Study: Millennials Aren’t Engaged At Work… No Shit

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in the online content world over the last six years, it’s that people have lots of feelings about Millennials. Some think we’re lazy and unmotivated. Others think those same qualities are what can make us great, because when engaged, Millennials have the potential to be brilliant and help businesses be better.

But the key is engagement.

Millennials have grown up unlike any other generation. We’ve grown up with exposure to every iteration of cell phone and laptop. This means that while we appreciate all things Apple, we still remember chirping our friends on our brick-like Nextel phones (because our parents only bought phone plans big enough for emergencies, which meant chirping was where it was at). We had pagers, Tamagotchis, and now have all of those in the form of apps.

Distractions are nothing new for Millennials, and while there are more than enough studies about how bad multitasking is for our ability to focus, it’s a reality. This is something important for businesses to understand because their Millennial employees — who whether they like it or not are actually the future — aren’t engaged with their work.

A recent Gallup poll showed that “Millennial workers currently make up 38% of the U.S. workforce. Some estimate that they will make up as much as 75% of it by 2025.” They then surveyed over 1 million of these Millennials through 30 different studies and came up with this conclusion: “Only 29% of millennials are engaged at work, with the remaining 71% either not engaged or actively disengaged.”

There were a lot of other interesting tidbits and statistics, but here’s the crux: Millennials said that lack of job clarity and priorities communicated to them made them disengaged, along with lack of management and simply being held accountable for their work.

One more time: “lazy” Millennials want active management to hold them accountable for what they do, because it will make them care more. Or put another way:

“To put this in context, if only 29% of millennials are engaged at work, then these findings suggest that managers can double the likelihood of engaging millennial employees by doing something many would consider simple and intuitive: holding them accountable.”

I can speak to this firsthand. I’ve had some really kickass jobs but it wasn’t until I worked at an agency that I learned to really be engaged and care. I’d been passed up for the Copy Editor position at this company initially because the other candidate had previous content marketing experience in an agency setting which was specifically the job description; I did not have that. But in the end, I got the job. My first week, I was given a financial client to manage content for. I’m confident in my skills but always unsure when in new settings because I’m not positive what the expectations are or what the process is.

But I executed the project as I was trained, only to have the client come back and say it wasn’t what they asked for. My boss asked me what I thought about that (NOTE: In my mind and from previous experience, it was already insane that I wasn’t immediately blamed for an unhappy client). I told him that I stood by the work, and did exactly what was asked.

This was the crazy part: he believed me. He didn’t double check my work or give me a baseless lecture. He simply made me accountable for work, and I accepted it. From that week on, I felt personally responsible and invested in my work. I meticulously checked every piece I handed to clients, helped my writers find sources, did anything possible to make sure things were perfect. Meanwhile at a previous job, I’d ignore emails because I didn’t feel there was a point in responding.

The lesson is simple: if you want your Millennial employees to be engaged and focus, communicate their responsibilities clearly and hold them to those tasks. This is the way we’ve been taught from a young age. If your chores weren’t done, you didn’t go play. If you didn’t pass a class, you didn’t graduate.

It isn’t rocket science, it’s conditioning, and we’re a product of what older generations taught us.