Have you heard the complaint about entitled, difficult to please millennials? You know—they are challenging to work with, not loyal, and seem to ask for attention from their employer that is disproportionate to older employees. In this post, I will explain what motivates these newest members of the workforce. And I guess I need to stress that they are a huge part of the working demographic. Every business that is serious about success, must tap into the inherent awesome-ness of millennials! Millennials are everybody born in the 80’s and 90’s. And they do have a unique set of needs relative to other workers. If you haven’t seen my video on this topic, there is a link to it here.

In that video, I explain how to satisfy the psychological needs of all workers including millennials; that is we all need to feel: 1) Appreciated, 2) a sense of belonging, and 3) autonomy — we need to be given space to deliver our work with an adequate degree of independence. However millennials have one other need that is unique to their generation. And, if an employer doesn’t satisfy it, the future leaders of your company will be ditching you as soon as anything better comes by. Did you know that 30% of millennials will quit a new job within 30 days of starting?! Holy Cow! It is not that they don’t know what their pay will be or what the duties of the job will entail. Why do they leave so fast, costing untold thousands in wasted recruiting and training costs? For the first time in over 100 years, we have a generation of new workers who do NOT expect to do better financially then their parents did. Real wages have been stagnant for decades. This means that young workers are not expecting to have a higher standard of living than the one they grew up in. And for many, they expect something a bit lesser. So with lots of room for individual exceptions, we know that generally millennials motivation is not to get rich or climb corporate ladders.

This is completely opposite of the five generations that came before them. For people my age and older, we could reasonably conclude that if we worked hard and demonstrated a modicum of loyalty to an employer, we would progressively be paid more and achieve beneficial career progression. To put it bluntly, we were happy to make a bargain—I will give you my labour and you will pay me more and more as I get older. It was a simple, if inelegant, trade-off. We did not insist that the work we were doing be interesting or meaningful. AND, this my friends, is what differentiates the millennials! They are not in it simply for the money. Obviously, they want living wages and will reject uncompetitive remuneration — but that is SO basic. They also want their work to be expansive. They want to learn, engage with colleagues, and feel like they’re growing. They insist that their work have some individual meaning for them. And if it doesn’t — sayonara — they’re leaving as soon as they possibly can. Providing meaningfulness in the workplace can seem daunting. Obviously, if your organization promotes world peace all day, every day you’re golden. Loyal millennials will devote themselves to your cause. Same for environmental or other blatantly socially important missions. But your organization doesn’t have to be Greenpeace to win millennial loyalty. You need to tap into what is most important to most of us — professional growth for example.

Show millennials the skill development that your company makes available. Or show your employees the benefit to end users of what you produce. For example, I worked with a pulp mill that made specialty wood fibre used in medical products, diapers, and other unexpected applications. They could find a doctor who will talk about the benefits of the products he uses with his patients. Get him on video and show your workforce how what your company does makes a difference. Or get videos of new moms who are grateful for the convenience of diapers and the dry protection it gives their babies. Now your millennials are not just working in any industrial setting, instead they are helping little babies be healthier and happier. Sometimes it can be as easy as having a corporate connection to your community.

I have worked with credit unions that facilitate tons of community service in the small towns and cities where they have branches. You wouldn’t believe the pride with which their employees — millennials included — wear company shirts and jackets. They know their business adds to the quality of their home community. It isn’t hard to help millennials see the meaning of their work, but an employer does need to consciously turn their mind to it. Here is fascinating thing — millennials’ entrance to the workforce elevated this conversation about meaningful work. And now that some of these young people have been working for close to 20 years and collectively making an increasingly large proportion of the workforce, their values are being adopted by older generations.

Nearly every worker these days is seeking more meaning from their work. And frankly, we owe a debt of gratitude to the millennials for making this important conversation front and centre. Bonus—At the link above you can download a checklist of meaning-makers. See how your workplace stacks up! It’s my life’s mission to help the world be a bit happier.

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Until next time,
I’m your happiness expert, Paul Krismer.