To Motivate Millennials, Go High-Touch for the High-Tech Crowd

Millennials expect a variety of challenges, and opportunities to grow. Learn six ways to adjust your talent management practices to better engage Millennials.

Twenty-five years ago, I was in my first job and had just gained my fourth manager.  In one of our first meetings, Linda asked me what I liked about my job, what was frustrating, and what suggestions I had for improvement. She was the first manager ever to take the time to understand me, my motivators, career aspirations, and, most importantly, take action to support me. She gave me the confidence to move ahead with my career.
Fifteen years ago, I made a career pivot into consulting and worked on many projects with Maria, a senior consultant who raised the manager bar once again. She embraced me as a partner on our projects and not just a convenient resource to delegate to. She helped me understand the why behind what we were doing as we crafted client solutions together. She sought my opinions, was willing to let me stretch and try new things, and gave me lots of feedback. Her mentoring and coaching helped me grow as a consultant.


So what management approach will motivate Millennials? Well, it isn’t much different than what drove this mid-career Generation X employee. Like me, Millennial employees want someone who provides challenges, supports them, and facilitates developing professional skills. As recent ManpowerGroup research reveals, Millennials are pragmatic and forward thinking about their careers as a result of uncertain economic realities and a shifting work landscape.  Globally, over 50% of Millennials expect to work past the age of 65; 73% work more than 40 hours of week and nearly a quarter works over 50 hours; and 84% anticipate breaks throughout their career.

Millennials expect a variety of challenges, and opportunities to grow.  They want to advance their career goals.  They crave frequent feedback and recognition for their efforts along the way.  They expect their manager and the organization to value these things as much as they do.  Here are 6 management principles for engaging Millennial employees.


1. Get to know them. During your one-on-ones, go beyond the usual “what’s on your plate?” Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What keeps you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What makes a great day for you?
  • What would make your work more satisfying?
  • What can I do to support your career goals?
  • What is most energizing about your work?
  • What is inhibiting your success?
  • Do you get enough recognition?
  •  What three things would change to make this a better place to work?
  • What can I do differently to best support you?
2. Help build their employability and career portfolio. Share examples and stories of how others have progressed and grown within the organization. Help them network with those individuals so they can learn from their journeys. Give them formal and informal opportunities to develop.


3. Provide new challenges and opportunities. Create challenging job assignments. Enabling employees to work on cross-functional projects can broaden organizational exposure, increase visibility, and build skills. If your organization doesn’t support this type of action learning, go DIY. Champion your employee and provide an opportunity for him or her to initiate an idea and drive it to execution.  

4. Engage them in regular career conversations. Let them know you care about their career progression. Help them connect the dots between what they are doing now and how it can support them later down the road. Partner with them on a career development plan. Managers who support career progression are often talent magnets. Employees pay attention to which managers nurture and grow talent and which do not. They are attracted to the ones who do. I was.

5. Provide frequent feedback, recognition, and affirmations. This generation expects instant feedback and sharing. Go ahead and share your opinions widely with peers, other managers and leaders.  And yes, it is ok to do it even when they are just doing their job. To make it meaningful, be behavioral and specific. You are reinforcing behaviors and actions that you want your employee to do frequently.

6. Enable career waves and work flexibility. Make it easy for high-value talent to take a break to care for others, pursue interests, or to renew themselves. Work-life balance ranks high in importance across all generations. Support flexible work arrangements.
Yes, this type of management is high-touch and time-consuming but consider what you get in return:  an employee who will work harder for you, tell others what you are doing, and be more likely to stick around to grow with you. 


Read more about developing and attracting Millennials: 
Millennials: A Generation of Natural Leaders?
Five Keys to Attracting and Retaining High-Potential Millennial Talent
Career Expectations of Millennials and Why You Should Care