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Are Millennials The Most Engaged Generation?

Our conventional wisdom about millennials is often proven false when we look at the research. While millennials get a reputation in the media for being lazy or noncommittal, research from Modern Survey shows that Gen Y is actually the most engaged generation in the American workforce. 18% of Millennials are fully engaged at work (compared to just 12 or 13% of Gen X and Baby Boomers).

Gen Y is actually the most engaged generation in the American workforce.

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People also assume that millennials are vastly different than any previous generation. The truth: They’re not. Millennials do expect some different things out of work, but the differences in generation are slight and nuanced. What you need to know: Millennials are looking for frequent feedback, they value career development and they have a different perspective about tenure at an organization.

First, millennials expect feedback at work — and they prefer regular, daily feedback from their managers over an annual review. This may fall outside of some managers’ comfort zones, but the result is a better-equipped and more confident workforce. The days of the annual employee review are numbered.

Chad Estis leads the sales organization at the Dallas Cowboys. He has built trust with his team by giving employees honest feedback. “If we say we’re committed to helping our people, we have to give them constructive feedback. Otherwise, we’re doing them a disservice,” he says.

In a world that is constantly changing, more frequent feedback is good for everyone. At Adobe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources Donna Morris saw that annual performance reviews weren’t resulting in improved business goals; they actually were hurting the company. Because employees only heard feedback from their managers once a year, there was often a negative “hangover” after the review period. So, Adobe dumped the formal annual review and started encouraging people to set expectations for every year, get feedback on a regular basis, and create a plan for growth and development. The results: lower voluntary attrition and happier employees.


Second, millennials value career development. They want to work for a company that invests in them and supports continuous learning. Aaron Williams, who has managed teams at major technology companies including HP, feels encouraged by the youngest employees and students he’s meeting today. He’s meeting lifelong students. “In the past, going into sales was a Plan B,” he says. “Most people got a degree in something else. The college students I’m meeting now decided a year or two ago that they’re going into sales. They’re studying it the same way chemistry majors study chemistry. They’re pursuing it with purpose.”

Millennials want to work for a company that invests in them and supports continuous learning.

Once they’re on the job, Gen Y employees keep looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and become more informed. Organizations that encourage an environment of continuous learning (for employees of every generation) will come out on top.

Finally, when it comes to tenure, millennials may report that they plan on staying at an organization for “a long time,” but to millennials, “a long time” may be two years or less. Leaders should consider employees’ perspectives, instead of counting them out as disloyal.

Millennial employees are engaged, and they have a strong desire to learn, grow and contribute. Leaders have an opportunity to embrace Gen Y, help them discover and use their strengths, while also learning from them at the same time. Leaders who follow that advice will end up gaining a lot more contribution and expand their own perspective.

Understanding different generations at work is one of the most pressing diversity issues we face. Great leaders have an opportunity to rise above the stereotypes and facilitate meaningful conversations about what all employees expect from work — which leads to improved understanding, collaboration and results.

Learn more about the most engaged generation in this video interview with Don MacPherson, Founder and CEO of Modern Survey.



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Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from an original post on Ryan’s website, and has been published with permission.

Ryan is a business performance expert who helps companies, leaders and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. Regarded as one of The Top 100 Keynote Speakers in America, Ryan works with category-leading companies to help them achieve the next level of breakthrough performance. Clients include AT&T, Mayo Clinic, CDW, Cabela’s, Giant Eagle, Hewitt, Microsoft, Medtronic, Equifax and BlueCross BlueShield.

  • Scott

    I loved the article. Only thing is that I believe you meant to say Gen X instead of Gen Y at the end of the first paragraph regarding employee engagement. Confused me for a minute.

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