The millennial generation is changing the workplace. As the Baby Boomers make their way towards retirement, the race to attract (and engage) the second largest employee pool has begun – but the game has changed. The recruitment and retention strategies companies have relied on for decades are now largely irrelevant as the needs, wants and expectations of this new generation are very different from their predecessors. When it comes to millennial employee engagement, you will need a new strategy.

If you treat millennials like older generations of employees, they’ll very likely leave – not because they aren’t capable of hard work, or feel entitled to instant C-level status. It’s because they’re different. If you can recognize those differences and learn to work with them, you’ll have a workforce with wonderful energy and passion, and the tech-savvy to use it to your best advantage.

 

The most important fact about millennials

Millennials don’t fear change. Quite the opposite. They fear a lack of change. This is the generation that coined the terms #Yolo (you only live once) and #FOMO (fear of missing out). Which means that if they don’t believe in what they’re doing, they have few compunctions against walking out the door and finding something that does engage them.

They don’t worry about unemployment (they can always move in with their parents or start their own businesses). They do fear wasting precious time in jobs that don’t allow them to do their best work and pursue what they feel passionate about. Because of this, deciding your organization’s purpose is a huge opportunity to reach millennial employees, which is why you will find an engaging purpose at the center of strong methods for employee engagement.

By reputation, millennials are the high maintenance ‘want a trophy just for participating’ generation. It’s far from a fair assumption. Growing up in an unreliable economy, millennials understand that low starting salaries and zero job security are inevitable in most cases, and accept them as compromises necessary to follow their dreams.

Gallup’s recent study of the millennial generation, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, revealed that 6/10 millennials are open to different job opportunities and only 50% plan to be with the same company a year from now. Unsurprisingly, engagement numbers correlate to these statistics: Only 29% of millennials reporting feeling engaged at work – 71% were not engaged, or were actively disengaged. What makes millennial employee engagement levels so different?

Considering that millennials will make up as much as 75% of the entire U.S. workforce by 2025, it behooves businesses to understand them better.

Fortunately, Millennials are one of the most closely documented, studied, and talked about generations ever. Unfortunately, there is a gaping hole in the documents, studies, and discussions regarding this:

There is a wide gap between older millennials and the younger ones.

Millennials comprise anyone born between 1982 and 2004, which is a 22-year span. The older segment graduated college in the middle of the recession and watched job opportunities and entire career fields cease to exist before the ink on their final papers had dried.

The youngest segment is still in college (or even high school), and has never known a time without the internet or cell phones small enough to fit in your pocket.

 

Business mistake: Labeling all millennials alike

Here is a cheat sheet of characteristics all millennials share, and characteristics we’ve seen differences between the older segment and younger segment of this generation.

 

Pan-Millennial Characteristics

Why wouldn’t you use social media at work? Millennials don’t understand this. They’re probably using social media at work to do their work, and, they’d argue, do that work faster and better thanks to all of the thought leaders they follow on Twitter.

They understand how to compete. Competition to get into the right preschool, middle school, high school, college, internship and job – they’ve done it all, and they know that competition only gets fiercer with every year. They are eager and adaptable. Introduce them to new concepts in open environments, such as with an office book club.

They also know how to stand out (and the younger half of the generation may be even better at this than the older segment). The younger millennials take ownership of their public identities in ways the older millennials never had to worry about, which employers can use to their advantage. Millennials are natural marketers, because they’ve been marketing themselves since childhood.

 

Older Millennials – Forged in the Fires of Recession

Older millennials were forged in the fires of recession, and like their Depression-era grandparents, the inability to find work left a big impression. But a very different impression. Whereas their grandparents valued job security, older millennials have learned that nothing can be counted on and stability is a myth. And they adapted. If there isn’t a job available, they’ll find several part-time jobs or make one up themselves. This segment is making a name for itself by throwing out the rule books and creating their own career paths out of necessity.

They hedge their bets. You’ve heard of the side hustle? According to a recent 2016 survey by CareerBuilder, 39% of 18-24-year-old workers, and 44% of workers aged 25-34 earn extra cash on the side compared with just 22% of workers aged 45-52. The side hustle is a millennial thing, but here’s what you should know: They’re not just doing it for extra money. Side hustles are usually something millennials passionately pursue.

They’re entrepreneurial minded. When you don’t have a job to go to, you invent one. Today, 60% of millennials consider themselves to be entrepreneurs, and 90% recognize entrepreneurship as a mentality. This is great news for employers because entrepreneurs are highly creative and motivated problem solvers who want to take ownership of their own initiatives. Hire them, and you’ve got the raw materials for a self-managing company.

 

Younger Millennials – Inextricably Connected

Younger millennials look at a company very closely before applying, interviewing, and accepting a position – but they aren’t looking where you think. They are checking out your ratings on Glassdoor (essentially a user-review site for employers) and judging your social media, and the social media of your employees, to see what they’re saying about you. This is a good thing. They’re investigating your company culture to make sure you’re a fit for them (and they’re a fit for you). Considering how much they care about company culture, millennials make a great addition to your employee engagement committee.

They work anywhere because they’re connected everywhere. As long as the work gets done, and done well, they don’t understand why it couldn’t be done by the pool. The work-anywhere movement is gaining ground, allowing companies to reduce office-related expenses. And, mobile employees have been shown to be more productive, and feel happier and more valued.

 

Transferable Insight

YOLO and FOMO are very real, and partially explain the millennial tendency to job hop. They don’t want to limit themselves and are more likely to leave jobs in which they feel pigeon-holed. Give them room to grow and provide outlets for them to use their talents, and you’ll keep them longer (and they’ll be happier, more engaged, and more productive). Giving millennial employees an opportunity to shift the organization through an anonymous employee feedback tool you put the power to make a change at their fingertips.