Originally published in Forbes

Microsoft Excel, by some counts, is the most powerful computer application ever created. But that power is meaningless unless it is placed in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. The power of Excel is something that has to be harnessed in order to leverage it. The potential of the millennial generation in the business world is exactly the same.

You may agree with the popular opinion that millennials are lazy, entitled and display a lack of loyalty toward their employers. After all, what can you expect from a cohort that is accustomed to receiving trophies just for showing up?

It turns out that in their careers, millennials are seeking more than a decent salary and the promise of a gold watch when they retire. What this group is looking for is development and engagement, as opposed to generations before them that were generally happy with getting home on time and earning a salary that afforded them a comfortable lifestyle.

However, according to a recent Gallup study (registration required), 55% of millennials are not engaged at work. While this group is just as averse to changing jobs as other generations, they need to feel that their work is worthwhile. If they don’t believe their work matters or it isn’t fulfilling, they will keep looking for a job that satisfies that need.

So, as a business leader, why should you care about engaging millennial employees? It turns out, there are a few key reasons to focus on leveraging the strengths of this cohort — and they don’t include making anyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. There’s a serious business case for creating more engagement in your business for all employees, but engagement from your millennials can produce particularly powerful outcomes. 

Why You Should Care About Engaging Your Millennial Employees

#1: Satisfied millennial employees will help your marketing efforts.

Great personal recommendations are the one type of advertising that money cannot buy. And according to research (registration required), this group is 59 times more likely to strongly endorse your company when they are happy with their jobs.

#2: Satisfied millennials increase innovation.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up with technology integrated into their lives, so they are more likely to view it as a tool that can be leveraged to increase effectiveness and efficiency. In my experience, millennials argue that if a device can perform a job for them, why do it manually? This type of thinking can be a true asset to your business, especially if you are finding yourself falling behind your competitors due to outdated processes.

#3: Satisfied millennials boost the effectiveness of recruitment and retention.

While dissatisfied millennials may be likely to exit your organization, millennial employees who align with your company culture and feel valued are even more likely to stay long term than their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts. Retaining these employees saves recruitment costs and deepens the organizational knowledge of your team. Additionally, with the advent of websites such as Glassdoor, satisfied employees who leave positive reviews of your business can help to attract top talent to your organization.

Best Practices for Engaging Millennial Employees

These key best practices can help create a harmonious workplace in addition to recruiting and retaining top talent among this cohort.

1.) Ensure managers are responsible for actively helping employees grow and develop.

Encourage managers in your organization to spend quality 1:1 time with their direct reports to connect and problem solve concerns in their departments. Take a collaborative approach to performance reviews, with the employee driving their individual goal setting and measurement for the following months.

2.) Allow your employees to flex their work time and environment.

Implementing a flex-time policy and allowing remote work makes a powerful statement that you trust your employees. Depending on what the employee’s role is in the organization, it can also help them get work done more quickly and efficiently, especially for work that requires disciplined focus and no distractions. A few years ago, MIT piloted a remote work and flex-time policy that was hugely successful in boosting productivity and efficiency.

3.) Encourage ongoing education.

You can go about this by providing a continuing education stipend, or simply by allowing your employees time off to attend speaking events and conferences. By providing a workplace that supports their professional and personal development, you’ll open the door for new perspectives that may create the next great innovation in your business. Your employees will appreciate this investment, whether financial or time-based, in their quest for new knowledge and understanding that can help them increase performance and productivity.

4.) Foster an environment of recognition and appreciation.

Sharing positive feedback regularly may take some practice before it becomes a habit. In addition to coaching your employees through challenges, be sure to recognize them when they perform well either verbally or via email. Also, it’s worthwhile to encourage this same practice among peer employees to build camaraderie and goodwill.

Improving employee engagement isn’t just about creating a harmonious workplace with happy employees — it also creates major competitive advantages for your company. Just like Microsoft Excel, millennial team members are a powerful force. When they are engaged, everyone wins.

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