3 Things Millennials Need to Thrive

March 31, 2018
Updated March 31, 2020

It’s been more than two decades since the first millennials entered the workforce, inspiring a trend in reactionary (and in most early cases, very speculative) literature picking apart the generation’s defining characteristics. They’ve been painted as selfish, entitled, and weak as well as ambitious, caring, and capable. Love them or hate them, one thing’s for sure: millennials are a generation unlike any other, and leaders of multigenerational workforces lead best when they understand what millennials need to thrive at work.

Over the last several years, the final members of the millennial generation have completed their undergraduate degrees and assumed their first corporate positions. With the overwhelming majority of millennials now participating members of the workforce, the group represents the dominant generational cohort in the majority of today’s companies. Millennials comprise an estimated 35% of today’s working population.

While 35% is a lot, there’s still another 65% that’s not millennials. With this in mind, it makes sense why understanding the things millennials need to thrive in the workplace offers such far-reaching benefits for the entirety of a multigenerational team.

In this article, we’ll share three factors known to be uniquely important to helping millennials thrive in the workplace. These recommendations should be layered on top of a strong company culture that already includes all the basics like honest, open communication, supportive relationships between peers, and strong leadership.

By incorporating these recommendations as a supplement to your existing HR strategy, you can make your workplace more conducive to supporting millennials’ success, which in turn enables your whole team to do better work together.

Three Things Millennials Need to Thrive in the Workplace

Millennials grew up in a world with rapidly evolving technology. They went from cordless phones to cell phones to texting and social media in under a decade. The world as they know it is more interconnected than it’s been at any other period in human history.

The prevalent parenting style at the time of millennials upbringing was doting and closely involved — sometimes described as “helicopter parenting”. Speaking generally, millennials were lavished with attention throughout their childhood years.

With these early childhood circumstances in mind, it makes sense that the following have emerged as trends among the millennial generation: They have a transparent worldview, are sensitive with a great reverence for emotional intelligence, and not only want but expect near constant communication and feedback. The three recommendations discussed below as critical strategies to help millennials thrive in the workplace tie back directly to these generation-defining attributes.

1. Millennials Want Feedback, and Lots of It

Thanks to phones and the internet, millennials are accustomed to a world that’s almost perpetually connected. For as long as they can remember, members of this generation have been able to call whoever, whenever. They post photos on social platforms and receive likes and comments in a matter of seconds. They know exactly what their peers have been up to, both personally and professionally.

All of these things are forms of communication and feedback, and they permeate life as millennials know it. It should come as no surprise that millennials thrive professionally when they receive frequent feedback and communication about their performance.

Most millennials want to have one-on-one meetings with their managers at least once a week (and sometimes more). For them to stay satisfied at work, this is often just the baseline. Millennials truly thrive when they receive recognition even more frequently than that. This can be a more casual form of recognition, like praise from peers or informal affirmations from managers. Even constructive feedback fuels millennials’ craving to hear from outside parties about how they’re doing.

Leaders who want to help millennials thrive in the workplace should communicate to managers that weekly check-ins are likely the right cadence when managing this age cohort. Employers would be well-advised to also enable regular recognition through a platform that keeps its delivery streamlined and straightforward. Combine these tactics with more formal performance reviews, and you’ll have all the communicative makings of a workplace where millennials can truly thrive.

2. Millennials Crave a Higher Purpose

Another outcome of millennials internet-enabled, constantly connected upbringing is a remarkably transparent worldview. From this global perspective stems their characteristic craving to make the world a better place.

As often as millennials have been called selfish by the media, they also demonstrate a strong preference for roles at companies that allow them to drive progress in the world at large. They tend heavily towards careers that allow them to contribute to something greater than themselves. This preference is so pronounced that many millennials even say that they would opt for a job that offers them a lower salary if it lets them contribute to meaningful global progress. In order to thrive in the workplace, millennials need visibility into what their work is accomplishing beyond the day-to-day.

A great way to feed millennials’ craving for a higher purpose is to remind them that the smaller job functions they perform routinely tie back to goals much larger than themselves. This means more than just telling millennials that they helped marketing meet their quarterly goal through three successful ad campaigns. Effective managers of millennials should tie back that quarterly goal to the company’s larger objectives, and tie the company’s larger objectives back to an even bigger mission that speaks to the organization’s aspirational impact on the world at large.

Encourage managers to recognize millennial employees for excellent work, but beyond that, train them to tie the recognition they give back to higher-level goals to aid millennials in finding the meaning they so badly crave in their day-to-day work.

3. Millennials Value Emotional Intelligence

According to some reports, millennials value emotional intelligence as highly as they value rational thought. Historically, other generations have mocked millennials for their “snowflake” like tendencies — meaning their readiness to be forthcoming about their emotions as well as their intolerance for toxic, emotionally unhealthy circumstances.

Despite this mocking from earlier generations, emotional intelligence has actually proven time and again to exercise a significant positive influence on workplace performance.

High emotional intelligence is associated with a variety of favorable workplace outcomes, including more effective stress management and higher employee engagement. Some findings even indicate that in many scenarios, emotional intelligence exercises a bigger influence on success than traditional IQ: people with higher emotional intelligence and average IQs outperform those with average emotional intelligence and higher IQ 70% of the time.

One of the best ways to support emotional intelligence at work is by helping employees in  leadership roles develop the “soft skills” that have anything but a soft impact on workplace success. These are skills like empathy, self-regulation, and active listening. Through online courses, professional workshops, and readily available educational materials, you can help members of your workforce develop and refine these skills.

When you invest in developing these strengths in members of your workforce, you create a professional environment that’s more conducive to millennial success — and you also turn everyone into stronger team members. Putting initiatives like these in place sends the strong message that your organization sees the value in emotional intelligence and is committed to taking measures to actionably demonstrate their recognition of that value. Workplaces that make this kind of commitment are workplaces where millennials will thrive.

Supporting Millennials Supports Your Entire Workforce

When you put these measures in place to support the millennials that you work alongside everyday, you benefit more than just the age cohort these recommendations are specifically directed at.

This happens in two ways.

First, when you make sure millennials have the things they need to thrive at work, you create an environment where it’s less likely for intergenerational friction to arise as a result of some parties not having their basic professional needs met. This leads to more harmonious collaboration, stronger peer-to-peer relationships (including multigenerational ones), better performance outcomes, and a higher probability of overall company success.

Secondly, keep in mind that although these recommendations are tailored to some pain points that are specific to millennials, that doesn’t mean they’re bad for anyone else. Strong communication practices, an emphasis on the importance of emotional intelligence, and a connection to a higher purpose are all things that come as highly recommended management best practices, regardless of whether the conversation is specifically about millennials.

For both of these reasons, companies who take measures to help millennials thrive at work situate themselves to have a more engaged and therefore more competitive workforce that is able to work better together as a team, because of — not in spite of — generational differences.

About the Author

Katerina Mery is a marketing specialist at Fond, a rewards and recognition company dedicated to building places where employees love to work. She authors articles about how to leverage recognition programs to drive company success. Learn more at www.fond.co.

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