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Here’s How Often Millennial Employees Need Compliments

February 8, 2017, 1:00 AM UTC
Patio story millennials at work at Rally Software.
Cyrus McCrimmon Denver Post via Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question,“How can you help millennials feel like they’re part of the company?” is written by David Sturt, executive vice president of O.C. Tanner

Millennials have officially passed up the Boomers and Generation X and are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These 80-plus million individuals, born between the early 80s and the early 2000s, often get mislabeled as lazy, entitled and narcissistic in the workplace. Using such broad stereotypes to describe such a large and diverse generation as this, can be grossly misleading.

The millennials I work with are some of the brightest and most committed people I know. Many have similar hopes, aspirations and expectations as the generations who have preceded them. However, this generation, more than any other, has seen the world change faster than any other. For millennials, change has become an expectation, not a disruption, and they expect to be part of it.

When it comes to the organizations they join, today’s 20 and 30-somethings have expectations that are not dissimilar to other generations, but they get impatient or move on if their core expectations are not met. Based on my experience, here are three things millennials expect from their employers.


Millennials care about the purpose of your organization—the “why” behind who you are; what you do and what difference you make in the world. They want to feel a genuine connection to your company’s reason for being. In fact, identifying with the purpose of their employer is one of the three key factors that motivate millennial employees at work. Their desire for a sense of purpose in their work is more elevated than their parents’ generation, when they were happy to have a decent career with a company that could pay its bills. Millennials are shifting to a newer “social contract” with their company, and this puts additional responsibility on their leaders.

Perhaps it’s due to the rise of startups or the tech industry, with their “change the world” missions, but it’s becoming more important for companies to articulate the purpose of their organization and how it connects to a greater cause. I recently received a letter following an interview I had with a millennial who was applying for a job on our team. One sentence spoke volumes about what attracted him to our company: “This is a space that can have a profound effect on many lives.” There was no question he saw something than transcended the job itself; he saw an opportunity to make a real difference.

Not every company has to attach itself to some ultra-noble endeavor. However, every organization has to be much more clear about the difference it makes in the world. The kind of difference worth engaging in, working for, and identifying with.

So spend some time with other leaders at your organization to clarify not just what you do but why, and then be relentless about communicating that purpose to everyone in the organization. Ask every department and team leader to help their teams get a clear line of site from their jobs to that purpose. Help everyone, not just millennials, understand how their work influences the company’s purpose, aspirations and goals.


Recognition and real-time feedback is essential for them to calibrate and adjust their work. In other dimensions of their social lives, feedback comes within seconds of posting, and the acceptable response time for recognition in the workplace is following suit.

Appreciating great work has moved far beyond the traditional quarterly or annual performance review—it is now expected to come in the form of spontaneous and frequent expressions of recognition, given in everyday work life. A recent Gallup study discovered that employees are happiest when they receive some form of recognition every seven days.

Everyone shares the responsibility for acknowledge daily or weekly efforts and contributions, in addition to recognizing significant contributions and results. These moments of recognition are encouraged in daily team huddles, leadership meetings, company gatherings, and through emails, ecards, and hand-written thank you notes. Appreciating great work has become part of the culture, fueling new ideas and motivating team members who see their colleagues’ work being recognized and rewarded.


Millennials want to be part of a network, not a hierarchy. Some studies call this “holocracy,” or a flatter power structure where their voices will be heard and valued. Past generations were groomed and managed into the established corporate pecking order. It was a common understanding that when new people stepped into an organization, they would inherit the social norms of deference to hierarchical leadership.

Millennials are now disrupting this “unstated order of things,” including the chain of command. They don’t wait 10 years to be heard, or to connect with senior leaders to influence the organization. Millennials expect inclusion in the organization’s decision-making processes. They are used to expressing their opinions and having them heard. This generational cohort now produces the majority of the world’s media (through social networks), many times more than all other traditional media outlets combined.

I saw this expectation of inclusion play out recently in a department meeting where we announced that we would be moving to a new style of office furniture. Many understood that this was a corporate-wide decision. However, a number of younger employees voiced concern about why they were not included in the decision-making process of which furniture was selected.

This democratic-styled expectation of inclusion and shared leadership has forever changed the face of modern organizations, and most leaders are struggling to adapt. Progressive leaders now host regular town hall meetings, “fireside chats”, and other “open mic” gatherings where leaders engage in candid, two-way discussions that are not set by their own agendas. This openness is not only improving millennial satisfaction, but also boosts organization-wide innovation and injects new thoughts and discussions into leadership agendas and dialog.

These three expectations are ultimately simple, and take simple actions to accomplish. However, they go a long way in helping millennials employees feel included, appreciated and empowered, which attracts higher levels of engagement and better organizational outcomes.