How do we recruit Millennials? How do we motivate them? And how do we keep them from leaving?
These three questions about the newest generation in the workplace, the Millennials, are the most commonly asked when I speak to organizations about generational sticking points and how they affect that organization’s success.
When some managers ask these questions, they want me to give them “six magical techniques” that will help their Millennial employees to “get with the program,” fit into their system, and act like the previous generations. While most leaders realize that it is impossible to remake 85 million people into the image of another generation, they don’t know what else to do and so, out of frustration, they seek that magic fix. Other managers believe that because the Millennials are the future, organizational structures and the other generations need to adjust to them. So they force everyone outside that generation to change.
Neither option is the best. Rather than attempting the gargantuan task of trying to change Millennials or change the other generations, the managers in your property need to understand two things that will help answer each of those three key questions:
- You will make things worse if you don’t understand emerging adulthood.
- Boredom is your enemy when managing Millennials.
There’s a New Life Stage in Town
Emerging adulthood is a recently identified life stage between 18 and 28 years of age. It occurs right after adolescence and before early adulthood. Early adulthood is the life stage when people “settle down” to a life partner, a career, and often their more permanent location.
Emerging adulthood is new to most people because sociologists only identified it in the last 15 years.
When I ask groups to raise their hands if they have ever heard of it, only 2 to 3 percent do. Not understanding emerging adulthood means managers complain about Millennials, especially younger Millennials, as if something’s wrong with them when they pass up jobs or do not seem engaged. But emerging adulthood is a much better explanation for why Millennials respond differently from previous generations. Understanding emerging adulthood also makes managers more productive. If they know if generational characteristics are the problem, the managers have to try to fix that generation. But when a manager understands that they can’t fix a life stage, then they are able to adapt the way they manage those employees.
Emerging adult life stage is characterized by freedom, choice, and change. Because people move into early adulthood later, they have these three options longer. I was typical of the Boomers and the oldest Generation Xers. I got married at twenty-two, the week after I graduated from college. Only one of my three sons was married at the same age. I “got with the program” at work and did whatever my boss asked me because we could not afford to miss a week’s pay even with my wife and me working. I didn’t have any choice. While marrying my wife was the best decision of my life, it limited my freedom. I frequently hear managers complain that the younger Millennials are lazy because they never had to work hard for their trophies or they are not loyal to organizations any more as if it were a character defect.
I think many Millennials don’t “get with the program” because, unlike my generation, they have the freedom to do something else if they don’t like the job or the boss, or if they get bored.
Once your managers understand that younger Millennials aren’t trying to upset the status quo on purpose, but they are in a new life stage, then they will be 98 percent ahead of the leadership crowd when it comes to successfully recruiting, motivating, and keeping younger workers in your business.
Boredom Is the Enemy
Because emerging adults have not settled down, they have the freedom to choose to change jobs when they get bored. They are not less engaged at the boring aspects of jobs than the previous generations were, they are simply less compelled to do them with gusto or at least without complaining. As a result, they seem less engaged. So much so that older employees complain to their managers that the younger generation just doesn’t care. That’s because in emerging adulthood they often don’t have to care—they can get a job someplace else.
To be clear, I’m not talking about all Millennials. Some Millennials work very hard because they grew up that way or they inherently like the job or they already have a child and need the money. But you and the other managers in your organization will struggle to motivate many Millennials if you don’t understand how a person’s twenties today differ from what it did in the past three generations. We did not have to work as hard in the past to motivate people in their twenties. But with the emergence of this new life stage, we no longer have the luxury of younger employees stepping in and not needing motivation. Because in emerging adulthood, boredom is the enemy.
After recognizing that a new life stage exists—whether we like it or not—the second most important thing good managers need to understand in order to recruit, motivate, and keep Millennials in your organization is to understand that boredom is the enemy—and it’s your problem to fix for them.
Every generation got bored at work, but Millennials have always expected the leaders in their life to do something about it. This generational shift often catches managers by surprise. Other generations took the job even if they thought it would be boring. Millennials often pass on a job that pays better for one that is more interesting. They leave because of boredom, even if they like their boss—whereas other generations left because of their boss, not because of boredom.
You will never motivate Millennials until you deal with boredom. Some Millennials will not work as hard unless they are interested in what they are doing or having fun at work. It’s that simple.
When I point out that fighting boredom is the unheralded secret to engaging Millennials, I’ve had managers literally throw up their hands and say, “That’s ridiculous. I don’t have time to babysit. This is the real world. Work isn’t supposed to be fun—that’s why it’s called ‘work.’” But Millennials are not ridiculous and they are not asking to be babysat.
They are pointing us to a significant shift in the job description of successful managers—namely that it’s your responsibility to make the job more engaging.
Many Millennials expect their manager to do something about their boredom because their parents and other adults were responsible for it throughout their childhood and adolescence. When I, and thousands of others in my generation, complained about being bored, our parents told us to find something to do or they would “find us something to do,” which meant more chores. If we were from the city, they told us to come home when the streetlights came on. If we were from the country, they said to be home when the sun went down. We found our freedom outside of the house and sometimes did reckless things that would have scared our parents had they been monitoring us. But life was very different for the Millennials when they were growing up. When Millennials complained that they were bored, their parents arranged organized play dates, signed them up for organized sports or children’s theater or music lessons. If there was nothing scheduled, their parents suggested alternatives to boredom that they could do in the house or in the backyard. What most parents of Millennials didn’t do is make boredom their kids problem and send them outside to find something to do by roaming the neighborhood or backwoods. Because of that, good managers must become creative in the ways they engage their employees in the work.
How to Help Millennials Fight Boredom
Many jobs in the hotel or restaurant businesses are repetitive and require following processes more than putting creativity to work with ever-changing challenges. Managers tell me that they fear that the jobs, while important and necessary, are inherently boring and there’s nothing they can do to change that. But there are multiple ways to fight boredom even in repetitive jobs.
Add fun to a repetitive job.
Nine out of 10 Millennials say being able to have fun on the job is a significant factor in accepting a position or choosing to stay. But for four out of 10, fun on the job is extremely important. Those statistics shock many managers who tell me, “It’s a job—it’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to accomplish tasks that need handling—whether they are enjoyable or not.” Because I have stayed 100 nights a year in hotels for the last two decades, I’ve seen the difference supervisors make who know how to bring fun to a repetitive job. For example, when I go back into a meeting room after all the guests are gone, the energy and camaraderie as the staff resets the room is obvious. When I see exceptional energy, I pull staff aside and ask them if their manager is the reason they are so good. They say what we would expect, the manager takes a personal interest in them, jumps in and helps, and sets the example for how to treat the guests. But they almost always add that the manager makes things fun.
You do not have to be a back slapping extrovert to make this work.
Introverted managers can come up with creative ways that fit their style to add fun to the work. I have walked in on hard working teams joking and laughing as they tear down a section of the room together rather than spreading out to different parts of the room and working alone. With music blasting, I have seen introverted managers quietly cheering on team members and laughing with the jokes. They may not be the ring leader of fun but they know how to encourage rather than stifle the ring leader while keeping the team on track. Keeping things fun can’t change a repetitive job, but it can bring anticipation and a sense of surprise to even the most predictable ones.
Invite Millennials to a bigger purpose.
A thoughtful manager can infuse even mundane jobs with an inspiring and engaging purpose for any of the generations. I know that many in the older generations enjoy technology and are equally as conversant with it as Millennials. But very few of the older tech lovers spend as much time immersed in the technological lifestyle as most Millennials. With January 2017 bringing the tenth anniversary of the smartphone, the Millennials are the natives to the always-connected, touchscreen world.
In contrast, I tell my office manager that I do not have more than ten minutes of patience for an app. If I cannot get it logged in and doing what I want in ten minutes, I move on. I found hotel apps to be more difficult to set up and use than the average, so after giving each two or three quick tries, I gave up. I regularly checked into the properties, was not using any of the apps on my phone three years after they came out.
But when enough Millennials checking me in suggested that the app might be a good way to avoid the lines next time since I’m elite, I finally admitted to them that I could not get it to work. They were delighted to help. I’m still grateful for the Millennial in early December who checked me in who not only answered my original question when I saw he had the same smart watch, but gave me a five-minute tutorial until someone else came to the counter. His help cut my learning curve by a couple of days and provided the extra service that made it a “top box” stay. I waited until he finished checking in the guest so I could ask him if his hotel had any goals for customizing service to each guest. He smiled and said that they were looking for new ways to serve guests and he figured out quickly that chatting with people about their technology allowed him as a young man to connect across all generations. He went on to add that people my age (ouch) were usually grateful for the help. `His manager invited him into a bigger purpose and as a result he was a high performer.
Let them move around.
Most of us in the older generations expected to be in the same job for months if not years. If we got bored, we complained to our coworkers but not to our boss because we knew it would not do any good. That explains why many managers express their surprise at how quickly Millennials want to switch over to a different job. Millennials let them know when boredom hits. One of the easiest ways to bust boredom and engage under-motivated employees is to ask them what they want to learn, what special projects they would like to work on, and what other jobs they would like to try. This is much more effective than asking them why they come in late or call off, or following around employees that don’t take initiative and telling them what to do next.
When managers quit expecting Millennials to act like previous generations, account for emerging adulthood, and make boredom the enemy, they will see results with the three most frequent questions people ask about Millennials in the workplace. Millennials will tell their friends that they like working there and it will be easier to hire them. They will stay longer. They will be more engaged and work harder. But most of all they will help your organization better connect with the largest generational market in history.