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Six New Ways to Keep Gen Y Workers Engaged

By Melissa J. Anderson

Gen Y employees are the least engaged globally, according to a recent report by GfK Custom Research. The survey, which polled over 30,000 employees in 29 countries, showed that only 21% of workers between the ages of 18 and 29 reported being “highly engaged,” compared with 31% of highly engaged workers in their 60s.

And according to GfK, this polarization between entry-level workers and their mature bosses is a problem.

“This 10-point gap between the younger ‘doers’ and those likely to be in the more senior positions poses real problems for businesses around the world, as it risks creating divided workplaces, inter-generational resentment and can hamper efforts to recruit, retain and motivate a flow of qualified young talent.”

But that doesn’t mean Gen Y or Millennial employees don’t want to work. On the contrary, says Millennial expert Jullien Gordon. Gordon, who’s written four books (all before the age of 30) on motivation and purpose including The 8 Cylinders of Success and Good Excuse Goals, explained that Gen Y employees want to feel that there is purpose behind their work.

He said, “I believe that purpose is the greatest intrinsic motivator.”

According to Gordon, Gen Y employees are driven by three things: creating value, being valued, and doing work that aligns with their values. Below are his six innovative ways companies can leverage these motivators to better engage this highly energetic and educated demographic.

1. Take Advantage of Gen Y’s Creative, Entrepreneurial Spirit

“If you ask a group of Millennials if they want to be an entrepreneur, chances are they’ll all raise their hand. You can take advantage of this by instilling entrepreneurship in your organization,” Gordon explained.

That means enabling younger employees to take ownership of their tasks and their careers so they feel like “intrapreneurs.” Encourage them to solve problems and strategize on how to get to the next level.

2. Incorporate Elements of Gaming

As Gordon explained, Gen Y workers want to feel valued and want to see that value. “Millennials are members of the trophy generation,” he joked. “We got a trophy for coming in 11th place.”

In order to keep Millennials focused on achieving more, Gordon suggested breaking up job functions into levels of advancement – for example, Associate 1, Associate 2, Associate 3, and Associate 4.

By doing so, rather than simply being an Associate for years, now an employee feels as if he is moving up and making progress, and being recognized for that progress.

3. Create Problem-Solving Opportunities

“Present Millennials with a problem they can own – a real business problem facing the company, customers, or other colleagues,” Gordon said. Providing time to work on the problem in addition to their other daily tasks can encourage Gen Y employees to see the value they are providing the company.

“And if they solve the problem and the solution is valuable, it may actually create a career the company didn’t realize it needed,” he added. An example would be Google’s 20% time program which enables employees to dedicate up to 20% on any project they want, outside their normal duties. Some of the company’s most popular offerings, like Gmail and Google News, came out of the initiative.

4. Show and Tell Presentations

Next, Gordon suggested, provide Gen Y employees with an opportunity to show off what they achieved, using a method he created and calls the 30 Day Do It. “Make time each month for Millennials to present on the value they have created,” he said.

He continued, “This is a form of positive peer pressure. They actually have to do something to speak about in front of the team every thirty days.”

5. Be Flexible

According to GfK’s survey, globally 39% of 18-29 year-olds surveyed reported being “Frequently” or “Nearly Always” concerned about work/life balance. This was significantly higher than any other group, with 34% of 30 to 39 year-olds, 30% of 40 to 49 year-olds, 28% of 50 to 59 year-olds, and 24% of those 60 years and over reporting the same.

Some of this disparity may come from divergent views on work/life fit. Gordon explained that Gen Y doesn’t see work and life as two separate entities to balance. He explained, “While previous generations chose a career and built a life around that career, Gen Y wants a career that fits life.”

He continued, “We want the D.R.E.A.M.” Gordon defines this as having one’s Desired Relationships, Employment, And Money. “Gen Y is of the mindset of how to hold and balance all of these things at the same time, as opposed to one after the other.”

Employers should make a point to communicate flex options more clearly. As work/life fit expert Cali Yost recently told us, many employees simply don’t know what’s available.

6. Create a Collegial Environment

Finally, Gordon said, due to the fact that Millennials don’t see an impervious border between work and life, they want to actually like their coworkers and like going to work. He said, “We want to feel like we’re working with friends and family.”

Employers should encourage Gen Y employees to create employee resource groups that to beyond gender or ethnicity. “They want to be able to create affinity groups based on what our passions they have as opposed to just having affinity groups based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.”

And, he added, creating a more collegial atmosphere can keep employees coming back. “When more of your life and dreams are connected to your employer, it makes it harder to leave. It increases the switching costs,” he said.

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