How to Motivate Your Millennial Employees

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How to Motivate Your Millennial Employees

Kids these days.

With their Instagram and their Snapchat and their Dick Tracy Apple watches. Who understands them anymore? You offer them a raise, and they turn it down to work from home. You give them a great review, and they ask why you didn’t say anything sooner.

It’s almost as frustrating as a relationship. Almost.

The thing is, millennials – defined more or less as those born between 1980 and 2000 – are going to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. And if you can’t motivate the millennials working for your business, you may lose them quickly. So how do you keep these job-hopping kids in the fold? Here are a few ways to motivate the millennial employees you hire for your small business.

Show Millennials the Big Picture

Millennials, more than previous generations, value their contributions to overall success.  They will not respond well if simply stuck in a corner and told to work on something. Rather, millennials strive to see what the company’s overall mission is, and how they fit into it.

In a small business, it should be relatively easy to keep your millennial employees informed, since you don’t have that many different departments you need to explain. But you can still aid the process by setting up a workspace without cubicles, where employees can see and hear what everyone else is doing. Communicating your overall company goals and being transparent will go a long way towards showing millennials that you understand and respect their needs.

Motivate Millennials with More than Money

Remember the great recession? Yeah, it ended, like, last week. Most millennials remember the recession well, especially those who came out of school only to find few job prospects.

Since their first experiences with jobs were typically ones that paid very poorly, millennials are used to alternative forms of motivation. In general, money just isn’t the driving motivator to them that it was to previous generations.

Offering things like free lunches or dry cleaning or transit cards is way to bridge this gap. Random time off or company perks are another. You can get as creative as you want with this and, as a small business, this really works to your advantage. When you are competing with companies with more money, you’re not at nearly the disadvantage you were years ago when it comes to keeping millennial employees happy.

Many tech startups have offered stock options to new millennial employees as well, which may work for you if it’s something your company sees as being an asset down the road.

Give Millennials Constant Recognition

This is the “everybody’s a winner” generation. It’s also the generation that puts its self-worth on how many “likes” a picture gets within a first half hour on Instagram. So if you’re not effectively “liking” what they do at work, they may just delete whatever they did and not do any work for the next two days.

That’s an extreme tongue-in-cheek example, of course, but the point is that millennials are motivated by frequent, deserved praise. This is another big advantage to small business, because it really doesn’t cost you anything to make your employees feel appreciated and work harder in return. And while many of us get caught up in the day-to-day headaches that are running a small business, taking time out to recognize good work is essential.

And as cheesy as YOU might think it might be, frequent promotions are also huge motivators to millennials, who see a simple title and responsibility increase as a great marker of success. It doesn’t necessarily have to include more money, just more recognition that they can handle the job.

Let Millennials Work on Their Own Projects

Because they are the first generation to grow up with technology as the norm, millennials value jobs that foster their creativity. And nothing allows a person to show off his or her creativity more than a large-scale project of their own design.

While getting the day-to-day tasks done is crucial to keeping your business running, you can motivate your younger employees by allowing them time to work on a bigger project that they created. This will help you, as it might solve a problem in a way you’d never have thought. And helps them as it gives them a sense of major contribution to the overall mission.

Don’t Treat All Millennials the Same

Though they are big on group goals, group work, and communal tables, millennials also are the most individualistic generation ever. Some might say ‘spoiled,’ but that’s inaccurate: Millennials were raised by parents who asked for their input on decisions, and did not discipline everyone the same. So blanket rules won’t fly with millennials.

Offer Millennials Flexibility in Schedule and Location

The days of the time clock are over. Thanks to the Internet, millennials can work from anywhere, almost anytime they want. And if you own a business that doesn’t require immediate presence, then your millennial employees may expect the ability to work from home.

Similarly, the traditional 9-to-6 schedule is going by the wayside as well. While older employees may be offended if you call them after “business hours”, millennials may opt to take a few hours off in the middle of the day to go to the beach, then work until 10 pm.

No matter who you hire, motivating employees is a constant challenge for small businesses. But in addition to thinking about race, gender, cultural and religious differences, you must always account for age. What you want won’t always be what your employees wants, and taking these things into consideration might earn you that most coveted of titles: Cool Boss.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

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