How Millennials Should Be Driving Your Engagement Strategy

By Paul Cortissoz

Employee Engagement Strategies For Millennials

Full disclosure- I am not a Millennial.  In fact, I am squarely In the Gen X category.  Wife, school age child, mortgage, two cars- the “whole 9 yards.”  Born in the 70’s, grew up in the 80’s and started my HR career in the mid 90’s. The rise of MTV and the PC, the end of the Cold War, the dot com bubble and Y2K all seem not as long ago as they actually were. I am told that is just getting older……. Employee Engagement Strategies For Millennials

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I am tired of labeling the generations.  Traditionalists (also known as the Greatest Generation) vs Baby Boomers vs Gen X vs Millennials (some even dissect Gen Y vs Millennials).  Before the social scientist in each of us gets offended, I am not suggesting that there were social, political and economic forces that helped shape each generation. Of course there were. These forces will also continue to shape future generations- whatever label we will place on them.

I have been doing some reflection on my career experiences in Human Resources. I consider myself very fortunate in my career to date having worked for some great (and some not-so-great) companies and leaders along the way.  Learned a ton, and a ton still to learn.

One thing I have learned is this.  People are people. There are more similarities than there are differences between generations. We fundamentally all want today, and have always wanted, the same things from our company and our leaders. Regardless of the generational label we are placed in.

Here is another thing I have learned.  We fall in love with shiny new objects.  Focusing on Millennials as the key driver of your internal employee engagement strategy is the shiny new object.

Employee Engagement Old School

To illustrate my point we need to take a brief trip back in time.

The term employee engagement became popular with the book First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham in 1999.  I will not go into a lot of detail from the book, however it is a must read if you have not done so already.

The book was based on Gallup research that spanned 25 years involving 80,000 managers across different industries.  One of the highlights of the book was what was called the 12 Questions. These were the elements that the best managers provided in the work environment so their people would answer positively:


The study showed that those companies that reflected positive responses to the 12 questions profited more, were more productive, retained more employees per year, and satisfied more customers.

Important to note- the book was published almost 18 years ago and the research spanned back to the 1970’s. This is what Boomers were saying, back then.

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey Redux

Fast forward to today. I spent some time this week reviewing the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey.

Another good read with too many insights to fully cover here.  In short, the survey illustrated that 2 in 3 Millennials expect to leave their company by 2020. In order to attract and retain Millennials, the study states that companies should identify and align with their ambitions and values by doing the following:

  • Encourage mentorship
  • Ensure company purpose and values are aligned (“have purpose beyond profit”)
  • Provide career development opportunities
  • Create the “perfect job environment” (pay/financial benefits, work/life balance, opportunities to progress, create an inclusive environment, open communications along with other items listed above in terms of purpose and professional development)

There is one key insight I thought was particularly interesting:


The parallels between the 1998 Gallup survey and the 2016 Deloitte survey are very clear.  Boomers then, and Millennials now essentially want the same things from their company. Scroll between the two diagrams and you can almost do a 1-to-1 comparison.

Yet Another Data Point

Here is another useful 2016 research report by SHRM entitled Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement- Revitalizing a Changing Workforce.  Again too much to cover here, but a couple of interesting insights to share:


Excerpt from Report:

“The Millennial generation is frequently generalized as entitled, lazy and self-centered. Given these stereotypes, it would not be surprising to see these young workers as less satisfied with their jobs. This research, however, found no statistically significant differences in job satisfaction between generations. Overall, 88% of employees were satisfied with their job this year; 86% of Millennials indicated the same. Similar percentages were reported for Generation X (88%) and Baby Boomers (90%). Stereotypes about Millennials often lead to misinterpretations about this cohort”.

And what was the summary of their findings across all generations in terms of key employee engagement drivers?


Their recommendations with regards to Millennials and their engagement at work:

  1. Stop the stereotypes
  2. Cultivate culture
  3. Develop and engage your talent

I could not agree more. Regardless of which generational label you are placed in- there are universal pillars of engaging employees:

  • Ensuring your people have clarity on what is expected of them, and the resources they need to meet these expectations
  • Great leadership at all levels
  • Recognition for a job well done
  • Meaningful relationships with co-workers and strong collaboration
  • A sense of purpose and aligned values
  • Fairness in the workplace
  • Open, honest two-way communication
  • Opportunities for coaching/mentoring and professional development
  • Creating a diversity of job experiences and career advancement
  • An environment where people can fulfill their potential

This, is not new. I recall addressing these same issues in the 1990’s and 2000’s with regards to what was called “employee satisfaction” then- and “employee engagement” now.  Nor is it unique to Millennials.

How Millennials Should Be Driving Your Engagement Strategy

If you are thinking I am advocating that Millennials are not an important part of your employee engagement strategy, that could not be further from the truth. They are. Very important in fact. But not because of the here and now. Not because they are a special audience that has vastly different needs or concerns from the rest of your employees.

They are important because of the future, and your business strategy.

Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released earlier this year by the U.S. Census Bureau. They represent the largest target demographic for your company’s products or services if not already, then in the not too distant future.  It is also estimated that Millennial workers will comprise one-half of the workforce by 2020 according to the SHRM foundation.

The power Millennials bring to your engagement strategy, is how you link it as a key element of retaining or attracting consumers/customers. There is no more impactful way to tie your HR strategic plan to your business strategy.

Last week Glassdoor listed their 2017 Best Places To Work report. I have not had the opportunity to work with or for any of these companies to date. I would venture to bet more often than not, they view Millennials and employee engagement primarily as an externally focused endeavor to generate future growth. Not primarily as an internally focused exercise to attract/retain employees and develop their talent bench.

Both matter, but starting with an external focus is more important. That is when engagement becomes everyone’s responsibility, and not primarily HR’s responsibility.

Millennials Are Getting It Right

One last personal disclosure, I admire Millennials for the direction they are shaping the topic of employee engagement.

I admire the fact that they strongly believe that businesses should be more responsible, ethical and society focused. I respect that they place a high importance on personal values when making decisions at work. I love they have a high need to align themselves with company purpose. As an HR professional, we sometimes see the darkest side of ethics and integrity in companies and have to play the role of clean-up. I wonder if Millennials would tolerate some of the things I had to. Rather, I chose to. I hope not.

The fact that two-thirds of Millennials express a desire to leave their organization by 2020 is a good thing. They are doing a better job holding leaders and organizations accountable to engagement by voting with their feet.

We all fundamentally want the same things from our companies and leaders. If the shiny new object is what provides the burning platform to really make substantive changes, in the same employee engagement areas we have been trying to impact for decades, then call me a Millennial.

Well…not really….that ship has sailed for me. However, I am happy to ride the wave of the ripple effect they will have on us all.

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About the Author

Paul Cortissoz, CEO & founding partner of HR Soul has decades of senior level corporate HR experience in leading global organizations. Learn more about Paul Cortissoz's professional expertise and accomplishments.

Desiree Aragon Nielson

This is an outstanding post. The data comparison, the summary conclusion and most importantly the acknowledgement that, at our core, humans have common & consistent needs over time – it’s all good! Thank you for the thoughtful, data driven, soulful reflection on what works best at work.

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