Employee Engagement and Millennials


I have always been fascinated with the concept of employee engagement. Before I became a professional speaker, I owned and operated four retail-clothing stores in Houston. Back then, I instinctively knew the power of employee engagement. I saw first hand that if my employees were happy and motivated they would be more productive—selling more and growing the business. And I found ways to support and encourage these positive attitudes in my employees and it worked, always to the benefit of my stores! However in 2000, I grew restless and decided to make a career change—to become a professional speaker. The first book I read on my new journey was First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. This book described “What the world’s greatest managers do differently,” and it became my Bible. It spoke to me because it was about how people have the power to inspire and develop other people—and that to me is the role of a coach, manager, and leader. I found out later that Buckingham went on to partner with the Gallop team and, for the past 18 years, they have researched employee engagement.

Employee Engagement Is Not New

Gallup has been tracking employee engagement in the U.S. since 2000. Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, they have shown that less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during the last 15 years. According to Gallup Daily tracking, only 32% of employees in the U.S. are involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. On a worldwide scale, it is even more alarming, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged. Obviously, much work lies ahead for employers to fully harness the full resources of each of their employees, which has an enormous untapped potential to spur their companies to greater heights of influence and profitability.

My “Gallop-Inspired Survey”

Because I speak on the “Generations in the Workplace” and more recently on the changing workplace and employee engagement, I decided to do my own “Gallop Inspired” research. I began by interviewing Millennials who are relatively new to the workforce. I wanted to find out for myself what motivates them–what they liked and disliked about their jobs, their employers, and their managers. I interviewed both men and women of ethnically diverse backgrounds who had been working for their companies from one to three years.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • Many mentioned that they felt like they were just a number, working anonymously, and that they didn’t feel that there was anyone in the organization who knew them or supported them.
  • Challenging relationships with managers were mentioned repeatedly. The comments were about not connecting to the manager or that the manager was not interested in their ideas. Complaints were heard that the manager was not getting to know me and my strengths. One interviewee said, “My new director treats me like a college intern, although I have been promoted twice since I was hired.”
  • Several felt that they were underutilized and they could do more with the skills they had. When they had the opportunity, they liked and felt proud of doing special projects and work that was worthwhile.
  • Finally, on a more positive note one of the women interviewed loved her job, her boss, and the work! She said that her immediate boss was tough, driven, and worked her hard, and she loved it. She added that her boss set high but attainable goals, and they celebrated when they hit them. She said that her boss talked to her often, giving her a clear understanding of what was expected and that the work did not scare her.

What I heard over and over was that managers matter.
“People leave managers, not companies.”
Marcus Buckingham

Managers Matter

Today’s Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and their numbers will continue to grow as more boomers retire and more graduates start their careers. Regrettably, a recent Gallop study states that Millennials are highly disengaged. Gallop research stresses that unhappy employees (in all generations) often leave their jobs because of a poor relationship with a manager.

However, it also turns out that the opposite is true, too. An inspiring manager creates more team engagement, productivity, and retention. The role of the manager in today’s world of work, where we have multi-generations working side by side continues to change. The days of top-down command and control-management styles are a thing of the past.

Managers that rely on conventional management styles that put processes ahead of people are a thing of the past—or they should be! Old ways won’t open new doors!

If we want employee engagement, the shift has to be on an employee-centered, individualized approach that promotes relationships where employees feel connected, protected, and respected.

Today the role of manager is more like that of a coach and a mentor. Talented managers will help maximize productivity by building strong, positive relationships with their team. Great managers will work to understand employees’ sources of intrinsic motivation, talents, and goals. And yes, it is going to take more time out of each manager’s day to shift to an individualized approach.



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A Generational History of Engagement in the Workplace – The Rise and Fall of Employee Engagement
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