Millennials at Work

By 2025 Millennials, individuals between the ages of 20 and 35, will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce. Organizations are justifiably concerned about attracting and retaining them. 

Many articles on Millennials often focus on their desire to find purpose in their work and to collaborate. But to truly understand Millennials requires a broader perspective. 

Longing to Connect 

When the global marketing firm McCann WorldGroup surveyed 7,000 Millennials in 2011, it found that more than 90 percent of those surveyed rated “connection and community” as their greatest need. As the researchers put it: “To truly grasp the power of connection for this generation, we can look at how they wish to be remembered. It is not for their beauty, their power, or their influence, but simply for the quality of their human relationships and their ability to look after those around them.” 

Connection is a bond that promotes affection, trust, and cooperation. Connections can be tight, as with family members and close friends; or connections can be loose, as with acquaintances. The opposite of connection is to feel unsupported, left out, or lonely. 

Feeling Disconnected 

Despite their avid use of social network sites and cell phones, whether for calls or text messaging, there is evidence that Millennials actually experience less connection these days. While it may seem counter-intuitive, increased media use is a contributor. Excessive media use has been shown to diminish connection. Research by Norman Nie at Stanford concluded that an hour spent on the Internet reduced face-to-face contact by 23.5 minutes. 

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The lack of meaningful connection makes individuals vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, and addiction. Connection is one of the most effective ways human beings cope with stress. Feeling connected to others reduces the levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. 

Without connection and other healthy means of coping, stress has been shown to produce emotional and behavioral disorders, including anger that leads to a fight response, fear that leads to a flight response, and depression that leads to the body shutting down. Many people deal with their stress by self-medicating with the use of alcohol, mood-altering legal or illegal drugs, binge eating; cutting; or promiscuity. These behaviors provide short-term relief by stimulating the brain’s reward centers, but they eventually rewire the brain with a negative-reward reaction so that cessation exposes the addicted individual to unpleasant sensations of withdrawal. 

Creating Connections  

Employers are wise to help Millennials experience the connection they desire so they perform at the top of their game and avoid negative coping behaviors. Here are three ways for employers to connect with their Millennial workers.

  1. Communicate an Inspiring Vision—and Live It. Millennials want to work for a cause greater than themselves. Being part of an organization that has a mission that serves others helps. Meaningful core values also connect Millennials to the organization, especially if they see leaders living them out. I recommend identifying and consistently communicating simple and memorable phrases that reflect your organization’s mission and values. Here are a few examples: 

    • The most useful and ethical financial services in the world (The Charles Schwab Corporation) 
    • Connecting People with HealthCare (Beryl Companies) 
    • Opening the Highways for All Mankind (Ford Motor Company) 
    • The Change Agency (FCB New Zealand) 
    • Making Cancer History (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center) 
    • Learning to Change the World (TCU) 
    • Don’t Be Evil (Google) 
    • Strive for perfection, settle for excellence (Alpha International) 
    • In the spirit of straight talk (Pfizer) 
       
  2. Value Them. Valuing people is the heart of connection. Take time to get to know Millennials, including their career aspirations, past work experiences (ask what fired them up and what burned them out in past jobs), their strengths, the skills they want to develop, and even what there interests are outside of work. Encourage and mentor them so they learn and grow. A 2014 IBM Institute Study showed that Millennials prefer face-to-face contact when they are learning new skills. When you give Millennials projects to complete, don't micromanage. Be clear about what you want them to deliver, and let them know you are available if they run into obstacles or would like your advice or assistance. This gives them autonomy and conveys your respect for their competence.
     
  3. Give Them a Voice. Many Millennials want to be in the loop and have a voice in decisions that affect them. This isn't always possible when time is of the essence. However, if the situation permits, explain what you are thinking about an issue and ask them what is right, wrong, or missing in your analysis and perspective. Consider their opinions and ideas, then implement those that make sense—giving them credit it’s when due. 

Communicating an inspiring vision and living it, valuing people, and giving them a voice engages Millennials (and the rest of your employees as well). You’ll find that engaged employees put greater effort into their work, align their behavior with the leaders’ and organization’s goals, and more fully communicate so that decision makers have better information to make optimal decisions  These advantages provide a powerful source of competitive advantage. 

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.