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You are here Engaging Millennials

by Guest Writter
Joanie B. Connell, Founder, Flexible Work Solutions

“They don’t want to work,” I keep hearing from business leaders about Millennial employees.  “How do we get them to engage?”

Millennials have grown up in environments where almost everything is made to be stimulating, fun, and educational.  When they get to work and are assigned tedious tasks with no apparent developmental potential, they don’t hesitate to complain and look for other opportunities.  Yes, young people are usually more idealistic than the jaded experienced workers, but we’re dealing with more than that right now.  Changes in education and parenting practices have produced a generation of workers with different expectations.

Some business leaders have attempted to make work stimulating, fun, and educational for Millennials, but I’d like to suggest an alternative approach.  Instead of preparing the workplace for them, prepare them for the workplace.  Work is not all fun and games.  It may not be the lesson Millennials want to hear, but it is what they need.  And, ultimately, they want to know what they need to succeed.

Millennials want to be resilient, independent, empowered people.  It’s parents, teachers, and other adults who have held them back by overprotecting and over-praising them.  Instead of dismissing Millennials as “entitled,” be the first person in their lives to be honest with them.

They want to succeed, not fail, not run away, and not run home to mom and dad.  As a successful business leader, paint the picture for them of real work and how important independence and resilience are to success.

Millennials want to develop, so help them develop.

The majority of us would enjoy fun and exciting work, but it’s not realistic to expect it to be fantastic every day.  Life is not always delicious.  Some days are dull and frustrating.  We need to be able to get through that to achieve.

Help Millennials develop:

  • Resilience: the tolerance for tedium, an ability to bounce back from failure
  • Creativity:  the inventiveness to turn any task into something worth doing
  • Patience: an appreciation for the time it takes to develop an expertise.

Millennials want to be engaged, so help them engage. 

  • Role model getting your hands dirty, doing what it takes to get the job done.
  • Teach them that learning how to do the boring and tough stuff helps you both feel confident that you can do anything it takes and develop empathy for others in those roles.
  • Share with them how exciting it is to be a part of a bigger picture and that every little task counts, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant.
  • Help them understand that repetition builds neural connections and muscle memory, that becoming expert at something requires you to do it hundreds of times.

Millennials want real responsibility, so hold them accountable.

The workplace is not an easy place to be.  It’s competitive, volatile, and not always pleasant.  Don’t sugarcoat it for them.

  • Role model making mistakes and owning them.
  • Teach them how to learn from mistakes without getting beaten down by them.
  • Teach them how to take risks and deal with the consequences.
  • Communicate your expectations.  Make them do it over until it’s right.  But do it in a safe way.  Help them learn.
  • Give them honest feedback to help them get better instead of perpetuating the illusion of perfection. But do it constructively.

Call it what you will—tough love, GRIT, REAL Life.  If it’s administered in a caring, constructive way, people tend to respond extremely well to it.  Your Millennial employees will respect you for it and perform better as a result.


About the Author

Joanie B. Connell, Ph.D. is the founder of Flexible Work Solutions, a nationally recognized consulting firm that specializes in leadership assessment, development, and retention for all levels. Dr. Connell is the author of the newly released Flying Without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life. She also serves as a university professor teaching business and psychology students of all ages at a host of top tier high education institutions across the country.

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