How to Improve Relationships with Millennials

Group of young workers in an office around a computer screen
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Today’s workforce is comprised of five generations, each with distinct qualities that can be profoundly felt in the workplace. In less than five years, the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1994, will comprise 51 percent of the Western workforce.

As may know well know, members of the Millennial generation often aren’t motivated by traditional compensation and benefit perks that more easily secured the loyalty of prior generations. Instead, they seek organizations that champion values they hold dear, including sustainable practices, flexible work, and employee development opportunities.

Millennials Are Coming,” an article in the April 2016 TD magazine, discusses recent research about this generation. Author Shana Campbell explains how investing in a changing workforce demographic requires managers to be “highly engaged, balance the generational diversity, conduct coaching, offer guidance, and provide more hands-on support.” What can you, as a leader in your organization, do to help develop Millennials?

Engage Them

For many Millennials, professional development goes hand in hand with engagement. They are not interested in merely punching the clock at the office or putting in their time until retirement. If they do not find their work meaningful or are not loyal to your organization, they will have no qualms about walking out of the door. According to “The Frustrating World of Employee Engagement,” in the Spring 2016 issue of CTDO magazine, the acronym MAGIC represents five key engagement metrics an organization should invest in:

  • Do individuals have meaning in their lives?
  • Do employees have autonomy in their jobs?
  • Are your people growing?
  • Does your talent have impact on the organization in the work that they do?
  • Do employees have a connection to the organization?

Are you actively measuring your Millennials’ engagement levels? If not, how can you begin doing so today?

Play to Their Strengths

In an effort to engage Millennials in your workforce, it’s important to treat them as individuals, especially during the goal-setting and performance appraisal process. Ask each person in your agency how she works best, what workplace benefits she values most, and what her broader career goals are.

Build employee goals around these stated strengths, interests, and preferences. When employees feel that they are valued as unique individuals, and not merely another one of the masses, they will grow more engaged and loyal.

Remember to involve Millennials in their performance processes. An ongoing, consistent exchange of information between supervisors and employees is necessary to not only ensure employees are on track to meet their goals, but to keep them invested in their personal performance and aware of how such performance affects the organization.

Create an Environment of Collaboration

Millennials gravitate toward a collaborative work style. Give your younger employees an opportunity to join a variety of project teams, and provide them leadership roles within these groups. Beyond Millennials specifically, teams in general can be a practical vehicle to increase collaboration and build relationships among the different generations in your workforce.

Before jumping into the work at hand, allow at least one team meeting for members to get to know each other and the various work styles represented. You could use a personality assessment, such as Myers Briggs or DiSC, or a skills assessment, such as Gallup’s Strengths Finders, to build understanding and camaraderie.

Provide Mentorship Opportunities

Mentorship programs are another tool to build understanding between generations. Offer an open program where employees can apply to be mentors or mentees based on the skills or abilities they can impart and the knowledge they wish to gain.

Then match employees based on these needs. Mentoring relationships can be traditional (an older worker teaching a younger employee), reverse (a younger employee teaching an older one), or group (small pods of employees who want to learn various skills from each other).

Many organizations gravitate toward traditional mentorship models, but it’s important to allow Millennials to serve as mentors, too. Millennials believe they have a lot to offer, and they feel empowered when they are able to teach others what they know. Many Boomers find they benefit from a mentorship relationship with a younger worker; for example, older workers can learn new technological insight from younger workers, which helps to increase their task efficiency.

Champion Learning and Career Growth

Many Millennials like to learn. They have grown up discovering ideas from Google and YouTube, and their hunger for knowledge is insatiable. Offer opportunities for this generation to develop their knowledge and skills. Again, play to their strengths.

Allow Millennials to identify which strengths they’d like to optimize and which areas for growth they’d like to improve. Enroll them in professional education and offsite conference opportunities. Above all else, involve employees in their own learning and development plan from their first day on the job.

Ensure all employees are aware of the opportunities available to them to grow their careers within your organization. If employees voice interest in a particular open position or next rung on their career ladder, work with them to build steps toward specific career goals.

Investing in your Millennials’ professional development is always worth the effort and cost. You will retain engaged, loyal, and motivated employees who are eager to contribute your organization’s mission and bottom line.


About Ann Parker: Ann is manager of the Human Capital Community of Practice and the Senior Leaders & Executives Community of Practice at ATD. ​Prior to this position, she worked at ATD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for TD magazine, and most recently as a senior writer and editor. In this role, Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession's content.