I hear a lot of discussion among the Generation X and Baby Boomer business leaders about how to handle those “pesky” Millennials. I’m not quite sure why this is such a mystery to people.
“Is my work worthy of my sense of purpose, or is it really just a means to an end, a step on my personal ladder of success?”—Sandy Shugart
In the first place, I usually start with this: if we have a problem with the Millennial generation, we might best look in the mirror. We raised them. We gave them their values. If we start there, it seems to have a bit of a calming effect. The rhetoric softens a bit and that’s a good thing.
Second, I like to look at what it is the Millennials are asking out of their careers. This is not a homogeneous group. However, most Millennials with whom I speak really want the same things I’ve always wanted and sought in my own career. They want just what Daniel Pink suggested they want: Competitive compensation, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. They also want to have a life; so they value flexible time and experiences. They are not motivated by additional dollars as much as by more flexible work hours, time off and a sense of purpose in the larger community.
As I said, I don’t think we are really looking at anything very different here. There are some contrasts between generations that are apparent to me. My generation was taught that if the boss wasn’t talking to us, that was a good thing. On the other hand, Millennials have always had, and continue to want, constant feedback. They want to know that they are doing what’s expected and if they are on the right track. Many of us were not managed that way and consequently, we do not naturally manage others that way. I have to keep reminding myself that I can keep people informed without micromanaging.
The topic of worth is more important now than it has ever been. Why? Because we are entering a transition time when automation is transforming where, when and how we work. It is dangerous in the extreme to hitch personal meaning to a job alone. That job will not be here and/or will be significantly augmented with intelligent machines. My worth as a human being must be defined in other ways than work. And, to have work be meaningful, the work must align with my values and purpose.
So, what is new is that the Millennials are much more willing to vote with their feet than I ever was. If you have a large turnover rate among the Millennials in your workforce, then look at your culture.
The Good News
The good news is that if we build an organizational culture that is attractive and meaningful to Millennials, then almost all our employees will be engaged and satisfied. When given the chance, employees have consistently indicated that Pink got it right in his book Drive. So the trick is to build a culture where money isn’t a negative motivator (you offer a competitive compensation package), where employees feel they have autonomy in their assignments, believe they continue to grow their technical competencies (mastery) and where there is a purpose bigger than they are to give them a sense of worth.