Millennial employees: how to get the best out of them


It’s no secret that Millennial employees, the contingent that will soon make up a majority of the global workforce, present new challenges for managers and HR professionals. So much has been written about low engagement and turnover among Millennials that companies are scrambling to find ways to bring out the best in this new breed of worker and keep them around for the long term.

Dispelling the myths

Millennials are often unfairly saddled with labels like lazy, unmotivated and disloyal. To assume that Millennials are inherently poor performers with itchy feet is to assume that managers must impose strict oversight while continually preparing for turnover.

In fact, Millennials are hardworking, want to make real and meaningful contributions at work, and are loyal to companies that treat them well. Where they differ from Gen X and Baby Boomers is in their priorities.

Millennials’ performance on the job isn’t driven simply by the prospect of a salary increase. Even more than a high salary, Millennials seek purpose in their work. They are entrepreneurial, highly flexible and collaborative. They crave autonomy, but need clear and continuous feedback from their managers, whom they prefer to view as mentors rather than supervisors. These are highly desirable characteristics, and yet most performance management systems fail to account for them.

Micro-management and inflexible goals based on arbitrary numbers are in direct conflict with the Millennial mindset, and when constructive feedback is only doled out once a year, employees feel as though they’ve been set up to fail. Besides alienating Gen Y, the annual review and goal-setting process is tedious and expensive, and long-term goals just don’t make sense any more. Can we really know what our priorities will be 12 months from now? It’s time for companies to take another look at their performance management systems in the context of an evolving business environment and fresh new workforce.

Nurturing high-performing Millennial employees

What doesn’t work for Millennials is clear: heavy-handed management, once-a-year reviews and goals without clear reasons behind them. There is a better way to optimize your employees’ engagement and performance, and it starts with your organizational culture.

A management approach that emphasizes trust and mentorship is ideal for Gen Y employees. Clear and ongoing communication keeps employees focused on the right things and enables them to make adjustments in real time. Giving them as much autonomy as possible helps them develop leadership and problem-solving skills.

Celebrate collaboration and teamwork. Encourage teams to continually evaluate their performance as a group and find ways to improve it. Nurture the entrepreneurial spirit at all levels of your organization. Enable talented employees to shine by encouraging them to find creative solutions to problems they care about.

Finally, look for ways to add meaning and purpose to your employees’ jobs while respecting them as individuals. Can you engage the animal lover on your staff in coordinating a volunteer program at the local animal shelter? Can you give the born leader an opportunity to teach a class for coworkers? The benefits of “special assignments” like these can extend far beyond the projects themselves.

Contrary to the myths, Millennials have what it takes to become some of your most valuable employees, but they won’t perform simply because you ask them to. Cater to their strengths, get out of their way, and let them show you what they can really do.

Want to learn more about how to engage and retain your Millennial employees? Check out Your New Workforce.