3 ways to motivate millennials and other generations at work

Communicators are contending with generational differences in the workplace. Here are three tips to help bridge the multigenerational gap.

Millennials make up the largest segment of the workforce, yet many companies haven’t adjusted their employee communications accordingly.

Here are three easy steps to help you engage these hyper-connected employees without alienating others in today’s multigenerational workplace:

1. Engage each generation on its own terms. “Generations prefer to communicate using the channel that was at the height of its technology during their own work prime,” says Kristin Scroggin, GenWHY Communication Strategies founder and University of Alabama communication arts instructor.

For example, Traditionalists born before 1946 prefer talking face to face, whereas Baby Boomers prefer phone contact and have no problem leaving voicemails.

On the other hand, Gen X avoids voicemail like the plague, preferring email; millennials prefer contact via text or collaboration tools such as #slack or GroupMe.

“It’s important for internal communicators to realize who you’re trying to get messages to and what timeline you’d like to meet,” Scroggin says. “For the quickest contact and response, choose the method the employee most likely checks based on age. Does this potentially take more time at the onset? Yes, but nowhere near the time you save by avoiding the chaos caused by a team member ‘not knowing’ important information.”

Register for Ragan’s March 16 virtual summit “Reach and Retain Millennials” for more employee engagement tips from Kristin Scroggin (University of Alabama in Huntsville), Cody Jones (NASA) and Leah Sketo (Lockheed Martin).

2. Study millennial hot buttons and third rails. Millennials can have a dramatically different perspective of what they want in a workplace engagement experience.

“Seventy-eight percent of millennials say they ‘work to live, not live to work,'” says Scroggin, citing her firm’s January survey. “Millennials are demanding the work-life balance the rest of us have just moaned about for years. That means we need to implement strategies that keep workers purpose-focused and engaged.”

You can go a long way toward achieving this by avoiding these common mistakes:

  • Expecting millennials to toe the line. “They won’t conform, and they are the majority (47 percent of the population is under 33),” says Scroggin. “They’ve rejected the ‘settling down’ path of marrying early, buying a house and starting to have kids right away—so why do we think they’ll magically conform to our current workstyle?”
  • Sacrificing quality for the sake of rules. “Millennial employees turn over every 18 months due to conflicts over rules that don’t really make sense anymore,” she says. “Why are you firing a good nurse over a nose-ring? Why are you talking to one employee about last night’s game for 45 minutes and then firing another for coming in five minutes late?

“Whenever there’s a double standard,” she warns, “millennials will call you out about it.”

  • Being mad that they won’t “fake work.” “If we were honest, we’d admit that an eight-hour workday doesn’t really make sense anymore,” Scroggin says. “Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were trained to fill up every moment they’re supervised. Because our bosses seem to care that we appear to be working all the time, we’ve perfected the fine art of fake working.”

Don’t believe her? “I bet you look two to three times more focused at your computer when you hear your boss walking down the hall than other times,” she says. “It’s not that we don’t have work to do; it’s just that technology has made it easier to complete that work in a shorter period of time.”

Her takeaway: “The difference is that while Boomers and Gen X employees will continue to play the game, millennials will look at us and say, ‘If you want me to do more work, then give me more work.’ Be prepared to do that or provide flexible hours.”

3. Get collaborative—embrace messaging and souped-up intranets. “Collaborative software is key to engaging millennials and younger employees,” Scroggin says. “If they’re addicted to social media—and we know they are—then you want to re-route that desire toward internal communication instead of external.”

She recommends getting started with collaborative messaging apps like #Slack, GroupMe or Remind.com. “They’re great ways to have internal communications texts hit everyone in your department,” she says. “I think #Slack is one of the best out-of-the-box options, but having a customized app for your company would be even better.”

What features do millennials now expect in full-blown intranets?

“A key feature is the ability to see all the projects they’re working on in one place,” Scroggin says. “Millennials thrive on transparency. They do better when they know exactly what their jobs are and how they fit into everyone else’s. That’s why they want things like open chat, an ability to see deadlines and clear to-do lists.”

How do you help Baby Boomers and other older generations make the jump?

“Show them how clarity saves time and energy,” Scroggin says. “Also consider using applications that resemble those they’re already using, like Facebook. Most Boomers have no problem telling us about their latest grandchild on Facebook and will take to similar navigation features on a company intranet.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager. Kristin Scroggin (University of Alabama in Huntsville), Cody Jones (NASA) and Leah Sketo (Lockheed Martin) will reveal more employee engagement insights in PR University’s March 16 virtual summit, “Reach and Retain Millennials: How to Communicate with Today’s Multigenerational Workforce.”

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