The “secret” to making Millennials happy at work

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“How do I engage my millennial workforce?” is a question with no shortage of answers. The hot topic on LinkedIn has attracted a range of theories – mostly focusing on the differences between Millennials and others thus creating a somewhat artificial divide between Millennials and the other generations.

But the truth is we all have far more in common with each other than we think. Generational divides do not change what we fundamentally care about. We are humans first, not generations. As Kristen Hadeed says – “We’re all human, and all humans want to feel valued. We want to feel significant… We want to be inspired by the work we do and feel as if we are contributing to something that matters.”

These needs don’t change just because a person was raised in a different time with a different background. According to data collected by Gallup, worldwide employee engagement is currently 34% – meaning that 66% of people are not engaged, millennial or otherwise. Engagement at work is an “everyone” problem, not a millennial problem. The discussion needs to be broader. What is your culture like? Do you review salaries fairly? Do you provide feedback regularly? Do you offer flexibility where needed?

These are issues that cut across all generations. There’s no shortcut to engaging Millennials – the key is making a better workplace for everyone.

To demonstrate, here are a few of the more common examples of “differences” that have resulted in the idea that engaging Millennials involves a special strategy:

Millennials can’t handle critical feedback

The truth is that feedback can be difficult for everyone. Receiving critical feedback creates a threat response in the brain that is universal, according to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work. In the legal profession, however, feedback is imperative, especially for junior lawyers. Properly given, feedback will help a junior lawyer take on greater responsibility, and faster. In fact, even senior lawyers need the advice on how to navigate their careers as they take on leadership positions within their firms and in-house teams.

The key is in the delivery. Unfortunately, the time-poor environment of a law firm or an in-house environment doesn’t always invite a lengthy discussion, resulting in curt feedback. One small change might be to detail the impact that a behaviour had – on yourself, the company or other employees. Phrasing feedback in this way rather than as a directive helps to curb the threat response.

Millennials need constant recognition

Recognition is simply one factor that helps all people find meaning in work. According to the WorkHuman Research Institute, a key feeling for engagement is that “what we do day-to-day matters in the context of the greater goals of the organization.” The feeling doesn’t vary by generation. In the context of your organisation, this can be as simple as providing positive feedback, as well as critical.

Millennials are glued to their devices

How many times have you walked into a conference room, only to see everyone texting or answering emails around the table? How many times have you done so yourself? From partner to graduate to counsel, lawyers are busy, and most may well choose to begin their day replying to crucial emails by phone.

Ultimately, the treatment of devices is a matter for leaders. The matters you insist are face-to-face can have a big impact on culture. You might consider feedback or time off as sacrosanct, for example, but scheduling meetings not so much.

Engaging millennials is no different to engaging anyone else. They have more in common with the rest of the generations than otherwise thought. If you want your organisation to attract Millennials (as well as other generations), the key is to provide a genuinely positive work environment with fair pay and respect.