Maximizing the Productivity & Engagement of Millennials

By Cathy McCullough


In all the brow-beat talk about “those high maintenance Millennials!,” we might consider shifting the Maximizing the Productivity & Engagement of Millennialsconversation. What may well be needed is a move away from the all the expressive angst of having to deal with Millennials toward a strategic understanding of how to get the most from them while they’re in your employment. This isn’t to minimize the frustrations you may have, but turn and look the other direction—through the window of opportunity.

One thing I really appreciate about Millennials is that they’re holding Baby Boomers (who are having to lead them in the workplace) accountable for what they said was most valued: Time with family, time for a life, etc. To honor those values, Baby Boomers exhausted themselves raising their little Millennials—always on two wheels. Millennials saw that, and the insanity of it all. So no wonder they want more work-life balance.

And they want feedback—lots of it—as well as kudos for a job well done. (After all, they were the first generation to get a ribbon for coming in 7th place.) Since feedback and communication are both sore spots for many companies, is it really so bad they want it? 

So what’s your company to do in order to get the most out of Millennials? To maximize their productivity and engagement, realize what they value. For instance, they’re a hopeful and idealistic bunch, and they like collaboration and open-mindedness. They value getting socially involved, and they want bosses that deserve their respect. They like flexibility in scheduling and they want to work with people they can call friends. Collectively, they’re also a creative and fun bunch.

If you want to connect with Millennials, provide what they value:

  • They grew up with the Internet—it’s all they know. They want awesome technology that does amazing things.
  • Clear the bureaucratic clutter.
  • Direct and frequent communication that’s personable. Email as a primary mode of communication for important information is, to Millennials, a bit yesteryear.
  • Forget annual appraisals. Those are becoming more and more antiquated by the day. Instead, consider giving feedback in real-time.
  • An engaging company culture. Create a culture that links to the larger world around it. Connect with charities (and/or allow time off for volunteer work). Focus on the social common good vs. just making money. Make meetings more “wow” by giving them some punch with themes. Inject some energy into them. Bring your company’s Core Purpose to the forefront.
  • Get excited about your BHAG and show what you’re doing today that will lead your company to its pinnacle.
  • Raises aren’t always in order, but are there special projects they could work on? Do they have ideas for what else could be done? Ask them: What do you find most challenging? (Then, can you provide something along those lines?)
  • They really place importance on competent and effective leaders. They want to admire their bosses—which requires a more transformational leadership style vs. a transactional one. They want their bosses to be mentors.
  • Grant them the time to work on something that gives them joy. Disney grants a certain amount of time for employees to use for “Happiness Projects.” Google employees have one day per week to use working on a personal pet project.
  • Develop the mindset of your leaders to change with the changing times. (After all, Millennials are tomorrow’s leaders, and if you can get past all the complaining about them, you’ll find they have some good insights, thoughts, and ideas.)
  • Recognize: Having a good relationship with their bosses and being in control of their time is more important to Millennials than money.
  • Spell out what you want them to do; they like definition and clarification on upfront expectations. A Job Scorecard is a good tool for this.
  • Here’s a quick formula for helping you as you prepare to have a strategic discussion with a Millennial:
    • Pre-think: (a) What might be going through a Millennial's head when we talk about this? (Think of what they value.) (b) What might you focus on saying to that (in a way that honors what they value)? (c) How might s/he respond? (d) Then, how might you best respond?
  • When you talk to Millennials:
    • Keep it real. Don’t be fake or plastic.
    • Let them speak what they’re thinking. They like interaction.
    • Show them how to do something; don’t “tell” them.
    • Be ready with answers to their core questions such as:
      • "What is my career pathway here? Will I be able to do X at some point soon?“
      • "Exactly what professional development can I expect?”
      • "Will my job here be worth my time?“
      • "Who are the people I'll learn from?
      • “What are your facilities like?“ (Side note: I had a client who’s college daughter was home for the holidays. She stopped by his office to take him to lunch. Upon entering his office, she exclaimed, “Dad—ugh! This place is so drab and dreary! I’d never work here.” So there you have it…)
      • “Who’s my boss? What’s s/he like?”
      • “How often will I know how I’m doing?”

For many leaders, there are shifts that need to be made within their companies—shifts in systems and processes, shifts in how technology is better utilized, shifts in communication pathways, and more. When working with Millennials, you’re approaching certain elements of change leadership because what they want probably will change some of the tried and true elements of your current systems, processes, and culture.

And that leads us to a key point: What Millennials are asking for isn’t necessarily all bad. Instead of complaining, look for what your company might learn from them.

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Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images