5 ways to motivate millennials

Aged somewhere between 18 and 35, those fresh-faced millennial employees taking position in today’s labour market have different expectations from any preceding generation.

These digital natives are used to life online, more connected with their peers and are less impressed by traditional institutions – from government to marriage to traditional employment structures than the employees they will replace. At the same time a 2015 Gallup Poll found them to be the least engaged group in the workplace, with just 29% claiming to be “engaged at work”. What can you do to keep today’s young employee happy, productive and engaged?

It turns out context and autonomy are critical.

Tech autonomy

Millennial workers arrive in the workplace having made their own decisions about the kind of technology they want to use. Millennials are “extremely comfortable with technology and have the ability to use multiple devices simultaneously.” They use Macs and iPhones in their own life and evidence suggests they want to continue to use them in the workplace. When given the choice 75% of employees choose Mac over PC and 79% choose iOS over alternative mobile operating systems, according to JAMF Software.

Flexible working

Connected lifestyles and BYOD mean today’s workforce works harder than ever before, putting enormous stress upon work/life balance. However, these tech-savvy workers can be productive anywhere there’s an Internet connection. A 2012 study found that these new employees value their own time and will sacrifice salary to get increased holiday time or the right to work outside the office. It makes sense to develop and agree strong performance goals with employees and offer these in exchange for flexible hours, telecommuting or enhanced holiday time. This empowers employees and (research suggests) delivers significant advantages in terms of retention, job satisfaction, and engagement.

Connected workplace

A PwC report confirms millennials “expect the technologies that empower their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace.” What does this mean? It means they expect to use social and IM tools to get things done, which is where solutions like Trello (for project management), Slack (team communications), or Skype for Business (communication everywhere) make sense. This is also why a switched on future-focused enterprise puts strong unified communications tools in place from the start. Those digitally savvy employees are also your R&D department when it comes to assessing new apps that may not be quickly identified by IT. IBM, Novartis and others are all developing real time systems that engage employees. Think of this as an enterprise social network where employees can innovate, collaborate and share ideas.

Training and development

Learning has gone online, and that’s fortunate as economic malaise causes employers to slash training budgets. The online opportunity exists to encourage millennial employees to take up task-related training using free or near-free online resources, including Coursera, Udacity, edX, iTunes U or even the Open University Futurelearn project. These will comprise a content-rich selection of educational assets, including lectures, videos and presentations. A 2014 Duke University study reveals over three-quarters of enterprises had used or evaluated MOOCs for employees’ professional development. About 73% of employers already look favorably on MOOC completion in the hiring process, according to Coursera cofounder, Daphne Koller.

Training is incredibly important as 68% of recent graduates see career growth as a professional priority, they expect to learn new skills. Indeed, they seem to believe that if they work hard enough they can get promotion fast – but the notion of promotion has also changed. “Millennials expect to work in communities of mutual interest and passion – not structured hierarchies,” Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL Technologies Ltd., told PwC.

Being part of something

Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs was ahead of the curve in carving out a clear identity and purpose for the computer company. Those young iPod and Mac using users have grown and now they are your employees, and they want to work for a company with a solid and credible mission. That’s why any enterprise needs to define itself in such a way that meaning can be contextualized around each employee, nurturing a sense of commitment and purpose to the firm. These young employees want to believe in what they do and “want to know that what they’re doing … is making a difference,” a report explains. To empower this message you need to combine your online branding efforts and social media attempts – because your new employees will research you even before you invite them for an interview. Will they like what they find? You better hope so as 60% of millennial employees say this sense of purpose is part of why they choose to work with an employer.

One more thing: time is money

They may be young, but they aren’t stupid, and this simple trick from Trevor Ewen at Neosavvy may help motivate millennial employees. In order to hook his hires onto his firm’s retirement benefits he figures out how much their first year of retirement savings will be worth in 30-40 years. Giving figures to help contextualize fiscal matters can make a big difference when managing these young employees. A study from BNY Mellon and University of Cambridge Judge Business School showed that around 46 percent of millennial employees don’t receive any financial education through their workplaces or places of education. One other benefit used at Accendo International is to make payments toward resolving student loans. “They’re so in debt compared to the other generations,” company CEO Kimberly Cutchall told Forbes. Helping them address that debt can make a big difference, particularly as entry-level wages continue to decline.

Please explore how to encourage innovation, collaboration and communication within an organization using an Enterprise Social Network. Orange Business has developed the Business Together Sharespace to help organizations in their digital transformation.


Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.