Motivate Your Young Employees

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

"These young people today … they just don’t want to work for a living, yet they think they’re entitled to everything their parents worked hard for, and then some."

How frequently I hear those charged words these days! Yet in reality, most of what young adults are seeking – enjoyable and meaningful work, opportunities for ongoing development and advancement, connection to the community, life balance, the

ability to earn a good living – is no different from what many of

us are striving for. 

Having coached many young professionals over the years, I’ve learned that the difference in work ethic is not so much in the "what" as in the "how." While necessity or ambition may have prompted their parents to work endless hours at the sacrifice of family life or job satisfaction, many young people are determined to challenge the trade-offs of their parents’ generation. They want it all … and who can blame them!    

This presents an ongoing challenge for organizations whose vitality and success depend on recruitment and retention of young, diverse talent.

Thankfully, Young Professionals of Milwaukee, one of the most dynamic YP groups in the country, is doing exceptional things to invite our young adults to connect with the community in a variety of meaningful ways. This goes a long way in ensuring increased awareness and a high quality of community life for young Milwaukee professionals. 

And what can businesses and organizations do internally to motivate their young employees?

Realizing that motivation must come from within, we can do our best to create a workplace environment in which intrinsic motivation can flourish.

Leslie Dixon, chief human resources officer at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., one of our client organizations and one of Fortune’s 2005 "100 Best Companies to Work For," says, "When it comes to motivation, I’m not sure it matters how old or young our associates are. Preferences vary from one person to the next, no matter what their age. We need to sit down with each individual, get to know them and learn what their interests are. We can then be most effective in providing them with opportunities they value."

Exciting things are happening at many of Milwaukee’s best companies. Several have initiated company-wide young professionals groups that grapple with quality-of-life issues that are important to young adults, including the challenges of maintaining work/life balance. As a result, flexible work arrangements, including job sharing, have been implemented with great success in many of our area’s most vital organizations. 

Many firms are addressing ongoing educational needs of young employees by providing professional and leadership development opportunities, both on- and off-site. Tuition reimbursement is often available. In-house "universities," offering a full range of educational opportunities and certifications, are growing in popularity. Career pathing and other methods of talent management are ensuring opportunities for growth and advancement.

There are many innovative ways of providing benefits to help motivate young employees, including in-house fitness centers, sports clubs, memberships in health clubs, paid time off for volunteer work, discounted access to community activities, even opportunities for refinancing home improvements – there’s no question that such enhancements are attractive to young employees and their families.

 Granted, many organizations can’t afford pricey perks, yet there are other ways to create a workplace in which employees enjoy job satisfaction.

Frequent surveys tell us that the opportunity to do interesting work ranks at the very top of the workplace satisfaction list. While even the most exciting positions may include tedious tasks, we can balance less-than-inspiring duties with more challenging activities that encourage young employees to learn new things and find solutions to problems.

Offer sincere praise and recognition. Attention is perhaps the greatest reinforcer in the world, and it’s normal for young people to crave it. An inspiring recognition program can serve a valuable purpose, but it’s the little day-to-day pats on the back that count most.

Give them a sense of belonging. Like the rest of us, young employees thrive on feeling needed and appreciated as an important part of a larger effort. Create an inclusive culture by sharing your vision, keeping them informed, inviting their opinions and ideas, and letting them know that they are valued contributors.

Above all, provide high-quality leadership. While they’re not likely to stay forever, your charge is to do all you can to develop your young employees to the fullest. Help them learn how to make decisions, become effective problem-solvers and self-manage certain aspects of their jobs.

 Provide them with exciting mentoring opportunities by offering them special projects with one-on-one access to key decision makers. Modeling what you expect of them and guiding them to be successful will go a long way in creating the workplace and the community in which young professionals will not only survive, but thrive.

June Kriviskey is a business consultant at Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee company that is "Igniting the Spirit and Skills of Leaders." She can be reached at (414)  271-5148 or

– September 16, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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