The Importance Of Employee Engagement To Millennials

The 7 Key Take-Aways: 

  • You can’t treat millennials the same as previous generations.
  • Increasing millennial engagement can act as a competitive advantage for businesses as the competition for top talent increases.
  • Pay is the primary factor for millennials choosing where to work. But it isn’t everything.
  • Millennials want a connection to something bigger, it is not enough to be a cog.
  • Millennials value being told how their contribution has genuinely made a difference.
  • Make sure millennials have access to opportunities to grow – especially their leadership skills.
  • Engaged Millennials Get Custom Feedback.

Millennials Have Come Of Age.

Many millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) are already in the positions to influence the fortunes of their businesses.

They are well educated, skilled in technology, self-confident and are impressive multi-taskers.

And by 2020, nearly half of the global workforce will be millennials.

That is just the natural progression as Baby Boomers begin to retire, but there’s a sinister problem lurking in the shadows:

Only 29% of millennials are engaged at work, 16% are actively disengaged, 55% are not engaged (Gallup).

Think this is just millennials moaning? How many times have you said or heard:

“You should just be glad you have a job!” Or “I don’t care how you feel about your job–just do it.”

This attitude is toxic. And wrong.

And before you go blaming millennials for the nth time, you should know how deep this problem runs: a staggering 87% of ALL employees worldwide are disengaged at work.


Engagement % worldwide - Employee engagement millennials


Breaking these numbers down further, 63% are not engaged, while 24% are actively disengaged. That’s pretty alarming and paints a bleak picture.

The real issue is that people aren’t happy with their jobs with many stating that they dislike going to work every day.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are two options on the table:

  1. Businesses can ignore the data and keep doing what they’re doing.
  2. Or they can reevaluate their traditional workplace and make changes to attract and retain millennial talent.

Why change you ask? Well besides wanting the best for your employees…

‘In businesses with highly engaged teams, profitability increased by 21%, sales productivity by 20%, and output quality by 40%.’ (Harvard).

Motivating, engaging, and retaining top performers will always be a managerial priority, but employers like you will have to carefully consider what strategies they use to cultivate and retain valuable millennial employees now and into the future.

We’ll take you through what engagement means to millennials and how best to cultivate a working environment that best suits this generation.

Generational Differences.

We’re focussing on this generation because this is where businesses have the most opportunity for change.

“What’s the big deal? I’ve been managing people for 20 years. People are people.”

If you wish to motivate and engage a multi-generational workforce, a one-size fits all approach will not work.

Generations think differently and technology has only helped widen this gap.

Old and young employees working together - employee engagement millennials

If you treat millennials like older generations of employees, they’ll likely have one foot out of your door – not because they aren’t capable of hard work, or feel entitled to instant C-level status.

It’s because they’re different. They grew up in a different world. If you can recognise those differences and learn to work with them, you’ll have a workforce with energy, passion and the tech-savvy to quickly take advantage of emerging tools.

Unfortunately, if you fail to recognise and act on those differences, expect it to impact your ability to attract talented millennials in the future.

Dissatisfied millennials are more willing than any previous generation to publicly express their grievances about your company. They share updates via their social media accounts and, importantly, via sites like Glassdoor (essentially a user-review site for employers).

Younger millennials, in particular, look at a company very closely before accepting a position.

They are checking out your ratings on Glassdoor and judging your social media to see what current and ex-employees are saying about you.

millennial using her laptop - employee engagement millennials

They’re investigating your company culture to make sure you’re a fit for them (and they’re a fit for you).

If a promising candidate is choosing between businesses offering similar salaries, other factors come into play. Understanding these factors will help employers attract and retain talent – especially younger millennials. 

Keeping Millennials Engaged.

Engagement has become more important than ever, and talent retention can act as a key competitive advantage for businesses as the competition for top talent increases.

How do you currently measure engagement?

With the high costs of employee turnover (peaking at up to 150% of the employee’s annual salary), when engagement and retention initiatives are done correctly they have a significant impact on any businesses.

Show Me The Money!

Before we get into anything else, let’s get the obvious out the way: competitive compensation helps.

Pay is the primary factor for millennials choosing where to work.

But it isn’t everything. It certainly won’t inspire loyalty long term.

In fact, millennials aren’t just interested in working their way up the ladder. They aren’t shy about making lateral career moves in the pursuit of happiness.

Personal goals must align with company goals.

Companies must explain how an employee’s work matters to their team, company, and society. Developing this motivational narrative is essential to meeting the expectations of millennials, gaining their loyalty and raising their productivity.

Don’t get this confused with tying their work to the bottom line. Millennials aren’t driven by making money for someone else:

“Where millennials feel their organisation puts financial performance before everything else, only 20% intend to stay for more than five years.” (Deloitte).

A 2015 study by the Education Advisory Board tells us that millennials will change jobs up to 20 times in their career, about twice as many as the baby boomer generation. They are not shy about moving around to find work that satisfies them.

Millennials want a connection to something bigger. It is not enough to be a cog in a wheel. It is not just about rewards. An engaged purpose creates that connection. Millennials are looking for workdays with meaning.

Millennials Crave Recognition

A lack of recognition is likely to result in employee turnover if not addressed.

It shouldn’t be mind-blowing to learn that people like getting a pat on the back for a job well done. But millennials crave deserved recognition more than any previous generation.

While millennials get a bad rap, more than 80% are willing to put in effort beyond what is generally expected to help their organisation be successful (Boston College).

But they value being told how their contribution has genuinely made a difference.

Grateful boss thanking employee - employee engagement millennials

Keep in mind that recognition means different things to different people.

For example, you might enjoy the limelight. You might want coworkers to hear your boss tell you what a good job you did. But others might not like that. Sometimes people are uncomfortable receiving praise in front of others.

Bosses need to get to know their employees and figure out how best to offer praise.

Tip: it’s perfectly OK to ask them “Hey, can I mention this thing you did well in front of the team?” before doing it.

Career Opportunities Are Vital

The most significant factor that millennials say influences their career decisions the most after salary is having opportunities for learning and developing – especially when it comes to their leadership skills.

‘43% of millennials envision leaving their jobs within two years’ (Deloitte).

And of that 43%…

71% are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed (Deloitte).

Nearly three-quarters of those wanting to leave feel this way because they can’t see how their leadership skills are developing.

Make sure millennials have access to opportunities to grow. This includes business development, challenging/interesting engagements and (if possible) international assignments. This will certainly help keep younger staff engaged and prevent your top talent having one foot out the door.

Engaged Millennials Get Custom Feedback

While millennials don’t want to work in a highly regimented and controlled environment, they understand the need for people to be held accountable for their actions and performance.

Whether positive or negative, feedback needs to be structured in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding. Feedback has to be clear and specific to be effective.

Feedback must also be offered in a way that millennials are receptive to.

To keep millennials engaged offer feedback without delay and often. If there’s something they need to improve, why wait until the yearly performance review.


While lucrative wages will always be important, other factors are just as critical for millennial employees. Ignoring or trivialising these needs will result in a disengaged workforce.

But one company cannot imitate the engagement practices or use the engagement variables of another to achieve success.

You have to understand the pulse of your employees and the drivers behind any disengagement. You have to understand YOUR people. You have to ask questions, listen and then, importantly, actually act on feedback.

Quarterly employee surveys are invaluable, offering insights, data and analytics. Knowledge is power when applied.

When you can measure something, you can improve it.

A short, totally confidential survey every three months is less time consuming than other methods of measuring engagement and the confidentiality guarantee ensures honest, open feedback.

By committing to your employees that you are listening, understanding engagement drivers and acting upon them, you will be better positioned to drive engagement, retain millennial workers and attract talent.


Related Posts
A high performing team rowing in one direction