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Reflections on “How to Motivate Millennials”

What Defines the Work Character of the Millennial Generation?

Yesterday I read a blog about “How to Motivate Millennials” by Bruce Mayhew that was published in the Huffington Post. Mayhew had received comments from his readers who feel Millennials are not motivated. The comments were in response to a piece he wrote "Work Ethics In The Workplace: Generation Differences." In that piece he provides advice to guide employers how to hire a “Millennial employee that sticks around and actively contributes as a member of your team.” He lays out questions to ask and information to solicit in two broad steps:

The interview process: He recommends using theHBehavior Event Interview (BEI) to identify predictable behavior. When someone doesn't have lots of work experience you have to look for predictable behavior in their life experiences. Even family events can demonstrate how an individual did handle a situation -- be it stress, confrontation, deadlines, hierarchy or standing up for your values -- whatever is important for the position you are filling.

Leave Time to Discuss Expectations: This includes the basics such as what is expected of them, what they are looking for in a job/employer and whether the fit is right.

Mayhew’s piece on April 8 that triggered my blog was comments Mayhew received that said: “Millennials absolutely do have lazy work ethics, and are among the most overwhelmingly incompetent workers I have ever come encountered. What's even worse is they don't seem to care.”

In response, Mayhew identifies four ways to motivate Millennials:

  1. Make sure Millennials know the company mission, vision and values.

  2. Make sure you hire a Millennial whose interests and talents match the work.

  3. Millennials enjoy being friendly with the people they work with including regular customers and suppliers.

  4. A growing popular opportunity is to provide Millennials (and all employees), time to work on self-defined projects

  5. Another must-have for Millennials (and some Gen Xers and Boomers like it also), is to offer "respectful" flexibility.

  6. Millennials do better with very regular evaluation and feedback; this helps keep them motivated and on the right path

  7. Treat them like adults.

He concludes by saying:

Millennials want work and work/life balance that most of us would want, no matter how old we are. Millennials want meaningful work that expresses their needs, values, talents and desire to learn. That doesn't sound like unrealistic work ethics; in fact, it sounds quite normal.

The challenge is because Millennials rarely hold back (they were taught not to), they are going to actively pursue the career and the work/life balance they want. It's not that they are not loyal -- they are, and they will stay with your organization as long as their needs are being met.

There’s the key right there. Mayhew’s statement that Millennials will stay with your organization as long as their needs are being met. By his own admission, it’s all about them. “As long as THEIR needs are met.” Basically, they are egoists. They look out for themselves. If an action can be taken that serves their best interests and, coincidentally, also serves the interests of their employer, they will do it. The implication is, however, that if that action harms their employers they will do it so long as it satisfies their own interests.

If we examine the suggestions Mayhew makes in the two pieces, it’s clear he is not saying anything different than the advice he would give any employer interviewing any candidate. The fact that he feels the need to emphasize basic points of interviewing tells me Millennials come into the interview without a clear sense of what it means to be a diligent employee; dedicated to hard work not satisfying one’s self-interests; and aware that one should not join an organization when one’s goals in a job and for life do not match the employer’s. Moreover, especially in a first job, a person should be willing to put their personal interests behind that of establishing a good record as a motivated employee that seeks to learn and act consistent with the goals of one’s employer. In this way good workplace skills are developed early in one’s career that can carry through later on in life.

As for me, I’ve taught college kids for over 30 years. I teach at a great university. I’ve had some of the best students who have great learning skills. I also have some who do not read material before the day it will be lectured on; do not do the homework before it is reviewed in class; do not bring the book to class; do not take any notes; do not ask any questions; and are distracted very easily. They have a hard time focusing on what is being said perhaps because they are not being entertained. Maybe if I allowed them to take smart phone pictures of me as I lecture, their responsiveness would increase by ten times.

Don’t get me wrong; these are the minority. But, they also reflect values that do not make for good employees. As more and more students exhibit these traits, I have to wonder whether our work force will be competitive going forward if we continue down the path of a declining work ethic, a seemingly lack of personal discipline, the lack of a desire to pursue excellence in everything they do, and a social-media driven culture that emphasizes selfishness and instant gratification.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 9, 2014

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