Only 1 in 3 employees describe themselves as engaged at work– a figure that’s remained virtually unchanged since 2015. Poor engagement is a “silent killer” at companies, eating away at productivity, employee morale and profitability. To fix employee engagement woes, companies must understand the root causes driving disengagement. At many companies, this means taking a closer look at how managers interact with Millennials–the largest generation in the workforce and also the least engaged generation.
What Do Millennials Want at Work?
In a generation that spans 15 years, the oldest Millennials are on the cusp of 40, and many have entered the ranks of mid-level management. Younger Millennials, in their mid-20s, are just starting their careers. Yes, the professional experiences of a 38-year-old are very different from those of a 24-year-old. But one unifying factor is the strong desire to engage in meaningful work that aligns with personal values, and frustration with companies where outdated processes block impact.
More than one-third of Millennials define success as “doing work that has a positive impact on society,” according to Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way, a survey of Millennials by American Express. In the survey, 78% of Millennials said the values of their employer should match their own. 81% said a business needs to have a genuine purpose. Managers who connect the dots between purpose and profit, while eliminating barriers to success, can help Millennials feel engaged at work–no matter where they fall on the org chart. Here’s how to get started:
Understand your employees’ needs.
Think about each member on your team: what’s their preferred work style? When are they most productive during the day? What excites them? Where do they need more guidance? Many companies have instituted weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and their direct reports. These meetings are great touch points, but I encourage you to take them a step further– ask employees to join you on a coffee run or to grab lunch at the food truck. Informal chats build rapport and provide valuable insight into how you can best set your employees up for success.
For example, I had a manager who was very attuned to her team’s emotions. If someone walked into the office and seemed a bit off, she’d pull them aside and take them for coffee. We knew she genuinely cared about how we were doing and, as a result, we felt a deeper connection to our team and our work.
Connect small tasks back to big-picture goals.
It’s not always obvious how smaller projects connect back to bigger business objectives, especially at large companies. As a manager, it’s your job to help employees understand the “why” and “how” behind what they’re doing. Why is an assignment important? How does it fit into your company’s overarching mission? When tasking millennial employees with a new assignment, help them see their work in a broader context, connecting back to purpose and profit.
Champion your employees’ big ideas.
Is there an outdated process or system that’s a continual source of frustration? Turn complaints into big ideas: challenge your employees to fix this problem and work with them to refine their ideas into actionable solutions. My managing partner at Lucas Group does a terrific job of this. She’ll candidly tell an employee if their idea has zero chance of succeeding, but if there’s potential in the idea, she’ll work with them to reframe it. In some cases, it’s a matter of shifting expectations and saying, “let’s focus on what’s happening right here, right now” or “we may not be able to change that today, but let’s tackle this thing that we can address.”
Smooth the way for archaic processes.
Inevitably, there’s an outdated process that your company won’t be changing any time soon–no matter how many smart solutions your team proposes. Obsessing over this problem can hurt morale. You need to flip the script.
I once worked for a company with an older payroll system. Rather than replacing the system, we focused on minimizing submission errors, eliminating 90% of all payroll problems–a big boost to employee satisfaction. Try a similar approach with your team. Smart workarounds minimize the impact of outdated processes and help your employees stay focused on projects with the greatest impact potential.
There’s a persistent stereotype that Millennials are entitled and expect overnight success. From my experience, this isn’t the case at all. They’re passionate about making a positive difference in our world and engaging in truly impactful work. Our challenge as managers is to guide this energy, helping Millennials realize their true professional potential. When we do this effectively, we not only address employee engagement problems, but we’re also unlocking a powerful force for business success.