What I Learned from 4 Millennials about Employee Engagement

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “What do I do about millennials?” I’d be a wealthy woman.


Everyday I have the privilege of speaking to C-level, HR and Talent & Development professionals across the US and Canada about their performance management needs.


And about half of the time millennials come up.


I’m almost as sick of hearing about millennials as they are of hearing about themselves.  (And I know this to be true because I’ve asked them.)


However, Millennials are our new, energetic and disruptive thinking talent.


Last week Performance Culture educated the learning and development world about how to develop a coaching culture at the 2017 ATD Conference in Atlanta, GA.


I love these opportunities to network and learn from other best of breed providers and see what new idea or product might shake up our industry next.


After a long day of working our booth and chatting with professionals from all over the globe, we headed back to the hotel and stopped at the bar first to unwind.


Within a few minutes a group of four young women came in to apparently do the same.  I immediately spotted them because of their matching shirts – and realized they all work for a competitor.


My next observation was that these women were also millennials.  Ah.  Now was my chance.


I’ve wanted to know more about this particular competitor’s culture, and the company itself, for some time, and what luck I had with being able to also gain this information from millennials’ perspective.


I seized my opportunity and walked over and asked if I could join them for a drink.


These sweet women turned out to be some of the nicest, most genuine ladies I’ve met.  And what’s more – I could tell these were Star employees.  One lady had been at the conference since Thursday overseeing their booth construction, caring intensely about every detail.  AND she chose to keep supporting her team by working in the booth during the show when she could have simply relaxed for a few days until tear down.  Engaged employee for sure.


As we worked through introductions, I asked deeper questions about their work and their backgrounds.  It became evident that they truly loved their jobs and the company they worked for.  Huh.


Now I could ask the really important question – “Why do you like working there so much?”


What came next was not all that surprising, but the lack of a particular answer was.  I’m going to save that nugget for last.


The first woman explained how their company truly valued work-life balance, and spoke about the internal and external amenities that helped them decompress and recharge.  All things you’ve heard and would expect.  One particular amenity I found interesting was how much they liked their “snack wall.”  They pointed to the hotel wall where a few rows of chips and bars sat.  “That’s it?”  I thought.  “What an inexpensive way to engage millennials.”


But there was more.


Another lady spoke about their training, and how comprehensive it was when they were onboarded.  She continued, “They really give us the tools to be successful.”  This might not sound earth shattering, but for young professionals right out of college, they need and want all the training they can get.  Here’s the fact too many companies miss – millennials actually want to do an outstanding job for you.  They desperately want to be successful, and they don’t want to feel like they’re on their own.  Come alongside them, invest in them and then watch what they can do.


Another lady spoke about her short stint at a prior company, and how horrible the experience was.  She’s even more grateful for this company who she felt really valued her as a person and believed she could be successful.


Stories continued how their CEO addresses the company on a regular basis, keeping them informed of the company’s vision and exciting them about where the company is headed.  He then caps off the message by stating, “Now meet me out on the beach!”  (They have a company “Beach Day” where they get to bond and relax, and the CEO himself apparently joins them.)


The stories and examples continued, but again I noticed the glaring lack of one particular statement I expected:  “They pay us well.”


In fact, pay or financial incentives NEVER came up.


We’ve heard that “non-financial incentives in the workplace continually rank higher than financial incentives when engaging employees, but we expect to still hear that money is what really counts.”*


My group of four millennials is certainly not a scientific study, but I believe it is noteworthy that not one comment was made about pay.


Millennial employees want simple things, but companies continue to make this hard.  Why?  “Nonfinancial ways to motivate people do, on the whole, require more time and commitment from senior managers. One HR director states that managers tend to ‘hide’ in their offices.  This lack of interaction between managers and their people creates a highly damaging void that saps employee engagement.”*


So where do companies begin to engage Star Employees, and attract more of them?


Simply start somewhere.  Do something about one thing instead of nothing about everything.


Ask employees what motivates them, and then do something about one of those items.  Be a caring leader.  Check in with employees, more than once a year, even once a quarter.  Performance Culture Check-ins are a great way to start.


Financial incentives will always have a place in business.  But organizations that begin to shift more resources towards valuing and rewarding employees on a more personal level, may reap the benefits 10-fold when it comes to achieving higher employee engagement and satisfaction.





  1. Linda Blumenfeld
    June 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    I totally feel that Melenials get taken advantage of in the current working world but they are
    much more lazar focused than managers are aware of.
    They have lost communicarion with employees and they are not always shown and taught
    company policies.

    I have raised two bright melennials.
    A daughter and a son.

  2. Linda Blumenfeld
    June 1, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Communication daily and being taught policies are a major problem.
    These millennials are very bright adults in 2017.

  3. Travis Gibbs
    June 20, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Completely agree. I have had a great experience with millennials. I have 5 millennials, 2 xers, and 2 boomers on my team. I find the millennials to be inquisitive and focused on delivering value. I also find them nice and willing to help, even the boomers.

  4. nora
    January 28, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    very focused. raised one my son

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