Do Millennials Define Engagement Differently?
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.