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You Might Be Getting It All Wrong with Your Millennial Employees

Motivating young workers is easier than you think.




“I CAN’T COME IN to cover someone’s shift today because I want to maintain my work/life balance,” said the 20-something employee to his boss. The owner didn’t like this at all.

“What do I do to motivate these millennials?” he fumed after hanging up the phone.

Well, here’s what this millennial has to say.

First, and this may sound silly, but stop calling your younger employees millennials. Whether you like it or not, most 20- to 30-somethings hate being clumped in this term. As owners, the worst thing we can do to customers is profile them before we know them. The same is true of employees.

Second is simply listen. The line the employee used in the example above may come across poorly. “Work/life balance!?” we owners say. “What kind of mumbo jumbo is that? I pay your mortgage and childcare for goodness’ sake! Be grateful you have a job!”

But as owners and managers, if we take a beat and consider what the employee said we might discover the Holy Grail of motivation.


While we may think giving employees more money, better commissions and a prestigious GIA education is generous of us, our employees may surprisingly not care about any of that. Maybe what they would rather have instead is flex scheduling, longer vacations and leadership summit training.

When employees receive a benefit they don’t care about in the first place, the only benefit it provides is to make owners feel better about themselves.

Psychology Today revealed the top motivating factors for employees. Guess what – money didn’t even make the top five. Education, benefits packages and bonuses didn’t even come close to the list. Being recognized and encouraged in the workplace, however, made the top three and perhaps with good reason.

So maybe work/life balance is exactly what you should give them. How can you know? Just ask, “What motivates you?” Find out what they care about and turn it into a benefit.

Maybe a nice maternity/paternity leave package means more than a 20 percent raise (and could save you a bundle in the long run). Or giving 10 hours paid leave for volunteer work instead of greater commissions would be motivating. Ask your team members, individually, what they care about and respond accordingly.

A few months ago, I felt myself getting burnt out at work. Then it hit me: What I wanted most was to spend more time with my wife, whose work schedule doesn’t always jive with mine. So I started coming in two hours early twice a week, and I left early those days. Sure it caused a few waves at first, but after some time, everyone was happier. I was turning out better work, and the time I got with my wife was better than any raise I could have given myself.


Remember, if you care for the culture of your store, you’ll create a culture that cares.

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