Millennials in the Workplace: Motivations and Learning Styles

🕑 4 minutes read | Mar 01 2022 | By Becky Gendron

Millennials, also known as Gen Y’s, make up the largest group of employees, and by 2025, their numbers will increase to 75% of the global workforce. This unique generation has different priorities, motivations, and career goals. Employers can begin identifying cultural and operational changes that could satisfy these unique skills, motivations, and professional development needs to cultivate a culture that inspires and nurtures the team while driving company strategic goals.

To best understand this new generation at work, it’s important to first recognize their motivations and how they best operate.

Millennial Traits

This new generation is known for their passion for learning, their ability to change, and their native digital skills. Millennials, and certainly Gen Z’s, are one of the most adaptive and free-thinking generations. They came of age in a highly technological world, born to the hardworking baby boomers. Their personalities are as unique as any generation before them.

  • Strong Native Technology Skills: A recent survey found 85% of these digital natives use multiple collaboration and sharing platforms. Millennials use Slack (21%) and Zoom (20%) more often than Gen X (9% and 11%) and Baby Boomers (5% and 8%), for example. Millennials find that technology is irreplaceable in their personal lives and is essential for doing their jobs.
  • Agile and Open to Change: Multi-tasking lends itself to agility in the workplace for this younger generation. Changing gears and learning new skills to adapt leads to efficient decision-making and the ability to adjust in changing environments.
  • Challengers of the Traditional Hierarchy: Millennials value open communication, feedback, and criticism. Being able to contribute and share feedback at all levels of the organization creates purpose in their work and provides context for what they are being asked to accomplish and why.
  • Value Teamwork and Collaboration: Younger staff also value collaboration and teamwork and are more likely than others to seek out connections in a virtual workplace. Millennials are also more likely than older generations to report that using their preferred collaboration platform improved their productivity.
  • Prefer Flexibility: This generation is less willing to sacrifice their personal time than previous generations. Flexible work hours, generous vacation time, and remote options are just a few of the ways that employers can communicate their commitment to a work/life balance.

Millennial Motivations

Many millennials are wired to want frequent feedback and instant gratification. Pay raises, annual recognition meetings are appreciated, but these methods could lack the frequency needed to motivate Gen X and Y’s. Instead, their accomplishments should be recognized sooner and their opportunities for upward mobility should be attainable and clearly defined.

  • Timely Feedback and Recognition: Millennials like to feel that the work they do is important and has an impact. Leaders should be prepared to be specific with their positive (and negative) feedback and do it frequently.
  • Instant Gratification: Use reward systems and set realistic goals that are short-term.
  • Transparency and Authenticity: Honesty, openness, and relatability are attractive to Gen X and Y’s. This creates purpose in the workplace, allows them to have a relationship with leaders, and improves job satisfaction.
  • Career Growth Opportunities: Millennials look for opportunities to learn and grow. Organizations that create an environment that supports internal mobility and career growth will be better able to motivate—and retain—their employees. The value of supporting career growth for current employees must not be underestimated. LinkedIn research shows that when employees move into new jobs internally, they’re 3.5 times more likely to be engaged with their jobs compared to employees who stay in their current positions.

Millennial Learning Styles

This next-generation values learning that is self-directed and flexible. Mobile and microlearning are flexible and digestible in a format they have come to appreciate. The gamification techniques provide instant feedback and gratification. For this group, however, it’s especially important to ensure that training materials are directly relevant to the work being performed.

  • Provide Many Opportunities for Learning: Millennials love to learn. Provide a variety of training programs along with recognition and rewards for doing so. This love of learning translates into agility and professional growth, a win-win for everyone involved.
  • Diversity and Collaboration: Millennials are team-oriented and have a deep appreciation for diversity and inclusion. Organizations should implement diversity programs and promote them to new hires. Create opportunities to collaborate with cross-functional teams and build relationships with colleagues.
  • A Mix of Virtual and In-Person Learning Experiences: Despite the popularity of virtual self-led training, it’s also important to note that in-person training remains important. Learning programs should blend virtual learning with instructor-led, classroom-based training.
  • On-the-Job Learning: Learning by doing is an essential part of training that provides context and practice into the skills they are learning. It doesn’t just give employees a chance to learn from their mistakes, it also gives them valuable time to practice, real-time with people. This is critical to skill retention and helps them to be more adaptable and handle change better in the future.

A New Generation for a New Era

Each generation is unique and are invaluable assets that organizations must continue to nurture and develop for the well-being of their staff and the growth of the business. Understanding what challenges, motivates, and satisfies millennials and Gen Z’s is vital as this fastest-growing generation emerges in the workplace.

The millennials’ ease with technology and change can be leveraged to keep companies nimble. Nurturing their professional development priorities, work/life balance, and open communication channels are some of the ways to motivate this new generation. As a leader of this modern workforce, keep a focus on the advantages of this new generation and the competitive edge it gives you.

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