Making Work Meaningful
Millennials want to know that what they do matters. They want to understand the context and contribution of their work, particularly if they feel the work is menial and entry level. Management can help keep these workers interested by involving them immediately in an onboarding process. From the start, a new-hire Millennial should be enlightened about the organization’s mission and how his or her job, however mundane, fits into those goals.
Older workers often complain that they never had to be told how their job fit into the big picture. They were willing to start at the bottom and work their way up, regardless. However, those in Generation Y need to feel that they belong and make a difference. A company that welcomes Millennials into the workplace will freely share and reinforce its vision with workers. It will delineate how the work of an individual and team affect the company’s mission. Finally, it will acknowledge a larger purpose by being actively engaged in the community. This can be achieved by:
Offering employee match donations.
Focusing on one to three nonprofits that are aligned with the company’s mission.
Replacing client gifts with donations to charities.
Assisting employees in their volunteer efforts.
Sponsoring volunteer team days, where employees spend a workday helping in the community.A Good Fit on a Good Team
Chemistry in the workplace is an important aspect of company culture. Many Millennials have seen their working parents deal with people they do not respect or do not want to associate with, and prefer not to do the same in their own careers. A Millennial wants his or her job to be a good “fit” from the start. Management can help make that fit work for everyone involved by clarifying the team’s and the company’s values. Fit can be determined even before the application process. For example, the company’s values, and a description of the company’s culture, should be stated on the posted job description.
Employees’ personalities also play a part in whether they are a good fit for their teams. Personalities can be assessed using a variety of tools, such as a personality indicator (e.g., the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Strength Finders assessment). Once the personality of each team member is better understood, it will be easier to make adjustments to ensure that everyone’s contribution is maximized.
It is a good idea for managers to review the team dynamics on a regular basis. They should check in after 30, 60, and 90 days to determine how new team members are fitting in.
Meaningful Acknowledgement and Appreciation
Parents, coaches, teachers, and camp counselors of Millennials gave them trophies, ribbons, and medals to reward them for just participating. Many Millennials have been conditioned to expect that same level of acknowledgment and appreciation in the workplace. Because of this expectation, they now have a reputation for being needy.
Showing appreciation in the workplace is beneficial for employees of all ages; however, it must be authentic to be effective. Managers need to establish a culture of true appreciation that reinforces real contribution. Once such a culture has been established throughout the organization, it can significantly improve morale and performance for the entire team.
The words “thank you” go a long way in reinforcing true appreciation in the workplace. Expressions of such appreciation can take many forms, such as an email, text message, or handwritten note; a group thank-you at a team meeting or a planned team celebration; company appreciation days for support staff or those in particular roles; and recognition of a birthday, anniversary, or other personal milestone. Regardless of the method used, the acknowledgment must be sincere to be effective.
Give Clear Direction
Just as Millennials need to know why their work is meaningful, they also need clear direction about how to accomplish that work. While conveying those directions, managers can use the opportunity to solicit Millennials’ input and ideas.
Ambiguity can be avoided by providing clear and specific directions to all employees. When deadlines are given, there should be enough specific details that they cannot be misinterpreted. For example, instead of saying that a task needs to be completed by the end of the day, a manager should give a specific time. Terms like “shortly,” “end of day,” “end of the month,” or even “tomorrow” are ambiguous and can be interpreted differently by team members.
Generation Y in particular has a different sense of time than older generations. For example, a Millennial may not anticipate that a particular task will require as much time as a manager expects. He or she may have a different view of what defines high-quality work. Both Millennials and their managers should never make assumptions; rather, managers should describe the quality of work required and the specific time involved, while Millennials should ask for further clarification when needed and communicate any delays or unexpected results.
Feedback Is a Gift
Millennials want and need feedback. Managers are constantly asked for check-ins so their Millennial employees can make sure they are “on the right track.” On the other hand, these same managers cannot understand why their Millennial employees appear to be so clueless. This, of course, has been a common theme among managers and young employees for many generations, including with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
Feedback can be a gift, given to employees and coworkers, to help them capitalize on what they are doing well and improve other skills. Feedback does not cost anything, but it can prove invaluable in reducing time and frustration for all involved.
Timing is extremely important when providing feedback. Corrective feedback should be given as soon as possible to action that required it. This makes the feedback more meaningful to the employee and allows for immediate revision; also, it prevents a manager’s frustration from growing and influencing the conversation.
Managers and coworkers can use effective language to provide feedback in a constructive manner. The communication circle, developed by two executive coaches, separates facts, feelings, reasons, and blame. People offering feedback should be careful to avoid accusatory questions, such as “why” questions, and instead use questions that get to the matter at hand, such as “how” and “what” questions.