How to Lead and Engage Millennials in the Workplace
Engagement is an overused term in the modern business lexicon that has lost its true meaning and reverted to just a buzzword. But with a global workforce now comprising of 50% millennials and growing, engagement has never been more crucial than now. To some, millennials can be perceived as lazy or unmotivated, however, this is not the case. Millennials, more than any generation, are looking for more than security, a great paycheck and the promise of a good retirement, they are seeking meaning and engagement within their work. Engaged millennials equal more deep performance, increased innovation and retention. So, as business leaders what are we doing to ensure millennials in the workplace find true engagement within our businesses?
How To Engage Millennials
To engage millennials, and in my view anyone else, you need to be both direct and empowering. And a good place to start is the planning process. Let me explain how. There is no waffle in a solid plan. The whole point of it is for each individual to know exactly what they need to achieve by when, for every task in the plan. The mission objective must be clear, measurable and achievable and the enabling courses of action must be direct, personal, and concise. Don't be mistaken though, providing clear direction for people is not equivalent to wrapping them in bubble wrap and ensuring they are carried through the mission unscathed. No, as much as engagement requires direction, it is equal parts autonomy and empowerment.
In the 1980s, several studies showed that people worked harder, were more satisfied, and trusted their employers more if their management supported their autonomy: respecting perspectives, giving choices, and encouraging self-initiation rather than specifying how they should do things. For the millennial generation, support for autonomy is even more important. Millennials will be more energized and productive if they have greater autonomy over where, when, and how they work. This requires a business to have a more flexible structure and after COVID-19, businesses everywhere have become more flexible as people have preferred working from home or during their own hours. Flexibility is empowering for the millennial!
Engagement is equal parts direction and autonomy, when businesses get this balance right, they have a group of empowered, engaged, and hard-working employees, and not just millennials! There is a balance to be reached between the directness of a plan, and the need for team members to have control of their own missions. That balance is found in the team’s situational awareness. The more awareness the team has of the context for the mission, the state of the industry, its players and history, the less direction they will need. Reaching this balance should be a goal of every business in the modern world. Times are moving fast and we can't afford to be left behind, especially when it comes to our employees.
Create the Best Plans for Engagement
The best plans are created by the teams who are responsible for executing them. They are making commitments to their team, and for deep-performing teams that follow a disciplined execution framework, those commitments will hold. In The Upside of Turbulence, MIT Professor Donald Sull suggests that ‘The best promises share five characteristics: they are public, active, voluntary, explicit, and they include a clear rationale for why they matter.’ Each of these characteristics should be shared by the commitments made in deep-performance planning. When a team works together to set its mission plan for a worthwhile, aligned objective, the team members have no problem buying into the plan or being responsible to take on the needed tasks. If anything, the team needs to watch for people who overload themselves with tasks. But, as we know, there are ways to manage that risk.
We need to empower our teams to be able to create a plan that works for them and achieves the goal at hand. A deep-performance plan does not go into the detail of how its tasks are to be done, state the obvious, or restate standards. Just like the strategy, the mission is defined only by its intended effect: the what. Similarly, each task in the mission plan is defined only by its intended effect: what by when by who; clear, measurable, achievable. How that result occurs is up to the team (for the mission) or the individual (for the task).
Let's use Tina as an example. So, if your plan calls for Tina to have a car outside 1135 North Street at 11 p.m., it’s Tina's task to get it there. You don’t want to get into the route taken, the speed that should be driven, the need to obey traffic laws, or the need for fuel. You don’t want to worry about the way Tina drives. Your team will have standard operating procedures (SOPs). It’s obvious the car needs fuel in the tank and air in the tires. These are ‘breathing’ steps: steps so obvious it’s like telling people to remember to breathe. Beyond that, leave it to Tina to drive the car her way, using whatever techniques and preferences she likes—and that is consistent with the SOPs. If you go into too much detail, if you labour the obvious, it’s an insult to people.
3 Habits of Leaders Who Value Millennial Engagement
The engagement of millennials begins with business leaders, for they set the standards, the practices, and the culture of the workplace. And without standards, practices, and a culture that values millennials, you won't attract or keep millennials in your business. The first habit of a leader who values millennial engagement is ensuring that management has direct influence over the growth and development of employees. This means quality 1:1 time with management creating goals and direction for the months ahead.
The second habit of leaders who value millennial presence in their business is encouraging and valuing ongoing education. When employees feel as if their employers value their growth, both personal and professional will feel an increased sense of value and appreciation, which will continue to drive engagement. Encouraging education can look different depending on the company, but it could look like workplace training days or giving employees time off to attend conferences and events. Your business will benefit when employees become more interested and innovated thanks to your encouragement of education.
The third habit of a leader who values millennial retention in their business is creating an environment that appreciates and recognises input, hard work, and the qualities they bring to the workplace. For some, giving positive feedback takes practice, but it is worth it when you have a workplace full of employees and millennials who feel seen, valued, and appreciated. Whether it is a passing comment or even shooting off an email acknowledging someone, these small acts have immense meaning for people.
A New Era of Millennial Dominated Workplaces
The workforce has never been more dominated by millennials and Gen Zs, so the old processes just won't do! Engagement should be more than an overused word, it should be a priority! More than ever, as business leaders we need to find a balance between direction and autonomy, to empower our millennials to lead their own mission. Be a leader who values millennial input by empowering the management to inspire growth and development, encourage ongoing education, and don't shy away from recognition and appreciation! When millennials are searching for meaning and real engagement, does your workplace have the answers they are searching for?
Dempsey, B. (2019). Engaging millennials in the workplace: Why it matters. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2019/03/13/engaging-millennials-in-the-workplace-why-it-matters/?sh=7d1fbd335418