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Motivating Millennials in the Workplace so They Don't Quit

Jun 30, 2016
8 min read
Millennials make up the majority of the employed workforce in the United States. Discover how you can tap into their generational habits, preferences, and perspectives to motivate them effectively on the job.

To motivate and manage Millennials properly in the workplace, you need to understand who they are, what they care about most, and why some people have a harder time reaching Millennials than others.

Why bother? Because Millennials make up more than 33 percent of employed Americans (ages 18 to 34 in 2015), the largest generation in the American workforce, according to the Pew Research Center (based on U.S. Census Bureau data). That means 53.5 million Millennials currently in the workforce. And, let's not forget the importance of motivation, in general.

So who are they? The Millennial worker is said to be anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, with exact years differing between researchers. Gen Y-ers Snapchat in their sleep and are as concerned with posting to Instagram as they are with work-life balance. Also known as “Gen Y.” This group calls the Baby Boomers “Mom and Dad.” Characteristics of Millennials in the workplace include self confidence, digital savvy, the need for affirmation and the enjoyment of immediate gratification. Before you write them off as needy or entitled, it’s important to understand that these workers are also highly motivated for success and extremely ambitious.

Many organizations express frustration with Gen Y’s in the workplace, because they “constantly” need validation and immediate gratification. This can provide a roadblock for companies trying to learn how to motivate Millennials at work. In fact, they might be overlooking the positive attributes of a group that is actually (relatively) easy to motivate.

In a recent poll, Xactly asked a group of Millennials to identify what they liked about their current compensation plans. The study also asked how their dream jobs would compensate them. Here is what they said was important to them:

  • Growth potential. Experience trumps all else. Many Millennials want to become entrepreneurs one day! And they need to start somewhere.
  • Recognition is key—happiness equals additions to our LinkedIn resumes and being recognized in front of our peers for a job well done.
  • Flexibility was also at the top of their priority list because having autonomy and control over their own time at work is very important to Gen Y. They’ll gladly come in early, stay late, and work during lunch – just please give them the option to hit the gym midmorning.
  • Ability to make an impact. We want our work to matter.
  • And, of course, money – yes, this is the last thing Millennials listed. Gen Y-ers want to feel like they’re contributing to the larger picture and making enough money to “adult” successfully.

20 Actionable Ways to Motivate your Millennial Employees

  1. Provide Challenging Projects
    Every job includes some busy work, but when you’re trying to understand what motivates those Gen Y employees in the workplace, it’s critical to note that amongst the day-to-day work you should give them challenging projects with executive visibility. This fulfills their need for validation and teaches them how to learn new skills and reach stretch goals.
  2. Offer Philanthropic Activities
    Another way to make work meaningful for Millennials is by offering philanthropic opportunities like volunteer work through the company. Getting your team together to give back to the community fosters team bonding and benefits those less fortunate. Xactlians often volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Children’s Discovery Museum near our office. Find a cause that resonates with your employees and send out volunteering invites.
  3. Provide Real-Time Visibility to Enhance Consistent Feedback
    Set goals and stick to them. Each week your Millennial employees should have a specific list of priorities that they know must be completed by Friday. These smaller priorities should then be tied to larger, quarterly goals that are visibly tracked through an employee performance management software solution . Don’t just set them and forget them, make sure you’re putting in the time on a weekly basis to sit down with your team and discuss progress.
  4. Offer Work Location Flexibility
    If you live in the Bay Area, or any major city for that matter, you’re all too familiar with rush hour traffic and commutes over an hour each way to work. To save valuable time, increase quality of life, and increase productivity many employers are increasingly offering privileges to work remotely part-time. This shows Gen Y you have trust in their ability to complete their work and allows them to feel autonomous over their time.
  5. Don’t Micro-Manage
    For some managers, it can be a thin line to walk between providing the frequent feedback Millennials crave, and plain ol’ micro-management. Avoid the dreaded Micro-manager title by creating processes that help you easily assign, track, and discuss the tasks you have your Gen Y employees working on. Trusting them to manage their workload will help them personally develop in their careers by learning time management, and it gives managers the chance to enhance their delegation skills.
  6. Personalize Management Style
    Rather than assuming that all Millennials at work are all the same, for example, managers should take the time to understand their team and what drives them, to get the most out of each person and support the business’ success. There can be a tendency for management styles to be overly formalized and even prescriptive, overlooking employees’ individualities. Set one on ones and team off-sites to learn more about your employees as individuals.
  7. Give Time for Training and Development
    Millennials might get overwhelmed thinking about how to stay competitive and at the forefront of their industry when they are bogged down with day-to-day tasks. The solution? Make training millennials (and all employees for the matter) a part of your company’s goals, allowing time to take workshops, seminars, and classes to up their game, strengthen their core skills, and learn new ones.
  8. Provide Mentoring
    Mentoring, as opposed to management, is a more valuable approach for both sides. Although this is dependent on managers’ interpersonal style, there are tools that businesses can use to support mentoring, including psychometric tests that help to highlight individuals’ personalities and priorities. Businesses should consider incorporating these tools into their overarching HR strategy to motivate employees.
  9. Personalize Benefits
    As psychologist Frederick Herzberg has argued, salaries are a maintenance factor that gets people to work every day. Bonuses are what motivate them to be engaged and productive, ultimately increasing profitability. Ron Rasmussen, Xactly CTO, pointed out that Netflix employees are able to personalize their benefits package using an online system to determine the levels of certain elements that they receive as part of their remuneration in recognition of the different requirements of their multigenerational workforce.
  10. Ensure Millennials Feel Part of the Company Vision
    This motivational tip is related to giving work meaning. As Millennials enjoy working towards a greater good and feeling like their jobs are making an impact it’s extremely beneficial for companies to ensure that their executive leadership is visible and vocal about core values and company mission. One way to make sure that everyone at the company knows the core values is to bring them up at every All Hands meeting you host.
  11. Personalize Bonuses
    Using platforms like Xactly, there is scope to tailor bonus plans to match either modern ‘gamified’ mindsets or more traditional plans, varying plans according to what works best for individuals or teams. Also, providing businesses access to data on how employees respond to these different plans allows them to adapt their plans according to what works best.
  12. Provide Tangible, Incremental Steps up the Career Ladder
    One aspect of Millennials working style that can frustrate older generations is their need for frequent promotions and progress. There’s a simple solution though - make more steps up the ladder. A few years ago one of our account executives asked for a promotion after hitting quota for just two quarters. While his manager was surprised, the AE sincerely believed his six months of stellar performance deserved some recognition. This Gen Y-er had talent his manager wanted to retain, so the manager split his job description into two sub roles. Next, he divided each sub-role into multiple growth stages: Junior, Senior, team lead, and mentor. For each sub-role and growth stage, the manager clearly defined an expected timeline, as well as what benchmarks were necessary for advancement. He also established an ongoing training program to coach his team for success in their new roles. This resulted in a win-win solution for his team, and for the AE.

Inspira Marketing Group Discovered a few unique ways to Motivate Millennials at Work

  1. Unlimited Vacation
    No tracking; just get your work done. There are pros and cons to unlimited PTO, but more and more companies are adopting this benefit policy. It’s a smart move for an employer, as it shows you trust the integrity and choices of your staff.
  2. Shout-Outs
    Peers praise teammates publicly via handwritten notes. These individuals are acknowledged during a company-wide meeting. In addition, an end of year, “Most Inspired Employee” award is presented. Validation motivates the demographic in question, so when co-workers voice appreciation, it’s likely their productivity will increase.
  3. Quarterly Incentive Projects
    Employees can join in on group ventures that explore topics like innovation, industry knowledge, and client education. Participants receive a variety of awards (i.e. personal shopper experience, Beats headphones, cold hard cash, or lunch on the company).
  4. End of Year Incentive: mystery location vacation!
    If the agency meets its “stretch goal” for the year in revenue or profit, the entire company takes a destination trip where they explore local hot spots and enjoy team-building fun. A collaborative environment is of utmost importance to Millennials, and going on a trip with co-workers provides a backdrop for team bonding, and friendships that won’t disappear when they’re back at the office.
  5. Landmark Service Rewards
    Once an employee has been with Inspira Marketing Group for five years, the agency sends him or her on a “Vocation Vacation.” Inspira foots the bill for the employee to set out and achieve a personal “betterment” goal that they may not have had the chance to do on their own. The only requirement is that it must be tied to giving back.
  6. “Wow” Incentives for Gen Y
    A recent study from the Incentive Research Foundation on what’s hot in incentives revealed the top "wow" incentives are as follows: "adventure activities" (such as hiking and extreme sports), with 68 percent of respondents selecting this perk. That was followed by themed events (64 percent), entertainment (58 percent), and face-to-face time with executives (46 percent), speakers (45 percent), and music (41 percent).
  7. Wellness Incentives
    In the same research study, questions around wellness were also top of mind with respondents. While yoga classes proved to be the top wellness incentive, other popular ones included healthy meal choices, fun runs, and spa activities. Some ideas for wellness programs from respondents included “cooking classes using healthy cuisine, seminars on stress management and work-life balance, giveaways that promote wellness, health screenings, and pedometers for attendees.”
  8. Clearly Defined Job Roles
    This tip to motivate Gen Y in the office is related to a previously mentioned piece of advice; Along with setting up ways to climb the ladder quickly, you want to explicitly define the roles and responsibilities of the job you’re hiring for. This helps Millennials understand their priorities, hit their goals, and get that recognition they crave.

Yes, Millennials can be perceived as a little demanding in the workplace at times, but they also have the confidence, advanced technology skills, and determination that can be an invaluable benefit in the workplace. If you follow our tips for motivating Gen Y by providing the right mix of culture, compensation, and incentives you’ll maintain an engaged Millennial workforce as opposed to one plagued with some of the “scary” stories you may have read about. At Xactly, our insights into businesses across multiple industries has shown us that companies succeed in direct parallel to how well they incentivize their employees. The more companies understand what makes Generation Y tick, the more they position themselves to win and motivate effectively.

Sources: Information on Inspira was provided by Kimberly Lawton, COO/Partner, Inspira Marketing Group. Photo courtesy of Inspira Marketing Group

  • Incentive Compensation
  • Sales Coaching and Motivation
Jordan Scott Headshot
Jordan Scott
Senior Manager, PR and Customer Communications

Jordan Scott is the Senior Manager of PR and Customer Communications at Xactly. She attended The University of California at Santa Cruz, and received degrees in Literature and Education.