Guest Column - January/February 2016

The Art of Engaging & Rewarding 'Generation Me'

By Dennis Borst


Beginning with the baby boomer generation, marketers and sociologists have named each subsequent generation. With their naming came the defining of each generation's traits, habits and expectations. Currently employers and marketers are dealing with the personality traits of millennials. By definition, millennials were born between 1980 and 1999, with most recent counts projecting 80 million-plus.

For the most part, researchers are less than kind when outlining the needs and wants of the millennial generation. Millennials have been referred to as "Entitleists," "Narcissists" and "Me Driven." After all, they are the first generation that was rewarded for participation with or without achievement. A recent comparison found that when it comes to air travel, baby boomers were more interested in free luggage check, while millennials were most interested in free Wi-Fi. Baby boomers showed up for job interviews telling companies what they can do for them. Millennials, on the other hand, want to know what a company can do for them to enrich their lives. This makes it obvious that millennials search out employment opportunities at companies offering engagement and recognition programs. And, considering millennials' strong sense of community, they are looking for employment at companies with a strong visibility in their community. This need for recognition and meeting personal needs is so strong that millennials will switch jobs as often as it takes until they feel comfortable.

So what will it take to meet the needs of the millennial generation?

  • Offering constant feedback
  • Asking their opinion
  • Providing the latest work tools
  • Giving them short, mid-range and long-term goals to avoid disengagement

It is imperative that millennials receive constant feedback regarding their performance. In fact, they prefer group events where this feedback and recognition can be shared with peers. It is common in today's business world to have monthly or quarterly events where top performers are recognized in front of their peers. It is also very common for in-house newsletters to report on recognized achievers and publish photos of award recipients.

Another interesting factor guiding millennials through the business world is their need to be heard. Where previous generations sat quietly allowing the "seasoned vets" to make the decisions, millennials want their voices heard from the get-go. In fact, many companies today that have advisory teams within departments include newer employees on these teams. Keep in mind that this generation has witnessed people in their age group, like Mark Zuckerberg, who are CEO billionaires in their 20s and early 30s. They are also accustomed to posting photos and comments on social media and receiving "instant acknowledgement" from dozens of friends.

Given the fact that millennials have no memory of a world without laptops, cell phones and the Internet, it is important to them to have the most up-to-date work tools to assist in performing their duties. Not meeting this requirement can also lead to them switching companies.

Setting short (monthly), mid-range (quarterly) and long-term (annual) goals with constant feedback as well as a clear lineage as to how the goals can be reached is very important. Millennials want quick and instant recognition and feedback. Many companies have turned to the use of gift cards as the preeminent on-the-spot reward. In other cases, companies have added a length-of-service award at the one-year level to keep in line with the need to recognize employees early and often.

The biggest issue that companies are fighting with is millennials' quick trigger to disengage. If kept engaged, millennials can be dedicated long-term employees. As long as they see a clear path for growth, they will remain engaged. They are less concerned with structured work days, but at the same time committed to doing what is expected of them correctly the first time. They are less driven by wealth than generations before them and are more concerned with having a balance of career and personal life. There are numerous studies showing that they want the same American dream of marriage, owning a home and having a family, but based on divorce rates, are hesitant to jump into marriage and move out on their own. They just don't want to make a mistake.

On the other hand, there are things in life, other than work, that are very important to them. Those things include:

  • Experiences that are unique and special with regards to travel, concerts and sports.
  • They are foodies who follow celebrity chefs.
  • They tend to enjoy healthier diets than previous generations and are proponents of organic foods.
  • They want to have the latest in digital and electronic products.
  • They tend to have a deeper fashion sense than preceding generations.