Managing and Motivating Millennials in the Work Force

Managing and Motivating Millennials in the Work Force

Many millions of words have been written about Millennials—or that generational cohort born roughly between 1981 and 2000. They are called Millennials because the first groups of the cohort “came of age” around the turn of the 21st Century.

Why is this demographic group of such great interest to employers and the society in general? Three reasons we believe:

  • There are currently 80 million Millennials in the US and they represent a large portion of the workforce. They are rapidly becoming the workforce.
  • They are often described as the Net Generation because they have never known life without the internet. Hence they are highly connected, technology savvy and are accustomed to quick action and rapid access to information. They seemingly adapt early, quickly and easily to technology change—not kicking and screaming like some members of past generations. This may be threating to some.
  • As a group, they are believed to be different from the generations that came before because Millennials supposedly lack motivation and drive, and will be more difficult to manage than employees of 10 years ago. Is the old motivational “playbook” obsolete?

Earlier this year, I conducted a sales force compensation and motivation seminar at the University of Wisconsin for sales managers. We have done this, and other similar sales-based seminars for over 20 years. This year, we were asked to prepare a new section in our presentation to address the growth of Millennials in the workforce, and discuss changes companies and employers should consider to more effectively pay and motivate the generational trend. Clearly, this an area of great interest.

As a first step, I did research regarding Millennials from published and available sources regarding generational traits and characteristics that likely can impact employer motivational and management decisions. There seems to be no single authority on the subject, but there surely are plenty of opinions. Here are some credible findings or opinions shared with seminar participants:

  • Millennials are optimistic, in spite of a tough economic back drop;
  • 75% say that wealth is very important to them (this is 30% higher than the Baby-Boomer generation);
  • They are impatient with traditional (company) structure, slow pace and limited flexibility;
  • They have high expectations as consumers of any product, service or organization; and
  • They require a clear mission combined with freedom from rigid structures to achieve that mission and their (own) goals.

So what does the above mean to managing and paying a Millennial? Or in the case of our seminar, managing and paying a Millennial sales force? While preparing our seminar materials, four recurring motivation and management practices became clear:

  • Tell your employee how you will be defining both theirs and the company’s success. Give them that mission that they both seek and require.
  • Provide frequent feedback regarding their performance and make it clear that there is (demonstrated) promotional opportunity within the organization. Tell them often they are successful in fulfilling that mission.
  • Match company processes and customer outreach with their fast-paced and digital orientation. They are used to “fast.” So make your company move fast(er). Ultimately, this can only make everyone more productive. And, what a great opportunity this presents to upgrade the entire staff.
  • Give them an opportunity to earn increasing income through bonuses and incentives—push the upside. Switch to higher bonuses with lower base salaries, if it is practical and fits their individual risk-profile. They are living through a tough economic environment, so provide an opportunity for them to break out—based on their own energy and hard work.

Many of the participants in our session had Millennials on their sales teams and a long discussion ensued regarding both motivators and impediments to the success of these employees.

Two conclusions emerged: First, the four practices I shared above are the right things to do for employees of any generation—Millennial, Baby Boomer or somewhere in between. Second, it became clearer that there was no secret to success or “decoder ring” for motivating Millennials—the tried and true models of human behavior will work fine with this current generation—just like they have done with earlier generations for 3-4 decades. I was a bit surprised based on all of the literature on the subject, but convinced.

So, do not be put off by all of the experts waxing eloquent on the subject of Millennials. Odds are that they are (and will surely prove to be as a group) motivated and productive employees. And, the motivational tools and practices you have used in the past will be just as successful with this group as they have been in the past. As a bonus, they will bring greater technology skills to the workplace than most employers have ever seen—do not waste the opportunity.

The real issue with the Millennial generation may be more about them managing you than you managing them. And, you know how hard that can be!

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