Is Your Company Unknowingly Repelling Younger Workers?

It's hardly surprising that younger and older workers at your organization will be motivated differently. The problem is that many companies ignore these motivational differences, creating cultures that not only fail to attract younger workers but may also repel them.

We know from research that people are generally driven by one of five key motivators at work: Achievement, Power, Affiliation, Security, or Adventure. Younger workers tend to have a higher preference for Adventure - they thrive on the adrenaline rush of doing new things and being on the cutting edge.

However, many companies actually prefer employees who quietly follow directions rather than those with an adventurous, evidence-based mindset. This creates a mismatch between what younger workers want and what the organization values.

The good news is that you don't need to be a cutting-edge, high-tech company to engage your adventurous younger workers. Something as simple as facilitating ongoing learning and skill development can make a big difference.

Try implementing monthly one-on-one conversations where managers ask two key questions:

1) "What things would you like to get better at this next month?" This signals that growth and learning are expected, and encourages employees to set challenging goals that require new skills.

2) "What things are you better at now than you were last month?" This recognizes progress and helps employees reflect on their learning experiences.

By making growth and learning an explicit focus, you can better meet the needs of your younger, adventure-motivated employees. This is a low-cost, high-return way to boost engagement and attract the next generation of talent. 

Here's the problem: Are you actually giving younger workers the chance to do those new things and experience that adrenaline rush?

In the "Managers Don't Love Innovators" study, we discovered that companies prefer people who quietly follow directions rather than evidence-based thinking. Across more than 4,000 employees, a significant 28% of employees feel that their company always prefers people who quietly follow directions, with an additional 32% thinking their company frequently prefers quiet direction-followers.

Learning Can Help Your Adventurous Employees

Now, not every company immediately embraces these findings. Common rebuttals to this data often sound something like, "We're not a cutting-edge company," "We don't use AI," "We're in a stable industry," and so on.

But your organization doesn't need to be on the bleeding edge to give your adventurous younger workers a bit of an adrenaline boost. In fact, something as simple as learning new skills can drastically improve their engagement.

For example, the research on goal-setting shows that employees who are always learning new things at work are ten times more likely to be inspired to give their best effort than those who are never learning.

Start The Employee Learning Process

There's an easy way to start boosting employee learning and inspire your younger workers: Conduct a one-on-one monthly conversation, during which managers will ask employees two simple questions:

Question #1: "What things would you like to get better at this next month?"

This question signals to employees that growth is expected and that exciting learning opportunities are ahead. It sets the tone that learning and development are integral to their job. Setting challenging goals encourages new learning, and the most productive employees are goal-oriented. Goal setting shouldn't be a once-a-year activity; it should be ongoing. Set short-term goals and ask, "What will you need to learn to achieve this?" If no new learning is required, increase the goal's difficulty. Ensure everyone on your team is always learning.

Question #2: "What things are you better at now than you were last month?"

Challenging goals promote learning, but recognizing progress is crucial. Formal training programs and on-the-job experiences both contribute to learning, yet the latter often goes unnoticed. This question encourages employees to reflect on their learning experiences, such as improved negotiating skills or better time management.

Engage Younger Workers

It shouldn't be shocking that younger workers, early in their careers, are more likely to want to do new things, be on the cutting edge, and learn and grow. Nor should it be especially difficult to give them those opportunities. It simply requires a willingness to make growth an explicit focus. And especially for companies currently lamenting workforce shortages or difficulty recruiting their next generation of workers, this should be a powerful low cost-high return activity.

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