3 Things that Motivate Millennials (Hint: none of them is more money)

millennialsAnywhere you look, there are articles, studies and surveys interpreting the behaviors and motivations of millennials. All this talk is pretty strange to hear if, like me, you make up part of this population. From what I’ve read, we’re a unique blend of entitled, values-driven and mindful young adults. Apparently it was a really big deal that we got honorable mention ribbons at field day in kindergarten, because now we can’t take criticism.

When it comes to our careers, we don’t stay at companies for the 7-10 years our older colleagues did; not because we’re disloyal, but because we become stir crazy if we’re bored. We want to be responsible and plan for the future, but we saw the recession destroy the nation’s economy, so we’re less inclined to trust ambiguous long-term ideals. We fear terrorism and war. We are passionate about making positive changes in our world. We love selfies but are more selfless than you think, and we are nothing like the Kardashians.

If you’re ever bored on a Friday night, google “millennials in the workplace” and snuggle up for some really engaging reading. People are dedicating a crazy amount of time and resources to analyze this age group as we start to overtake the workforce, mostly to determine what motivates us. Well, spoiler alert…it’s not money. And think about it – if it was money – that would make things so easy.

If I had to sum up the driving factors for millennials at work, here’s how it breaks down:

  1. Flexibility: We will work long hours, we will get amazing results and we will be loyal and driven at all times. But we aren’t going to do it in a desk from 8 to 5. No. Freaking. Way. We’ve grown up in a world where technology has transformed the very nature of how we work, and being chained to a desk is deflating, to say the least. It confines our creativity, forces us to make unfair trade-offs with regard to other parts of our lives, and makes us feel untrusted to perform without being monitored.
  2. Inspiration: Working for and with people who inspire us is a non-negotiable. That notion that we’re entitled? Well, we are when it comes to who we need as role models. Millennials thrive and perform best when working with leaders who drive us to be better each day. We don’t care about your degrees or resume, we want to emulate what makes us feel good and energized, and that is found in inspiring leaders.
  3. Recognition. Recognition isn’t found in certificates, plaques or cash. Those things are nice – and I suppose they each have a place – but meaningful recognition, the kind that retains employees and sends them home fulfilled each day, is fostered through trust, mentoring and a supportive team. The best bosses I’ve had weren’t the ones who gave me framed certificates or fought to get me raises, but the ones who recognized my work by giving me new and amazing opportunities, and throwing me into projects way over my head so that I could be pushed to learn on the fly. Recognition needn’t be connected to a particular accomplishment, but should be an underlying part of the culture in any effective organization.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to see what the world perceives me to be, but it’s also frustrating. The very nature of millennials is that we are dynamic and evolving – a transitional generation amid others that are more clearly defined. As millennials continue to comprise a majority of the working world, I have no doubt that the organizations with a keen eye on what motivates and engages this demographic are the ones we will see succeed.