Stop Treating Millennial Employees Like Enigmas

Want to better understand your growing workforce? All you have to do is ask.

Stop Treating Millennial Employees Like Enigmas
[Photo: Flickr user Mohamed Adel]

In the next five years, millennials will make up half the workforce and 75% of it by 2025. But there’s no need to worry; our fundamental desires are actually just like yours. We want to contribute to building something great and something with meaning. We’re also talented, driven, and have really high expectations for the companies we join and the type of work we engage in.


According to a recent Deloitte report, the companies we work for need to foster innovative thinking, give us a chance to lead, and make a positive impact on the world. And, not so incidentally, companies need to ask us what we think and how we feel.

Unfortunately for many CEOs, out-of-touch, oddly timed, and one-directional employee review surveys are an insult.

Do you honestly believe that we, your employees, can be defined by a 10-point scale? Do you think capturing our feedback once or twice a year gets to the heart of our day-to-day emotions, thoughts, and feelings for the company?

We’re not suggesting you need to eradicate surveys altogether; there’s a time and place. But as employees, we’re fed up with this being the only tool used to get our feedback.

We know organizations administer surveys because that’s what they’ve always done, but luckily we have alternatives today. We no longer need to cling to the superficial surveys that strip us of our voice and make us a number. It’s time to utilize the human-centered tools and techniques that truly capture our sentiments and ideas.

In the spirit of our voice being heard, here are some ideas that we think would make an immediate impact:


1. Treat Us Like Our Heads Count, Not Like A Head Count

Connect with us in a human way. Ask us challenging and thoughtful questions in meetings, in polls, in conversations, on social networks. Don’t limit constructive debate between you and your peers. Please encourage the dialogue, make the process transparent, and let us own the solutions. Have a little trust. Both our frontal lobes and our workplace tools have evolved beyond our early ancestors. Please liberate our reasoning abilities.

2. Set Up Collaborative Environments

Eighty-eight percent of millennials prefer a collaborative work culture over a competitive one. We thrive on giving and receiving feedback, so give us an opportunity to weigh in on important issues and strategy. We’re not suggesting you need to slow down the process to achieve consensus. Get our opinions and ideas to inform your decisions. We want to shape the direction of our organizations with you and understand how our contributions fit into the bigger picture.

3. Talk Frequently With Us

Like you, we are constantly learning and growing. The annual cadence of the employee engagement survey or annual reviews is not working for us; they’re way too slow. We enjoy and can evolve with constant feedback. Use platforms and tools that facilitate this type of interaction. We’re digital natives that are used to real-time technologies to communicate; speed up the pace or we’ll check out.

4. Explain Why

Make it safe to ask and explore why. To do our best work, we need to understand the thought process behind decisions and the reason that action is being taken or not taken. This not only demonstrates respect but also importantly gives us necessary context. Gone are the more simplistic days of the industrial era when a rote job description and manual sufficed for someone to do their job well.

These things we describe are the fundamentals of the type of culture we crave and expect from our companies and you, our leaders. And a positive culture is really important to us. So much so that in a recent Millennial Branding survey 60% of millennials who leave their jobs within three years said the number-one reason was that it wasn’t a “good cultural fit.” Turnover is hugely expensive, costing nearly 30% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them according to the Center for American Progress.

If you want to see our engagement skyrocket, please try to go beyond checking the box after you push send on that next annual survey. Instead look to connect with us in a timely and transparent dialog. Tap into our passion for truly authentic connection and together let’s take our organization to new heights.


Sara Roberts is CEO of Roberts Golden, a boutique consultancy known for innovative approaches to engaging employees and driving organizational culture change with nearly a quarter of the Fortune 100 in the last 10 years. Shout-out to our millennial team members, particularly Peter Carlson of Roberts Golden, for your huge contribution to this piece.

Michael Papay is CEO and cofounder of Waggl, a real-time employee feedback platform. Michael sourced insight and input for this piece from the millennials and nearly millennials on the Waggl team.