Modern Management – Motivating Millennials & Gen Z

By 2030 the millennial & gen Z age range will have taken over the workplace demographic and make up for 75% of our workforce. So now, more than ever, we should be talking about how to effectively motivate millennials in our workplace

Millennials have grown up with technology, social media and an ever more connected world. Many have grown up in an era when you get a medal for just taking part, a star on the jumper for not misbehaving, a like for a photo of your dinner. They have been told they can be anything and anyone. They have grown up being praised, not for their efforts, but for their talent or natural intellect.

Then they enter the wide world of work and they are in sudden shock. They don’t get recognition for everything they do, they don’t get a pat on the back or a star for just turning up and doing what is expected of them, they have to work hard to progress, they have to go the extra mile. Natural talent and intellect isn’t enough to help them progress rapidly through the ranks.

Millennials have grown up on a system of instant gratification. You can search the internet now and find out who the owns a business in your area, their names, addresses, date of births and other companies they are interested in. You can jump on to google and order glow in the dark toilet roll, a cardboard cut out of yourself or a harness to walk a chicken. You can even get a £10,000 loan. All with a few clicks of a button.

While there are many benefits the millennial generation add to the workplace, such as innovative technology implementation, a larger social network, a knowledge to gain information at speed and therefore make quicker decisions. They are highly ambitious, they have read and seen hundreds or thousands of stories that inspire their ambitious gene, so route of progression is highly important but they also throw up their own challenges. They want quick wins, gratification, fast progression, aligned values, diverse and inclusive cultures and regular efficient communication.

  • 57% of millennials expect to move businesses within 2 years with 40% moving in a year.
  • The cost of living and therefore salary is more important than ever with only 57% of Millennials and Gen Zs being able to comfortably afford bills and a quarter 26-31% being confident they will retire comfortably.
  • 90% of Millennials and Gen Zs are making significant effort to reduce their CO2 footprint.

So where do we start with managing millennials and gen Z in the workplace? How to motivate millennials that are eager to progress. How to motivate someone who is used to instant gratification.

1. Identify quick wins

The need for quick information or quick wins then is an important part of a millennials work life. It’s also a vital tool that allows you to encourage progress from development to change management and is something that is highlighted in Kotter’s Model as a valuable tool to encourage change.

A quick win can be defined as something that has minimal effort but a significant impact. Quick wins can be more than that though, the impact doesn’t even have to be that great. If you get enough of them, they can add up to a significant impact.

graph showing quick wins on an impact and effort graph
Impact Vs Effort

Take the story of the British cycling team who were taken over by Sir David Brailsford in 2002. A team that had hardly won a thing for decades, Brailsford identified an endless amount of quick wins. Small changes in diet, painting storage areas white so they could idenify dust on the equipment, changing athletes pillows and the process of hand washing to reduce illness so they never missed a day of training. This team eventually went on to become one of the most successful and dominating sports teams of all time, all by identifying quick wins and giving the athletes and the team small pockets of encouragement to improve performance. Have a think about small wins within your industry you could use, there will be plenty.

2. Show them the road to progression

This generation understand the potential of a career path, there are thousands of documentaries, youtube videos, biographies and books who tell a story of rags to riches CEO’s who progressed their careers to be highly successful and influential people. This generation want to change the world and have an impact in how things are ran. In fact, a study compiled by PWC showed that career progression as the attractive thing about an employer.

So it’s important that you can guide them on that journey and show how and what it takes to become what their ambition desires. If you don’t, what you get is a high turnover because they can’t see the route, so instead of carving one out, they take the easy route and look at their options at other companies, which is one of the reasons they move around so much.

Connect and communicate with them thoroughly, find what they want and how they would like to progress. Coach, guide and expose them to new heights and keep them out of their comfort zone. If they know they are progressing and doors aren’t getting shut in their face, they won’t be scanning the environment for better options. Bring them to meetings at a higher level, help them get used to the dynamic and experience in the room but most importantly show them that it will be hard work that get’s them there.

3. Understand their values

A 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement says 75% want their personal values align with the company they work for. I too can attest to this fact that when I was surprisingly pleased to find a company which aligned with my values, not something I thought I was looking for.

Millennials are much more focused on the environmental impact agenda more than any other significant workplace demographic than even seen before. So It’s important that you highlight that business environmental impact agenda with your millennials.

To do this you must ask questions, find the passions within your teams by engagement in 121s, interviews, mentoring sessions and help them understand the work they do is contributing to those values.

4. Encourage team work

This generation have grown up in the internet boom of the 90s, they have learnt the what the rapidly growing internet can offer in terms of connection and co operation and how you can reach out to strangers and get instant help with whatever you like. So having a culture of team work is an important trait of a company they are working in.

Almost all of the junior management in my team are of this ilk. As you walk into the production office where they spend most of their time, they have plastered over the walls posters highlighting the importance of teamwork, inspirational quotes and tools and techniques which helps their performance as a unit. They understand the benefits of teamwork and know that this is a key tool in getting results.

Ensure that the team are working together on problems, when giving out projects ensure that they have a team behind them and they are working with peers to improve processes and solve problems. This is good foundation to build on a teamwork culture.

5. Recognise their effort

The key word in this is effort. Praising someone’s effort over praising their natural intellect or talent is sure fire way to encourage even harder work. In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset : The new psychology of success, she outlines many studies and a huge amount of research that all suggest praising the effort, even if it results in failure, it reaps much bigger rewards than praising success and ultimately encourages a mindset that develops the want for challenge and to learn something new.

Much of this generation have been praised for their success time and time again so they have a limited growth mindset as they expect to be praised for dong their job. It’s extremely important to recognise achievements for millennials and gen Zs, just make sure its in the right way for the right things.

6. Inject some Competition

As with any demographic, healthy competition is always a fantastic way to motivate staff.

Charles Schwab, renowned American investor, early in his career had a very competent mill manager who couldn’t get his team to produce their quota for work. He had tried everything but nothing had seemed to generate motivation to get them to work. During his visit to the mill and just before the night shift came in he asked one of the engineers ‘how many heats did you make today?’, ‘six’ the engineer replied. So Schwab took a piece of chalk and wrote a big number 6 on the floor.

When the night shift came on they were inquisitive as to what the 6 written on the floor meant. ‘the big boss has been here today, he asked us how many heats we made and we told him six’. The next morning the day shift returned to see the big 6 rubbed out in place was a big 7 to mark down how many they had made. Well, the day shift weren’t having that so they got together and marked a staggering 10 down. Before you know it this mill became the most productive in the plant.

This is appealing to that desire to excel, to challenge the norm which many millennials and gen zs believe they can do.

Tread carefully though, competition can also result in poor work practises as employees try to get one over on the other. It’s also important to know your team, competition can motivate some staff but it can make others feel anxious and ultimately demotivate staff at the same time.


As we start to enter the period where millennials and Gen Zs make up the majority of the workforce its important to understand that they will bring innovation, new ways of working, sustainable and ethical ideas as their drive to change the world takes hold. But they also need to managed carefully so retention rate is much higher. Refine this skill and you could set yourself up for long term success.

But what’s important that no 2 people are the same, some may have opposite values and interests to what I’ve written about. What’s important is that you get to know them and use this as a guide.


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