March 2018 Motivate On The Cover

Bridging the Generation Gap

Written By: John Spence, international speaker and business consultant

The millennials are just like, and completely unlike, every other generation.  

Every generation is unique, they have grown up with distinct life experiences, different major events that impacted their view of the world, new technologies and social, economic and political realities that shape their values and attitudes. And like every other generation, the generation before them (the baby boomers in this case) think the younger generation is lazy, self-absorbed and has self-entitlement issues. I’m painting this with a very broad brush, but I think you will see similarities between how older generations have always viewed the younger generation coming up behind them. 

In the millennial generation we have some of the most highly educated, technically sophisticated and socially minded young professionals in history.

They bring to the workforce tremendous skills and potential, as well as a substantially different way of approaching work. Climbing the corporate ladder, for most of them, is not their focus in life; they want to invest their time and energy in making a difference. Yes, they want to have a good career, and make money, but they don’t want to sacrifice their life to simply trying to get ahead financially. They want to work on something that is important and meaningful to them. 

Plenty of businesses are struggling with how to engage and motivate millennials. This problem is made even more difficult by the fact that in many organizations today there are five generations working under the same roof. As a leader, how do you encourage and coach people with such a diverse set of ideas about what work means to them? Here are some of the things I found that are universal drivers of employee engagement, no matter what generation they come from. 

  • Being treated with dignity and respect
  • Appreciation for their work and contribution to the company
  • Belongingness, a feeling that people want them in the organization
  • Fairness, they are treated equally and their voice will be heard
  • Challenging/meaningful work
  • Competent colleagues
  • A fun place to work with a positive culture
  • The opportunity to grow and learn
  • Confidence that the company is strong and stable
  • Clear communication/expectations
  • Work for a leader they respect and admire

The most important thing from the entire list is the final element, working for a leader they respect and admire. Research shows that 88 percent of people that quit their job, do not quit the company, the workload, the hours, or the pay. They quit their idiot boss. Also, you’ll notice pay is not on this list. If you pay someone 10 percent above or below what they would make to do the same job anyplace else, pay comes off the table as a major motivator. So, it is important to note that everything I’ve listed here is what I call, “atmosphere issues” because they don’t cost any additional money. You can flood your organization with every single one of these elements without having to add any new expenses to the budget. What it does cost though, is serious commitment from a leadership team to build the kind of organization that attracts top young talent. 

Another very important thing to the young professionals entering the workforce today is work-life balance, or as people are calling it now, “work-life integration.” I was born in 1964, so I’m on the tail end of the baby boomers. When I started work, when your boss said, “jump” you replied, “how high, sir?” It was all men and it was all command-and-control. Business leaders need to recognize the employees entering the workforce today are not going to be blindly loyal to the organization. They have other priorities in their lives, such as friends, hobbies, volunteering and other things that are just as important, if not more important to them, as their job. Those who are highly competent know they have options, they can get another job someplace else tomorrow if they don’t like the place they are working in today. 

You can complain about how some of the young professionals today think about work, but if you want to get the best people you possibly can on your team, you’re going to need to change the way you think about how to motivate, inspire and engage today’s super talented young professionals.


JOHN SPENCE has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success.


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