How Do We Get Them Going? It’s About Motivating Millennials!

By Annika Hylmo, Ph.D.

A few years ago, the headlines all read something along the lines of “The Millennials are Coming!” and “Meet the Millennials!” These headlines all referred to the same group of people: those born roughly between 1981 and 2001*, the new generation, those who were about to change our way of work.

Those same people are now in their late 20s, and even entering their early 30s! The older among them are moving into junior leadership positions. The younger are still entering the workforce. The question is, “How do we motivate them?”

It’s simpler than you might think. Listed below are the five most important factors to get you started.

1. Think Culture. Your Millennials joined your company because they liked something about your culture. Figure out what that is — asking them is a great idea; they’ll appreciate the honesty. Then find ways to tap into that connection. One client I worked with discovered that one of the most motivating factors for Millennials was working at a company where everything was so secret that they couldn’t tell their friends what they were doing. Reminding the younger employees about the need for shared secrecy around company skills became a great way to connect Millennials to the pride they have for the company and for the work itself.

2. Mentor Everyone. Millennials grew up with a lot of support from teachers, coaches, and parents. At work, they’re looking for the same. But mentoring looks very different for Millennials than for older generations. People who are older often think of mentoring as a “one-on-one” relationship, as in a mentor and a protege. In contrast, Millennials often look at mentoring as any time they receive advice from someone — so it’s more of a “many-to-one” relationship. They also like to mentor others in return, even their superiors, perhaps by showing you different ways to use an iPhone or BlackBerry. Let them mentor you as much as you mentor them.

3. Don’t Call Them Entitled! I once gave a presentation to a group of Millennial engineers. They felt misunderstood. Above all, they were frustrated about being called “entitled.” And who can blame them? Just like everyone else, Millennials want to feel that they can be successful and on a forward-moving career path. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be in the corner office tomorrow, the way so many older people perceive them. They want to learn so they can eventually earn that office. Tie growth and learning opportunities directly to career paths so Millennials can feel that they’re benchmarking their way to a promotion.

4. Offer Frequent Feedback. Cynical Generation Xers, now in their 30s and 40s, are passing around Facebook images of cassette tapes and pencils, reminding Millennials that they never had to patiently rewind preciously recorded tape using a pencil. Millennials had electronic music at the push of a button. And that’s what they expect from their feedback — that it be frequent, and instantaneous. That does not mean spending hours with them in lengthy performance reviews. A verbal or IM check-in to let them know you’re there to support and encourage them takes less than a minute.

5. Include Them. When I was teaching college students, I quickly learned that Millennials learn best by participation. Applied learning environments expand their ability to synthesize ideas exponentially. Millennials want hands-on experience. They want to learn by interacting with higher-ups and VIPs. Let them know that participation is a reward for work well done, and set expectations in advance. If you don’t want them to follow up with a client afterwards, tell them that you’d prefer one of your more senior people to do so. Also let them know that you appreciate how well they are representing your company and that you see them as a current and future asset.

The Millennials are here to stay — and they’re eager to contribute to your business. Motivating them is easier than you think. Just remember to always tie motivation back to your core culture and to your overall goals with Millennials, as with all generations, and you’re certain to grow success.

* Editor’s note: Different experts place the time frame of Generation Y at different places, starting as far back as 1977 and ending as recently as 2001.

Annika Hylmo, Ph.D., is a Creative Organizational Communication Analyst at The Insight Generation. Annika is a strategic consultant who supports organizations in need of solutions to retain and evolve knowledge, people, and passion so that they can continue to serve their clients’ needs. She earned her Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from Purdue University, her M.A. in International Communication from The American University, and her B.A. in Media and Communication Studies from Lund University, Sweden. You can e-mail Annika at
Originally published: Dec 2, 2011

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