How to Motivate Young Professionals

A cursory google of “How to Motivate Young Employees” pumps out a seemingly infinite number of listicles on how to relate to and influence young professionals. As many managers have learned, interacting with a generation that has grown up using Google as a verb, and reads the term listicle without a second glance can be frustrating.
It is not uncommon to hear managers lamenting Gen Y employees who appear unprofessional and expect praise and promotions without putting in the work. It is also not uncommon to hear Gen Y employees griping about not being challenged and feeling unheard at the office. How can a manager harness the potential of these employees, and motivate them in a way that meets the needs of both the organization and the employee?

The Millenial generation, also called Generation Y, is the largest cohort since the Baby Boomers, and the subject of numerous studies, articles and the occasional joke. A picture of the stereotypical Gen Y employee depicts an entitled individual with a short attention span looking to be the CEO, today – but not before grabbing that non-fat extra-whip triple-shot latte and checking their cell phone umpteen times.

A more forgiving and more accurate depiction would emphasize that young professionals often have lofty long-term goals, which many will keep in mind when starting any entry-level position. These employees often have higher expectations for an employer’s involvement in professional development, education and on the job learning than other generations. Most importantly, this generation tends to thrive on feedback and being involved in decisions.

Take advantage of any perceived generational weaknesses, and use them to your organization’s advantage. Diversity is lauded as a way to improve productivity and creativity when problem solving, and generational diversity is one component of that. A young employee could appear distracted by social media and technology, but have excellent insights on how to turn around the company’s less than stellar social media presence.

Some employers express concerns about the high expectations this generation of young professionals has for the workplace. Young professionals often pursue the opportunity to develop a mentorship relationship and look for regular feedback from their employers. Mentorship comes in many forms, and does not require a full time commitment to be available to the employee. As an employer, being a mentor means taking an interest in the employee’s professional development and goals, leading by example and embracing teachable moments.

The opportunity for advancement or increased responsibility is an obvious motivator for this group of individuals, and providing direction towards that path provides a connection between his or her ultimate career goals, and the work they are doing now. If possible, indulging in the young employee’s desire to be involved at a high level of the organization by sharing corporate goals and strategic direction can increase their sense of involvement.

Understand that the Millenial and Gen Y workforce is just as diverse as the Gen X and Baby Boomers that came before them. In order to keep your employee motivated, know your corporate culture, and know what you are looking for in an employee. Not all workplaces can offer flex time, extensive involvement in high level decisions or frequent exposure to social media and new technology, and not all young professionals are looking for those things. Knowing an employee’s career goals and workplace expectations prior to hiring will enable you to develop better strategies for continued engagement.

The conclusion? There is no checklist that can help you determine how to motivate your millenial employee. The key to motivating young professionals is building a plan to align their goals for professional and personal development with the goals of your organization. Encouraging young employees and other employees looks very much the same, but time must be taken to understand the motivators that will appeal most to each diverse group.

Erin Sparrow belongs to the Generation Y cohort, and has been part of the Acumen team since May 2012. With the support of Acumen, she will be writing the Level I CFA exam in June 2015.