Employee Engagement What COVID has Taught US
Improving the millennial generation’s engagement level in the workforce has been a problem for many managers. Millennials are the biggest cohort in the US workforce.
Expectations for their employers did not include ping pong tables, air hockey tables, or free lunches. Pre-covid they were the least engaged, and the most likely to quit.
And then the pandemic
And then remote work
And then work changed for them…… for the better.
The Employee Experience is the key!
For over twenty years I have studied the impact of the different generations on the workplace. Interestingly, when it came to millennial engagement in the workforce there is a big difference pre-covid and during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic the national average for millennial workforce engagement was about 35% in 2019.
In 2020 during the pandemic, millennial workforce engagement changed. New research indicates that 75% of many millennials are engaged at work! This is not an exaggeration! Additionally, millennials reported they often worked longer hours than they did at an office location.
However… high millennial engagement numbers ONLY occur under specific circumstances. This staggering 75% engagement level is realized among remote working millennials who strongly agree their managers keep them informed, and when they felt well-prepared to do the work.
There are five key conditions that must be present for managers to realize this high level of engagement with their millennial employees.
Five Key Conditions for Increased Millennial Engagement
Condition 1: Remote Work
Remote work is the most important variable for increased millennial engagement in the workforce. Breaking-Boundaries has years of research data that recorded millennials desire for flexibility in the workplace, and improved work-life balance. While they want to do a good job in getting their work done, they also want time for other things. Whether it be taking a yoga class or just time to hang out with friends or walk the dog.
For the millennial generation the ability to work from home was key. They were able to be more flexible in getting their work done throughout the day.
Millennials that work remotely are MORE engaged than on-site workers
The millennial generation, is the largest group in the workforce. Because of their sheer number, that meant during the pandemic a substantial number of millennial workers had its engagement needs met simply by being allowed to work remotely.
It is notable that this group who are currently working off-site, at home, want to keep it that way. They are not eager to go “back to a on-site office space environment or routine.” They are hopeful that in a post covid workplace environment, they will be allowed to continue to work remotely.
Condition 2: Be Prepared & Communicate
In the pandemic off-site work environment, managers intuitively changed their behaviors… for the better. Managers worked out action plans for both the short term and long term. Then they communicated these plans to their direct reports. Millennials, report that communicating these plans gave them a clear plan for their work. That resulted in higher levels of trust and a sense of stability in an unstable world environment. Millennials reported the importance of wanting a clear structured plan of action which made it easier for them to accomplish their work correctly by seeing how their work fit into the larger plan.
Many managers increased their level of communication with their employees, giving status updates on the action plans as the pandemic progressed. It was reported that many gave daily status updates. It has also been noted that many managers kept employees informed about the health status of the organization. Many workers were fearful that the pandemic might put such a strain on the organization that it would close and they would be out of a job.
“Being kept in the loop” was one of the central themes in our millennial workplace research. Managers that increased their level of communication about both the day-to-day work and long term plans were keys for millennial engagement. It has also been noted that many managers gave individualized information and feedback in addition to group communication. This also supports earlier findings on the importance of wanting information on how their “work” contributes, and has purpose to the organizations overall direction. The data clearly shows the important link the manager or leader plays in millennial workplace engagement. For years, millennials have stated that clear, honest and frequent feedback and communication is a non-negotiable condition for doing good work, and workplace satisfaction. For many, the pandemic satisfied that desire.
Managers play a key role in worker engagement
This is an important condition to improve millennial engagement in the workforce. however, this condition is two pronged. First, managers need to be prepared with a clear plan of action. Both for the short term and long term health of the organization. Second, that plan must be communicated clearly to the employees. Because of the physical distance of remote work, mangers intuitively gave more feedback and communicated more often.
Mangers are very important and have direct impact on the level of worker engagement. It should be noted that the other generations also indicated the individualized communication and information was important for them, however for millennials it is key.
Condition 3: The Right Tools for the Job
During the pandemic and the need for an off-site workforce, leadership made sure that remote workers had all the tools they needed to get work done. Pre-COVID millennials complained that managers would not always be willing to resource the tools they needed. The “tools to do the job correctly” was another constant complaint our prior research uncovered years ago.
During the pandemic, if an employee needed the software or hardware required to do the work they got it. One millennial told me that his manager sent thousands of dollars of testing equipment and a specialized high-end computer to his apartment so he could continue to do the development and testing his job required.
It should be noted that having the “right tools for the job” is not limited to equipment. For the millennial this also includes the feeling that your job is important. Millennials want to “make a difference,” it is important to them to know that the work they do will have an impact on the organization’s goals and bottom line success. For many millennials the pandemic satisfied this need because their managers communicated their importance and how their work integrated into the overall goals and action plans for the department and organization.
Condition 4: Personal Safety and Well-being
With the pandemic workers were sent home for physical safety. However, what this also conveyed was a sense of feeling cared for holistically by the leader or manager. Millennials who were sent home to work remotely had a more limited risk of exposure to the virus. This act is not just about the location of doing your work… as much as the sense that the manager cares about the employee’s health, safety, happiness and overall success.
During the pandemic mangers would often ask their employees how they were doing. And would encourage them to “stay safe.” The zoom calls encouraged community. And often included inquiry about friends and family members. So the leader’s behavior is the critical condition for good employee engagement.
It has been well documented that when a leaders behavior expresses care for the well-being of the employee, it is good not only for employee engagement but also good for the organization. When leaders have demonstrated well-being for their direct reports, employees are more resilient, have fewer sick days and overall perform better. Additionally the organizational’s “brand” is more appealing to job searchers, and current employees are less likely to leave.
Millennial workers who strongly agree that their organization cares for their overall well-being… are more engaged.
Condition 5 : Management Style
To improve millennial engagement management style is very important and in many cases needs to change. Over the course of many years millennials have expressed the desire for their managers to move from a boss mindset to coach mindset. They expressed need for managers to trust they will get the work done and to use a more non-directive approach to day-to-day managing.
The pandemic offered this opportunity for managers. Many managers would conduct their zoom meetings and calls using a non-directive inquiry method. Then coaching and supporting the employee versus a directive, telling approach. When a manager used a coaching approach communication improved between the remote worker and the manager. Which in turn increased worker engagement.
These five conditions are not just for millennials. Interestingly, other generations also complained about many of the same issues. It was noted that when these conditions were met engagement increased with other generational employees also.
One of the take away’s from the pandemic is to realize that millennials never needed the ping pong or air hockey tables. They never needed the free lunch. Millennials needed to improve engagement was a better employee experience with their managers. They needed improved communication and in turn stronger engagement.
Keep Engagement high in your organization and in a post COVID-19 workforce.
* Ask about our Employee Experience program and our From Boss to Coach program to drive improved communication and engagement.
* Learn more about our 5 Behaviors of Cohesive Teams program which helps teams harness the power of relationships in addressing Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results. Cohesive teams is the single most untapped competitive advantage. Your Team Can Do Better.
* Improve communication with our assessment based, Talking Styles program, or our Productive Conflict program that transforms destructive conflict behavior into a step-by-step process for conflict resolution.
About the Author
Deanne DeMarco is Cultural Transformation Mentor, Trainer, and Business Speaker. She works with executives, leaders and managers break-through the communication barriers and road blocks that impact their executive and business teams, direct reports and bottom line.
Deanne is a much sought after speaker, corporate trainer, and business mentor who blends the spirit of change, life-long learning, and adaptability. Deanne brings over two decades of diverse and progressive leadership, and strategy experience, along with diverse industry experiences, so Deanne understands the reality of business from many angles.
One of a handful of experts, Deanne’s original research in the areas of Conflict and Generational workplace issues helps managers and corporations of all sizes inspire more productivity, passion and enthusiasm for the changing workforce that companies are mobilizing in the 21st century. Her contagious enthusiasm, and passion for teaching has earned her the title of the Generational Biz Coach by her organizational clients.