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How to better engage millennials (and why they aren't really so different)

Rich Hein | June 13, 2013
Millennials aren't so different... when you get down to the core principles of what millennials want in the workplace, they want what any good employee would want from his or her employer.

Millennials aren't so different. That isn't to say that they don't come from a different place than previous generations and that there aren't significant differences in their perspective, but when you get down to the core principles of what millennials want in the workplace, they want what any good employee would want from his or her employer.

"When I speak on the millennial topic, one of the points I always make is that when you look at the research regarding what millennials want in the workplace and what the pure characteristics are, you're talking about the same things everyone cares about," says Lauren Stiller Rikleen founder of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership as well as the Executive-in-Residence at Boston College's Center for Work & Family in the Carroll School of Management. Her upcoming book focuses on the Millennial Generation in the workplace.

Generational Differences
Millennials are essentially those that were born between 1980 and 2000. There is no question that they were raised in a different way than previous generations.

"When you look at the research, what emerges most critically is the comfort level with technology. It's the first generation to have fully grown up technology literate, practically from birth. That is at the root of a lot of what we are seeing in terms of distinct generational differences, specifically with how they communicate with each other and in the workplace," says Rikleen.

There are other differences as well. According to Rikleen, millennials were raised in very nurturing environments. The research shows they have closer relationships with their parents. "What people need to understand when you are talking about generational differences is that what you're really talking about are trends in demographics," says Rikleen.

Similarities With Previous Generations
Recent research conducted for the Kenan Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina by Ben Rosen, a Ph.D. and Professor of Organizational Behavior, demonstrates that there is more in common among generations than you might think.

In his study, he surveyed 5,400 respondents from different generations to study how the generations viewed each other, what they expected from their employers and how they defined ideal leaders. What might surprise you is that, according to Rosen's research, all four generations (i.e., Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials) share the same top work motivators of desire for continuous employment and opportunities for promotion. Rosen's research found that all four generations expected the following from their employers:

  • To work on challenging projects.
  • To receive competitive compensation.
  • To have opportunities for advancement and chances to learn and grow in their jobs.
  • To be fairly treated.
  • To maintain a work-life balance.
  • They also agreed on what it means to be a great leader.
  • Someone who leads by example.
  • Someone who is accessible.
  • Someone who helps others see how their roles contribute to the organization.
  • Someone who acts as a coach and mentor.
  • Someone who challenges others and holds others accountable.


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