “A New Purpose: Redefining Money, Family, Work, Retirement and Success.”

“Giving young workers the flexibility to work at 2 a.m. so they can spend three hours in the afternoon playing Grand Theft Auto would also benefit Boomers who overwhelmingly agree they’d like the flexibility to take off an afternoon, say, with the grandkids,” he writes.

Saving the World Starts with Me
Call it narcissism, call it self-confidence, but Millennials’ upbringing has conditioned them to think they can save the world. In their eyes, the world needs them and needs saving — they’ve grown up in an era shaped by tragic events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

People of all ages can feed off a little idealism. In “An Open Letter to Millennials” on Switch & Shift, Angela Maiers describes how contagious their idealism is.

“It is so refreshing to see you enter the classroom and the workplace with a ‘ready to take over the world’ attitude. […] You are idealistic because you bear witness every day to ‘impossibilities’ becoming reality. When I was your age, I didn’t think seriously about creating world peace, the plight of the environment, or finding the solution to problems in developing nations. Thank goodness you are not like me. You are more conscious and conscientious than my generation was at your age.”

Idealism breeds idealism. Connecting your employees to the ideals behind your organization’s everyday business helps them see the bigger picture and gives a greater sense of purpose to the work.

Get a Response with Responsibility
The up-and-coming generation is empowered by responsibility, not intimidated by it. Elissa Freeman, a consultant writing for Ragan’s PR Daily, discusses this in a recent article called “Learning to love working with (and for) Millennials.”

Freeman calls this trait “respecting responsibility.” She quotes a senior producer who gives young web editors significant responsibility, but does so knowing his organization’s leadership structure “allows solid oversight and checks when necessary” to keep Millennial inexperience from causing any blunders.

“Everyone loves to be empowered,” he tells her.

Communicate Early and Often
What about that apparently unique Millennial need to constantly message, text, chat, snap, post and share? A research paper from the Journal of Business and Psychology says Millennials have a desire for “open communication, and lots of it, [and] are unlikely to accept an organizational policy that information is communicated on a ‘need-to-know basis.’ Regardless of their low-level positions, Millennial workers feel a need to be kept in the loop of information.”

Young people, and increasingly older generations, as the PwC study finds, are falling into this pattern of communicating more frequently and less formally. So don’t belabor communication, or save up a year’s worth of thank-you’s and criticism for the annual review. A quick note of gratitude, or even a suggestion in passing, will not go unnoticed.

For more research learning and ideas for engaging all your employees, please download our free Employee Gift Giving Guide today.

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