The demographics of today’s modern workplace are changing. Fifty years ago, most individuals stayed within the same organization for the majority of their working career. A steady paycheck and their employer’s loyalty were often enough to motivate that generation of boomers to get out of bed each morning. However, a key question that many employers are asking today is: what motivates Millennials at work?
This new generation of employees is often more interested in achieving work-life balance and participating in workplace decision-making. Perhaps most importantly, they’re also interested in continuous learning at work and the mobility of their own career.
The old message of “put your head down and do a good job everyday” is a far cry from what motivates young, high potentials on your team.
To Understand Millennials, Dig Deeper
In order to recruit and retain Millennials, understanding what drives them at work is critical. However, uncovering these individual motivations is something that many managers struggle with.
Individuals tend to feel a sense of self-determination and inner drive to perform when three of their primary needs are satisfied at work. Understanding these three needs for any Millennial employee is key to understanding what will naturally motivate them to perform within their job:
Belongingness – the extent to which a person feels a sense of connectedness and acceptance by being part of a larger team
Self-esteem – the degree to which a person feels like what they do at work has impact and is valued by others and the organization
Autonomy – the extent to which a person has independence in how they schedule work and go about completing tasks at work
"Individuals tend to feel a sense of self-determination and inner drive to perform when three of their primary needs are satisfied at work: belongingness, self-esteem, and autonomy. Understanding these three needs for any Millennial employee is key to understanding what will naturally motivate them to perform within their job."
Why Incentives Backfire For Millennials
Rather than do the necessary work to better understand what makes each person on a team tick, managers often turn toward extrinsic rewards to drive performance, including bonuses and promotional opportunities.
While extrinsic rewards are valued by Millennials, they are also interested in working in organizations that make active attempts to fulfill the needs noted above.
What Motivates Millennials At Work
When employers rely solely on extrinsic rewards to motivate, they often unknowingly thwart the basic need for autonomy at work. Put differently, a reliance on extrinsic rewards often undermines Millennials’ intrinsic desire to perform well on tasks by creating a perception that the organization is trying to control them.
Instead, don’t reward Millennials for hitting specific performance targets; reward them periodically for doing a good job. The latter approach signals to the employee that their work is valued, thus fulfilling their need for self-esteem and promoting their intrinsic motivation to do great work.
Christian Thoroughgood, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about him here!