How to Motivate Millennials Without Using Carrots and Sticks

Employee motivation is more than just plain rewards and punishments.

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

One would think that motivating employees is a simple task. Perhaps, in theory, it would be. But we all know it’s not that straightforward in real-life situations, so much more when dealing with millennial employees.

Have we not been asked what motivates our people and expected to manage them accordingly? In worse situations, we are subtly encouraged to rely on the carrot and the stick approach for motivation — that being the carrot as the reward for compliance and the stick as the punishment for noncompliance.

I can almost guarantee that this has happened to you at one point in your career, where the promise of a salary increase or an upcoming promotion is presented right before you in the hopes of keeping you engaged and motivated. Perhaps it might have worked then when these benefits aligned with your needs, goals, and objectives. But can you honestly agree that this was sustainable?

As a leader, I’ve never really subscribed to the carrots and sticks approach as the most effective way to keep people motivated. Being a slightly older millennial myself, I can definitely understand why this will never be the case in this day and age.

For sure there is another way…

Have you considered that it might be time to embrace the concept that motivation is not just about your people doing great work but more about them feeling great about their work? Studies have shown that the better employees feel about their work, the more motivated they become over time. I reckon it’s high time we start engaging in a different and more meaningful conversation about motivation at work.

Let’s dive into a few of these alternatives.

Talk to your team about the relevance of the work they do every day.

Context offers perspective. Personally, I do feel motivated when I understand that my work matters and is relevant to someone or something other than just the financial statements. If so, then perhaps it also makes sense to provide such context to others especially those who are under our charge.

Millennials, more so, need to see the underlying purpose of the work they do — that what they are doing has meaning and relevance. They need to understand the following:

  • What are the organisation and the team doing and who is this all for?
  • How does the work we do explicitly benefit those we serve?
  • How does success look like for the team and for each individual?
  • What role does each individual play in ensuring the successful delivery of that purpose?

Be proactive in identifying and solving problems for your people.

If something could go wrong, it probably just might. Murphy’s Law, anyone? Without sounding pessimistic, it’s still always best practice to anticipate challenges, more importantly, roadblocks that your people may encounter. As a leader, it is within our responsibilities to see that we mitigate these potential roadblocks paving the way to success for the team and for the people within it.

More importantly, get your team onboard with identifying and addressing anticipated roadblocks. Enabling your people, especially millennials, to be part of the team planning and mitigating challenges in the way of success has been proven to be effective in keeping employees highly engaged and motivated.

As leaders, we need to be able to understand the following:

  • What could possibly make the lives of our people difficult?
  • How can we possibly ease their burden?
  • What roadblocks could possibly arise?
  • How much can we possibly knock off?
  • How can we set them up to succeed?

Recognise employee contributions in specific and meaningful ways on a regular basis.

As basic as it may seem, expressed value and appreciation is directly correlated to increased engagement and motivation. More so in today’s millennial generation, who, in the digital and social media era, have been fashioned with likes and online attention. Genuine appreciation is something that will greatly improve their worth and in turn, brings out the best in them.

As leaders, we need to celebrate our people’s efforts and contributions:

  • What milestones have they achieved?
  • What results have been realised, both expected and unexpected?
  • Who has gone beyond standard expectations?
  • Who has offered great service to customers and stakeholders in need?
  • Who has displayed the values that the organisation upholds and set as an example for others?

Connect with your own motivation, and share it freely with your team.

While doing all of the above, don’t forget to check in with yourself to assess your own motivation. Millennials are very much attuned to whether leaders have a genuine connection to the team and to the work.

As leaders, we need to be self-aware and realise that when are not engaged and motivated in our work ourselves, our team and our people will be able to see through it, and we will be less likely to be effective at motivating others.

We need to be able to share our own enthusiasm with our people:

  • What do we enjoy the most about what we do?
  • What makes us proud to lead our people?
  • What positive impact does our team have on the organisation?
  • What positive impact does our team have on the lives of the customers?
  • How can we genuinely express these to our team?

It’s clear that the outdated approaches of using carrots and sticks to motivate employees are no longer relevant in today’s age. Establishing a deeper and more personal connection is far more effective.

Keep the communication open. Share the context and provide relevance of the work they do. Anticipate any roadblocks to enable progress and pave the way to success. Recognise each individual’s contributions and express genuine appreciation. Don’t forget to reflect and check-in to assess your own motivation. Finally, share these with the team.

Surely, you’ll have more than enough arsenal under your belt to keep a highly engaged team of millennials. It’s time to lose the carrots and the sticks.

As always, stay #CKreative!

Who is the CKreative Business Analyst?

Masters Degree in IT with a strong passion for music and anything pretty. Currently working as a Business Analyst, a CKreative Business Analyst!

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