Top 5 Ways to Disengage Your Millennial Employees

Yesterday, I posted an overview of the characteristics and values of the Millennial Generation, and I began to point to some management and leadership practices that both engage, and disengage, Gen Y employees. I made the argument there, and I will continue to do so, that the employees in this age group are not so much entitled as they are asking that we become the leaders and organizations we should be in the first place. For example, is it really entitled for an employee to want her manager explain to me why she is working on a task so that her work has purpose and meaning? Is an employee really asking too much if they need regular feedback and some positive reinforcement so that he feels secure and safe at work? Is an employee really spoiled if they think that, if they worked 60 hours already this week, that allowing me on a case by case basis to go home a bit early on Friday afternoon would be a good thing? I don’t think that is entitled or spoiled. That’s what great leaders and great organizations do, and employees of all generations love working for companies that engage their employees this way.

Today, I would like to offer five ways that I’ve seen managers and organizations disengage their millennial employees. If you are doing one of these, you can begin to transform your relationship with your Gen Y employees and keep them around longer if you do the opposite of these. Here are 5 ways to disengage them:

1. Don’t take time to provide regular feedback or communicate appreciation individually to an employee. Some research has shown that Gen Y employees need some kind of positive feedback 6-10 times per day. If you are struggling to give it once per year, don’t be surprised if your Gen Y employees feel underappreciated. I guarantee they are searching for jobs on Monster.com and LinkedIn. Try this: Put five pennies in your right pocket every day, and put one of those pennies in your left pocket every time you pay a compliment or say “thank you” personally to an employee. Make it your goal to transfer all five pennies from right to left every business day. A “group hug” or “good job everyone” at the end of the day is not enough. Individual and specific appreciation is what is appreciated — remember, authenticity matters most to this generation.

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2. Insist that your 10 year old computers, green screens and Windows 98 should be acceptable to your employees since they still get the job done. This is the connected generation. Gen Y employees value few other things like they do speedy and up to date technology, and they don’t mind paying big bucks to update rather recent technology (like paying for an iPhone 5 when they already have an iPhone 4s). Failure to update your technology just because “you can make do” when you also are experiencing favorable economic returns communicates to employees that you are cheap, stingy or just don’t “get” technology. More importantly, it communicates the same thing to your customers. If your technology is not up to date (meaning, that you still haven’t thought of how to use texting, an iPad, social media, or apps) you probably are missing out on significant ways to connect to your customers and your employees. Old computers and software become symbols of more significant perceived realities, so don’t let them become a symbol.

Communication always is the issue that employees identify as lacking in their workplace. If the business is closed for a snow storm or for an holiday, they find out after they already arrive at work. If there is a departmental meeting at 3, they find out an hour later. If there is a training class this Friday, they find out an hour before the class. When you update your technology, technology can eliminate these problems and be your friend. People need communications in diverse formats. Simply sending one email or writing one memo is not enough. Use text messaging to send out urgent updates. We read text messages. Rather than just issue a memo, send out an email and a text. Create a “members only” Facebook group page to communicate vital information. Better yet, create an app with notifications of important news.

3. Create organizational environments where competition and survival of the fittest is the modus operandi. A little healthy competition is a good thing, but your work place should not be boot camp or “American Idol.” Millennial employees thrive where there is team work, support, and group accomplishment. Remember, they value safety and security, so incentives and environments that nurture that feeling also nurture Gen Y employees.

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4. Cut off all Internet access to Facebook, Twitter and social networking sites except for business purposes. For Millennials, Facebook is not a fun hobby for the leisure hours. It is their primary means of communication. It is their address and contact book. It is how many of them stay in touch with family and friends. For you, it may seem like a waste of time, or something to be done at home. For them, it’s their life line. The equivalent for you would be telling you that you can’t have access to email because you might get an email from someone you are dating or from a personal friend during the day, so you can’t have access at all. If someone is looking at porn at work, fire them. If they are abusing access and not getting the results you want, speak to them or terminate them. But don’t communicate that you don’t trust employees to get the job done by cutting off their communications. I promise they will work for you harder and longer if you permit access. They will disengage and try to get home as quickly as possible if you don’t. (I admit that this may not apply to hourly employees.)

5. Stay in your office all day and be invisible to your employees and customers. Corporate environments have become increasingly demanding, particularly with the cascade of emails and the mountain of reports that must be completed. Managers naturally are tempted to stay in their office to complete all of this work staring at them. The problem is that your employees, particularly the Millennial ones, want to see you and speak with you regularly. They need visible managers because they had visible, nurturing, near by parents. When you don’t check in a few times a day, a Gen Y employee feels lost or disconnected from you. Read Touch Points by Campbell Soup CEO Douglas Conant and start making it a practice to walk around at least 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and 15 minutes before the end of the day. The dividends will be huge.

Whew! Millennials are so demanding and spoiled, aren’t they? Perhaps. Or perhaps they are just asking us to be who we should be for every employee. Take a poll. Your other employees agree with the Millennials. The Millennials just will insist on it, and that’s the difference. Let Millennials help you create a workplace that works for everyone.

Next in this series … Serving the Millennial. Tips for customer service and sales to the Gen Y market.

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