Millennials Define Engagement Differently

February 17, 2020
February 17, 2020 Jamie Notter

One of the participants in my Managing Generational Diversity training course once told me an interesting story. Her Millennial daughter came home from work and told the mother that she had quit her job. When the mom asked why, the Millennial daughter replied, “because they wouldn’t listen to my ideas.” The mom responded with an exasperated but also classic, Gen X response: “But you had a JOB!!!”

I say classic Gen X because in pretty much every generation before the Millennials, the goal of recent college or high school graduates was simple: get a job. Having your ideas listened to wasn’t particularly on the table. It’s like we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers were down at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, focusing on safety and survival, but not caring about higher order needs. But the Millennials are not down at that level, and, honestly, it’s through no fault of their own. We gave them the internet growing up, and we gave them unparalleled material abundance, and we gave them a much higher status in society when they were children. With that kind of power, status, and abundance, they have raised the bar. They are looking for more out of this thing we call work.

So what does that have to do with engagement? As I pointed out in last month’s post, we have proposed a new definition of employee engagement in our latest book. We believe that engagement is directly linked to how successful employees can be in their jobs, and that includes success at three levels: personal, role, and enterprise. If you mess with success at any of those levels, you damage engagement, and increase the chances that your best employees will come home and tell someone they quit their job.

Millennials are less likely to consider themselves successful in jobs where they lack the ability to get things done themselves or don’t have influence on others (even those up high in the hierarchy). That’s not because they’re “spoiled” or “entitled.” It’s because they grew up with much more power than we old folks did, so they are defining success differently.

So you have a choice. You can shake your fist at those darn Millennials for not being grateful that they have a job in the first place, or you can start creating a playbook of plays you can run inside your organization to help it become more supportive of your employees’ success. Fist-shaking, I can assure you, is not a great engagement strategy. We tell you more about the playbook model in our book.


 

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.