It’s all about the millennials—how to hire them…how to keep them…how to motivate them. I read a wonderful article recently that summed up the driving forces behind the millennial mind-set in three easy steps…

  1. Allow them work-life balance: They don’t want to suffer the overworked, overstressed lives of their parents who perennially chased more…more…more.
  2. Have a purpose-driven environment: Merely making money is not enough for millennials
  3. Give them lots of feedback since that’s what they got from their “copter” parents and their hyperstructured lives.

I couldn’t agree more. These are exactly the messages that have been expressed to me by millennials at work and at home. But it occurred to me, after a career-counseling session with a friend’s daughter, that what the millennials are feeling and seeking is actually the same as what I felt and sought 35 years ago. They’re not so unique. More importantly, these three simple concepts are at the core of what successful business leaders should be doing in the normal course of business in order to motivate and inspire team members of all ages.

I had lunch last week with three of our summer interns who had asked to come back to work during their holiday breaks. When I asked why they wanted to return and how their experience at Bottom Line had helped them, here is what they told me…

  • They feel like they are contributing to the business. We give them “real work” to do—not just filing and getting coffee. One was researching the behaviors of our core audience…one was helping with the restructure of our editorial process…and one was working with the creative team on our latest promotional efforts.
  • They love the positive and welcoming energy at Bottom Line. When you have a corporate culture of respect and inclusion—and you actually live by that culture—everyone is impacted. At Bottom Line, we have a “collaborative work space” (a euphemism for cubes instead of offices), but we truly are a collaborative environment where people of all seniority and skill levels work together as equals. I love watching varied groups of team members head to lunch or the gym together, and I really love when the most junior team members feel comfortable stopping me to ask a question or share an idea.

Contrast these very positive experiences with the anecdotes I have heard from my daughters’ 20-something peers, my friends and at business presentations I gave to young workers.

  • From those in big corporate environments: I feel like I am just a number. I enjoy the group of people I work with, but corporate leadership just issues policies and rules rather instead of talking to us. And many of those rules just don’t make sense upon execution.
  • I feel like I don’t have enough work to do. Much of my day I am bored. (Note:  Those in their first year out of college just completed 16 years of intense constant inputs and outputs. They are capable of very full days but aren’t given them in the name of “training.”)
  • It’s not enough to just make money. I want to feel like I’m having an impact either with the customers or at the office.

As I mentioned above, I realized when I was talking to one of the 20-somethings that I had the exact same questions and emotions when I was in my first job at a large and prestigious advertising agency in New York City. Was I making an impact? Was the future path as fast as I wanted it to be? I felt like I was wasting my time ordering lunch and making copies…was this really what the “grown-up” world is like?

So it’s not really about inspiring the millennials and living in fear of them leaving if, for example, the ping-pong table is broken. It’s about sticking to the basics of creating a great environment for all…

As Employers…

  1. Pay attention to people— It doesn’t take a lot of effort. You just have to be nice. And be interested and interesting.
  2. Let people know “why” they need to do their jobs. This means “why” on the higher plane of the company mission (in our case, it’s so that people have the knowledge and resources they need to help them have the great lives they want). But it is also at the strategic and tactical level, too. If someone understands the context of the task at hand, then it’s easy to create a plan of action. But without context, then they’re just lost trying to follow some meaningless instructions.
  3. Give feedback. It doesn’t take a lot to say “nice job” or “thank you,” but it goes a long way for people of all ages.

As Employees…

For those of you struggling in your first job, you have more control over your life and your path each day than you realize. The company gives you a template and a garden in which to grow—it’s up to you to take advantage of the opportunity. For example…

  1. Relax. Realize that you actually are learning a lot more than you think. Even the most basic concepts of how to behave in business and manage your daily schedule are part of the education. There is no test, but the learning is there.
  2. Create your own challenges if you are not being given them. For example, if you’re in a sales environment, create your own challenges that go beyond your quota. Can you play with different language on cold calls to increase your chances of acceptance? Perhaps different angles for men and women? Hook your conversation to something topical in the news? Same thing with cold e-mails—what can you do with the subject lines or the body of your e-mails that will increase your response rate? Give yourself permission to be creative in your daily tasks.
  3. Color outside the lines. Young people can, indeed, be very rule-bound, because that is the way you have learned. But in the work world, it is the ones who proactively create new ideas and strategies who will succeed. Keep in mind, that one day, when you’re that vice president of [whatever it is you want to be in charge of], it will be your job to lead and inspire the creativity. Start developing those skills now.

Network. Networking is not just about getting a job. It’s about learning and expanding your sphere. Find people who are further along in your career path who can give you perspective on what the various next options are.. or find people who are in other careers that you might be interested in so that you can know if there is an alternate path you want to pursue.

Go forth and inspire.