Managing Millennials and Engaging Values at Work

  • by

According to a recent, major research report by the Gallup organization, How Millennials Want to Work and Live,  only 29% of millennials are “engaged” at work. The other 71% are either not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Why does this matter? According to Gallup, “business units in the top quartile of employee engagement are 17% more productive, suffer 70% fewer safety incidents, experience 41% less absenteeism, have 10% better customer ratings and are 21% more profitable compared with business units in the bottom quartile.”

The research shows that the popular assumption that millennials feel “entitled,” meaning that they do not recognize the causal connection between performance and the expectation of reward, is not quite accurate; and more to the point, in too many cases this assumption on the part of managers is likely to be flatly counter-productive. In fact, 62% of the engaged millennials in the study reported that being held accountable by a boss was a positive factor in their engagement. For them, this means clear expectations and frequent feedback.

This finding might be surprising not only because it bucks the assumption, but also because the desire for accountability—knowing what’s expected and being held responsible to meet expectations—is shared by employees across the generational spectrum, not just millennials.

When seen in this light, the engagement factor also goes a very long way to explain why half of millennials do not expect to be in the same job one year from now. Gallup estimates that “millennial turnover due to disengagement costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.

The manager who meets regularly and frequently with employees is more likely to find that employees are engaged across the board generationally. So, what really is different about millennials? Quite a lot – check out the report for more details. However, closing the gap between engagement and disengagement may be easier than many managers believe.

The workplace values that this research identifies are these:

  • Informing (setting clear expectations, behavioral requirements and goals for the job)
  • Feedback (communication of objective behavioral observations and consequences, both positive/reinforcing and negative/correcting)
  • Dependability (ensuring that communication is frequent and regular)
  • Mutual Accountability (clear agreements between manager and employee on requirements and goals)

These values—and by values we mean principles that are regarded as important and that prioritize matching behaviors and efforts—need additional values in place in order to be realizable:

  • Responsibility (the manager acknowledging her or his responsibility in ensuring continued employee engagement)
  • Recognition (letting employees know that the manager is watching out for them)
  • Respect (questioning one’s own assumptions about what constitutes engagement for others)

And, a word on Diversity. Diversity is about seeing things differently from someone else—the difference in perspective can be a reflection of any number of factors, including personality and cognitive preferences. Gallup strongly advocates understanding how different employees prefer to be rewarded, and emphasizes that different people are motivated by different rewards. It might be a private pat on the back; a dinner out with the boss; a fanfare in front of the team or the entire organization; or a check. The question we ask when working with values like Diversity, or any other values, with any individual or group, is “What’s important?”

What’s important to millennials? We really don’t know until we ask. So, start asking.