Let the government teach you a lesson about millennials

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

It's a pretty good sign that an issue is becoming more prevalent when the government releases a report on it. It's an even better sign when that report comes in the middle of a McKnight's webinar on the same topic.

We've talked about the issue of recruiting and hiring millennials before, and the “challenges” that come with it. But the number of millennials in the workforce — those roughly between ages 18 and 35, depending on whom you ask — is growing rapidly, and so are employers' concerns about tuning in with their prospective employees needs and wants.

Enter the Government Accountability Office, with its report “Lessons Learned for Engaging Millennials and Other Age Groups.”

The stars in the workforce-strategy universe must have aligned on Thursday, because the report dropped around the same time that we kicked off a webcast on hiring and retaining millennial workers. (Miss the live webcast? You can revisit it here.) Based on the questions we received during the event, the millennial issue is one that providers are certainly paying attention to — and now we know the government is as well.

While the GAO's report focuses on the challenges younger employees pose to the federal workforce, there are some key lessons on recruitment and retention that could be useful to any employer.  

The GAO report used a metric called the Employee Engagement Index to rank how engaged employees were in their jobs, and the level of purpose and commitment they felt toward their employer and its mission. Millennials as a whole ranked less than one percentage point lower than non-millennial workers, a positive sign for employers who may view the age group as a whole other species.

In general, millennial employees are driven and engaged by a lot of the same aspects that appeal to non-millennials, according to the report.

The GAO's survey found that the strongest driver of employee engagement across the federal workforce was constructive performance conversations, followed by career development and training. In short, employees want to know how they can do their jobs better, and then have access to tools and opportunities to turn their supervisors' suggestions into action.

“What matters most in improving engagement levels across all age groups is valuing employees — that is, an authentic focus on their performance, career development, and inclusion and involvement in decisions affecting their work,” the report reads.

If you think that statement clashes a bit with the advice on millennial employees that we've heard from experts so far, I agree. If it were that simple, we wouldn't need webinars and blogs on the issue. But the key here isn't what employees want from their jobs — it's how they want it.

The training opportunities that work for your older workers may not appeal to the younger generation, and the way you give feedback to long-time employees may not be as effective for newer, younger workers. Unfortunately there's no easy, one-size-fits-all way to gauge what will work for your staff. But according to the GAO report, supervisors do have one pre-existing tool at their disposal: their millennial employees' respect.

Millennials on average think highly of their supervisors, a relationship that's an “important aspect of employee engagement,” the report found. Employees' confidence, trust and respect for their supervisor, along with the supervisors' support for employees' development, all add up to engaged, content workers.

That advice doesn't have to be specific to only millennial workers either — there's a reason these “lessons” from the GAO came with the “... and other age groups” label.

Millennial workers don't have to be viewed as an exotic species that speaks a foreign language (although anyone who's heard the phrase “YOLO” might beg to differ). Their priorities and culture may be different, but the basics of achieving employee engagement — a good employee/supervisor relationship, feedback on performance, and the tools to improve — are universal. It just might take a more creative approach to make them effective.

Follow hard-working millennial Emily Mongan @emmongan.



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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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