Millennials in the Workplace: Motivation vs. Compensation

This is part 3 in a week-long series titled The Millennial Revolution.
Part 1: The Millennial Revolution: An Experiment
Part 2: Millennials in the Workplace: Lead. Don’t Manage.

I’ve quit a couple of jobs in my life. When I did, something odd usually happened – I was offered more money.

Only later did that strike me as backwards. I hated working for the company, dreaded each and every day, felt like the life was being sucked out of me, and they wanted me to stay. Who would want someone like that working for their company? People who feel that way are a cancer. I was a cancer to them and they were a cancer to me.

Remove the cancer! Don’t offer it more money to hang around!

But that’s how many companies operate. They assume that the only reason someone would leave their great establishment must be that they were offered more money. Then they try to throw more money at them so they’ll hang around.

But if I have my basic monetary needs taken care of, do I really need more money? Is that really what’s going to motivate me? Is money the only way to measure for success? Or do I believe that if I pursue something that fulfills me spiritually, emotionally, physically and monetarily that I’ll ultimately be more successful and fulfilled? Even if I don’t have as much stuff?

When polled, Millennials consistently respond that fiscal motivators don’t matter to them once their basic needs are met. Instead, they place three things above monetary rewards as the most important part of their job.

Millennials Want to Work in Their Strengths and Passions

While they’re not delusional in thinking that they’ll always love every aspect of a job, they also don’t believe that they should slog through their lives never finding satisfaction in their work just to chase a paycheck with more zeros. If they’re going to dedicate over a third of their lives to something, Millennials want to find fulfillment.

How do you find fulfillment in work? Do something you are gifted and talented at and do it for something you’re passionate about. If a person is a gifted accountant and they love the work, but abhor the company they work for, can they be fulfilled? Conversely, if that same person finds themselves as a hiring manager for a company they otherwise love, can they be fulfilled?

In both cases, we know the answer.

Companies that take time to match more than just skills to a position but strengths and passion to a position will find employees who are more likely to make a longer-term home at the company. But this is difficult work. It requires a change in the way you hire.

Most companies view “qualifications” as more important than passion and desire to learn. As for me, I will always take a less qualified person who is passionate for my company and the position. In the long-run, they will always outperform someone without those traits.

Millennials Want Autonomy

If you missed yesterday’s post, it can be summed up this way: most companies are superb at control. Unfortunately for them, Millennials won’t tolerate being controlled. They want to be led. Big difference.

Most people think “individualism” when they hear the word “autonomy.” But that’s not what Millennials want. In fact, it’s generally just the opposite. They thrive in team environments. They seek out people to team up with in their personal lives. They are extremely interconnected.

In his new book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, author Daniel Pink writes that autonomy can best be thought of as “acting with choice.” He then writes the following:

“[People want] autonomy over four aspects of work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and whom they do it with.”

Very few companies give their employees even one of those choices, let alone all four. If you want to attract and retain Millennials, your company will need to find ways to give people autonomy over their work. Let them pick projects. Let them choose their team for a project. Let them set their schedules.

If you don’t give your employees autonomy, someone else will. And if no other company will, they will take the brightest minds of their generation and start their own competing company and you’ll be in trouble.

Millennials Want Purpose

If you go back and read the comments on the last two posts from Millennials (Joey, Julie, Amber, Joel, Niles) you’ll see a common theme: they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to feel like they’re doing work that actually matters.

They want to make a difference.

How do you make a difference? The answer is going to be different for each person but all will have a common thread – leveraging what they do for the benefit of something greater.

Sometimes this purpose comes from working with an organization like Children’s Hunger Fund or Habitat for Humanity. Other times, it can come from seeing how the work they do directly impacts the product or service your company provides and changes the lives of those who use it.

You must show Millennials how they are making an impact on a larger world by working with your company. Tell stories of the people being impacted. Let them meet your clients. Serve in the community with them. There are a lot of ways to make this happen.

Millennials At Your Exit?

Every single Millennial who’s commented on these posts has done something that most companies have never been able to understand: they went to another company that was offering less money. Or, in a couple of cases, they left a well-paying job to create their own company. This includes myself.


The answer is simple: we will leave for less money if we get all or most of these somewhere else. If you want to keep us, learn to motivate us by creating a company we will thrive in. Don’t just try to compensate our misery.

If you provide these things, many of us will give you more of ourselves than you could ever imagine. Your company will thrive.

Millennials: Would you say these three things are more important than additional financial incentive? Is there anything you would place above these things?

Business Owners: How do you think you do in these areas? What questions do you have about them?