Meaning: Keeping Millennials Fired-up

Pinpointing what motivates Millennials can feel like a daunting, nearly impossible undertaking. Millennials are much-debated, curious beings that are often misunderstood and many times leave other Xers, Boomers, and Traditionalists scratching their heads.

Identifying motivating factors for this generation is a worthy cause because, like it or not, this generation is estimated to comprise 50% of the American workforce by 2020, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor Statistics. The truth is, there are dozens of factors that motivate Millennials in the workplace: encouragement, a six-figure salary, a sense of work/life balance or integration, trendy office amenities, freedom to express new ideas…the infinite list goes on. An age-old question that clients continue to ask us is, “How can we get Millennials to stay?” It’s a valid question with a seemingly tricky, yet not-so-complex answer. In a word: meaning. Cue the blank stare, the internal grumble, the ominous silence on the other end of the phone. What does meaning even mean?

Meaning in the workplace is the coveted and ever-glimmering beacon that Millennials, whether they know it or not, thrive on, strive for and covet. It’s what makes their work worthy and it’s vital for Millennials to be proud of their work. Bentley University found that 84% of Millennials say making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition. They’ll stay in a job if they feel like the work that they are doing has meaning beyond putting in their eight hours a day. We’ve asked countless Millennials what keeps them feeling motivated in their jobs and the feedback we receive all circles around meaning: “knowing the positive impact I make in my role,” “being given opportunities for learning and growth” and “having a sense of accomplishment” are just a few. The value of the daily grind lies within the cause that they’re working for. Is their job in some way benefitting others less fortunate? Is it helping to invent a concept or a product that fills a specific void in the market? Does your Millennial employee feel proud of the job they’re doing? If the answer is no, they’re out the door.

Before you minimize this screen and walk away from your desk feeling deflated at the momentous task, know that creating meaning is actually attainable. While it’s definitely a two-way street, you can help instill meaning into your Millennial employee’s work by giving them concrete challenges to solve. Millennials are goal-driven. They love to fix and are good at it when given the opportunity. Start small. Give your employee a new perplexing project with a deadline and they’ll likely rise to the occasion. This ignites an internal flame and invokes a sense of purpose, leaving them with a deeper sense of meaning in the workplace.

Another way to introduce meaning into your work culture is to demonstrate how your Millennial employee’s duties specifically help the greater good of the team and thus, the company. It’s easy for an employee to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of their daily tasks, leaving them feeling a bit left out of the larger picture. Check in with them every so often (without sugar-coating or giving gratuitous constant praise) and show them how a specific report, email update or even just answering the phone is an integral part of the collective company’s success.

In our office, we recently discussed the idea of working to live vs. living to work. After a thoughtful pause, the collective head-nodding in agreement response was that the Millennial generation works to live and lives to work. Impossible to choose either, It’s both, and admittedly, sometimes one more than the other. One could liken working to live as the sole purpose. That’s the main reason people have occupations, right? Got to pay the bills! But the soul purpose is living to work and for the Millennials, it’s all about finding the meaning.