Human Resources Leadership

How to keep Millennials motivated in the workplace: What do Millennials want?

Each generation is a bit different. They have distinct expectations, priorities, cultural norms, levels of education, family status, and these issues, among others, affect the employment trends. It’s because shared generational memories of key events and experiences contribute to shaping attitudes and values. That’s why if you describe the differences between these groups, you can uncover common generational differences. I know that the term “generations” seems to be a generalization. Nevertheless, it reveals trends useful for organizations. 

Millennials are classified as people born between 1981 and 1996. They are the first digitally-native generation to enter the workplace, and they’re also the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. It’s expected that by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be classified as millennials.

It’s particularly important to understand and address generational differences and tensions, because this tech-savvy generation is becoming one of the most powerful generations of workers. Their technical skills are in high demand around the world, thanks to which they shape the way current organizations operate. They are able to influence their rewards, working standards, and practices in the workplace. That’s why millennials may also very well represent one of the biggest challenges companies face. 

Purpose, not just a paycheck

Baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, didn’t focus much on the purpose of their work. The post-World War II population didn’t necessarily strive for meaning in their jobs. They cared mostly about the remuneration, because their focus was on families and communities. Monetary rewards were their most favorite form of motivation. And if that need was met, they were loyal, work-centered employees. These people currently hold the positions of power, such as company leaders and executives.

For millennials, compensation is important, but it’s not their main drive any more. Of course, they need to earn enough to satisfy their needs, but the emphasis has switched from a paycheck to a purpose. Millennials need their jobs to mean something. This is a generation that demands their 40-hour-a-week jobs be more than just a place to work. They’re driven by opportunities to provide community service, invent new things, and leave their mark in the world. That’s why companies need to take other matters into account, that is not only monetary compensation but also all the things that give meaning to the workplace. You may have noticed that there is a lot of pressure on recruiters to emphasize how interesting and developing company tasks are. Meaningful projects inspire millennials to work hard. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is merely a simplification of a more complex aspect. It’s not like only millennials care about the purpose of their work. They are not that unique. As Sjoerd Gehring, vice president of talent acquisition and people experience at Johnson & Johnson, recently said: 

“In fact, 70 percent of U.S. adults say it is important to them that their actions help make a positive difference in the world.”

So, maybe millennials are the first generation in modern history that developed a purpose-driven life much quicker than their predecessors. And there is a good chance that this attitude will be strengthened, and they will become even more connected to purpose as they age. German psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, points to a distinct shift in identity around the age of 40. According to his Stages of Psychosocial Development Theory, from the age of 18 to 40 our identity is built on our relationships, particularly on finding a healthy, intimate relationship. After 40, we move towards generativity, and begin associating our sense of self with what and how we contribute to the world.

Development, not just job satisfaction

According to Gallup [1], most millennials don’t care about fancy latte machines, ping pong tables, and fresh fruit which companies offer to create job satisfaction. Even though such amenities can increase the quality of the work environment, they don’t improve job satisfaction. Millennials won’t enjoy their job simply because they can drink a cup of coffee at work. Purpose and development are the things that drive this generation. The report [1] reveals that 59% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. Comparatively, only 41% of baby boomers say the same about such opportunities. 

Even bigger differences are exposed when we take a look at career growth. An impressive 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” in their work life as important. In comparison, only 69% of other generations say the same. 

Professional and career growth

  • 87%


  • 69%


Millennials are motivated by concrete rewards. They’re ambitious and they want to see the results of their hard work, whether it is a successful project or personal promotion. They’re content with selling their skills, and they are aware of their value in the market. That’s why they want to constantly improve their skills and achieve successes. They expect to have clear goals, motivating milestones, and relevant payoffs. 

Coaches, not just bosses

Nobody likes to be bossed around. That is especially true for millennials. They have different expectations from their bosses. They no longer want to conform to an old-style chain of command and control management. Instead, they want their bosses to be their coaches who help them develop their skills and allow them to achieve outstanding results. It’s important for millennials to be treated as people first, and as employees second. Gallup’s Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, states: 

“Millennials don’t want bosses – they want coaches. The role of an old-style boss is command and control. Millennials care about having managers who can coach them… who help them understand and build their strengths.”

The difference between an old-style and a modern boss is in the mindset, and the way they supervise their subordinates. Shifting from a traditional hierarchical management approach to a team-based, collaborative model requires different skills from leaders. And not everyone can handle it, because it demands letting go of top-down control. Instead, a leader should act as a coach who is not a know-it-all, and focuses on building a culture based on openness and transparency.

Currently, it is believed that a leader should be regarded as a person who assigns you a task, but doesn’t need to explain how to carry it out. A leader should give you a direction and enable you to achieve it, but not micromanage. Millennials expect freedom and, unlike their parents’ generation, they find flexibility extremely important. Flexible schedules, time off, and embracing the latest technology to communicate are the best examples of their expectations. They want to be rewarded for results rather than the number of hours. In other words, they want trust and respect more than the previous generations.

Continuous conversations, not just annual reviews

The way millennials communicate with their peers affects their expectations at work as well. Being active on various social media platforms and spending a considerable amount of time online have an impact on the way they interact. They are used to real-time conversations. They text, tweet, post, and they get almost an instant response this way. That’s in contrast to what traditional organizations offer – annual reviews, which, in fact, no longer work for millennials. They want immediate feedback, which they can respond well to. Clear directions and transparency are what they look for.

It means that they also like to shine when you provide them with verbal acknowledgement and public recognition. Millennials want to be recognized for their hard work. Working simply for the sake of work is no longer an option for this generation, which was reared to seek instant gratification. They want to be useful, and they want their work to carry plenty of meaning.

And that can be the reason for millennials’ “job hopping”. They tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures, and turned off by information silos. Once they find the culture in a company is poor, they miss constant feedback, and they are not as loyal as boomers. In most cases, they have no problem jumping from one organization to another. Continuous feedback and good organizational culture are a must-have for them.

Focus on strengths, not just weaknesses

Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses – they want to develop their strengths, and according to Gallup [1], weaknesses never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely. This discovery switches the focus from weaknesses to strengths. Of course, it doesn’t mean that companies should completely ignore weaknesses, but rather, minimize them and put more focus on maximizing strengths. More than ever in the history of corporate culture, employees are asking:

“Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution? Does this organization give me the chance to do what I do best every day?”

And again, this shows that millennials are mostly attracted to employers who offer excellent training and development programs. Even though an opportunity to learn and grow is one of the top three factors in retaining millennials, only one-third of millennials strongly agree that their most recent learning opportunity at work was “well worth” their time. A chance to work with strong coaches and mentors is the top benefit they expect from a company. 

It’s more than just a job

According to a study conducted by Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter [2], 94% of 1,000 professionals put in 50+ hours a week, and nearly half that group put in more than 65 hours a week. That doesn’t include the time spent on call outside the office, such as replying to an email or answering a call from a colleague. While some believe such an approach is sometimes necessary, all know that for sure sooner or later this will negatively affect the work-life balance. Once we pass a certain threshold of working hours, our sleep patterns deteriorate, we feel depressed, we may have a harder time communicating with people. And millennials, as people having a great deal of knowledge, are aware of it.

This is a generation of people who recognize the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle, and balancing personal and social priorities with professional ones. They don’t want to sacrifice their health for the sake of a job, like the previous generations did. Millennials challenge the concept of traditional office life. They care about stress management, wearable devices, mental health support, and staying healthy. Only when an employer satisfies their work-life balance, will they able to contribute fully to their organization. That’s why it is essential for employers to develop benefit programs that address what is most important to millennials – flexibility, family, health, and a sense of purpose.

Extensive use of technology means that the line between work and home has become increasingly blurred. For millennials, work-life balance and personal development are more important than financial rewards. A job is no longer just a job or a means to satisfy their financial needs. It’s their life. They value the brand of their employer. They prefer to choose companies that they can identify with because of high-quality products or services. That’s why it’s important for employers, now more than ever, to brand themselves well to attract top talents in the job market.


[1] Gallup Inc. (2016). How Millennials Want to Work and Live.

[2] Perlow, Leslie & Porter, Jessica. (2009). Making Time off Predictable—and Required. Harvard business review. 87. 102-9, 142.