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Why You Can’t Seem to Understand Millennials, and How to Motivate Them


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Today, there is no shortage of advice and observations about employing people in the millennial generation. According to researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss the millennials are those “born in 1982 and approximately the 20 years thereafter.” It wasn't until 2012 that they established the official end point of the generation as 2004. 

Interestingly, Howe and Strauss called the millennials the “next great generation,”  for their positive, can-do, group-oriented spirit. The reason for the researcher’s assessment arose from their observations on how the nation has showered them with concern and attention, and how that would lead to a generation of people more focused on community and traditional values. Ongoing research however, paints an evolving picture. This is a generation with growing political clout, but they are not using it. And, while religion could be classed as a traditional American value, millennials are growing less and less likely to view religious organizations as positive. To contrast though, and with a nod toward community mindedness, 89% said they’d be likely to buy from companies that supported solutions to social issues.   

It’s Big

Make no mistake, this is a large generation that will shape many aspects of the nation and the world in the coming decades. In April 2016, Pew reported the millennial generation had become larger in number than the baby boomers. As a generation, however, millennials are conflicted not only about what their generation represents, but also about who is included in their generation. 

With millennials, as with members of any generation, it’s far more effective to find what motivates a person at the individual level. 

Only 40% of surveyed adults between the ages of 18 and 34 said they consider themselves to be part of the millennial generation. Members of this generation are also more willing to assign negative stereotypes to themselves, as 59% say describing them as self absorbed is accurate. However, one thing many millennials agree on is that they're optimistic about the future.

Writers contributing to Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Inc., have tackled the topic of how to motivate millennials, but of course, their prescriptions are all different. So, we’ve synthesized their advice, and come up with the top five ways to motivate employees who fit into the millennial generation.

1. Show Them How They Fit In

Just like others from any generation, knowing where you fit in and how your contributions help the company’s overall goals gives you a way to gauge your value. But this needs to go far beyond simply providing a detail of the company's hierarchy. It also means helping these employees to understand the company culture and how the company’s purpose has a greater value that goes beyond the company itself.

2. Tell Them How They Are Doing

Many people in the millennial generation appreciate more guidance than those from other generations. In particular, they like it when someone shows them how to be successful. In line with that, they want to be told how well they are doing, and want information and examples that show them how to improve. It is also important to tend to their education and professional development. 

Mentoring is one method that is well suited to construction in which  the employee learns from a more senior employee. Providing online training that people can do at anytime offers flexibility, while assigning side projects that fit the person's interests provide stimulating learning experiences. Encouraging them, and providing feedback on a regular basis is crucial.

3. Keep Things Flexible

Many millennials don't view work in the same way as people in other generations. To many of them, work is just one aspect of a life that is filled with many more interests including friends, family, hobbies, and community. It's not possible in most cases to integrate all of those things into the workplace, so that's why it's important to be flexible with things like schedules. Allowing time for these employees to work on personal projects, including community projects, allows them to take initiative, be creative, and stretch their abilities.

4. Emphasize Relationships

Structure is not as important to people in the millennial generation as it is to those in other generations. Instead, millennial's tend to want to build strong interpersonal relationships, and they want to make meaningful connections with other people. In a construction environment, unlike the environments that exist in many other industries, people already have physical proximity to each other. So the challenge became minimizing blocks to interpersonal relationships like rigid hierarchies that limit communication between people.

5. Extend Trust

Trust, creativity, and individuality are important to millennials. Once they understand the process of doing something, it's time for everyone else to get out of the way, provide them with what they need, and give them the space to operate. This is very important for retaining millennials because one of the main reasons they cite for changing jobs is not having the chance to innovate, be creative, and grow. They don't mind learning through trial and error. Failing will help them learn from the experience and prepare them for greater responsibility.

A final, and very important thing to keep in mind is that a person born into the millennial generation is an individual. When attributing broad group characteristics to individuals, there is always the danger of relying too heavily on predictions and observations that require time before they are validated. Group characteristics get diluted and changed by the time they get to the individual level. A person born into any generation will have life experiences that shape who they are, and who they become. 

So with millennials, as with members of any generation, it’s far more effective to find what motivates a person at the individual level. Generational attitudes about things simply give you a broad understanding of a generation. For millennials, as with any other generation, that is just a starting point.