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How to Engage Millennials at Work

Senior Lecturer, Division of Strategy, Management and Organisation College of Business, Nanyang Business School
Jul 26, 2018 1:51 PM 5 min read

According to Aon Hewitt, a US-based HR consulting firm, millennials currently form the largest segment of Singapore’s workforce. As per the “Labour Force Participation Rate” data published by the Singapore Department of Statistics, they made up more than 30% of the labour market last year.  


As older generations retire, and younger generations advance in their careers, more and more millennials will end up in leadership roles at organisations. In fact, the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report highlighted more than 44% are already in such positions.


They are no longer leaders of tomorrow but leaders of today.


Additional studies, such as Deloitte’s “Millennials Study”, Universum Global’s “Millennial's in the Workplace” and “Generations” series have uncovered several key findings.


1. Desire to Lead
Top 3 Ways to Engage Millennials at Work

Firstly, more millennials want to lead and become leaders of their organisations. This is supported by a 2014 Deloitte study where one in four millennials wanted a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills. In the 2015 study, it was found that 70% of the millennials surveyed in Asia wanted to get into a senior leadership position whilst 65% wanted to be the most senior leader in their current organisations. A 2016 study by Universum Global also supported this assertion, concluding that 68% of the millennials surveyed in Asia said that becoming a manager/leader is important to them.


It is not surprising that millennials are interested in leadership positions. What is surprising is that, unlike what we think of millennials…as a strawberry generation that is unable to withstand hard work, more than half of the millennials surveyed in Asia said that they are up for the challenge, even if it includes extra stress and work time.


Organisations should leverage this data and create suitable opportunities for them.


2. Seeking Development
Top 3 Ways to Engage Millennials at Work

Another key finding on millennials is that they value development, with their greatest fear being stuck in roles with no growth opportunities. A large percentage believe their organisations could do more to develop their leadership skills. Many are at risk of leaving if they are not learning fast enough.


They hence would prefer working for organisations that provide plenty of learning and development opportunities to help them get ahead in their careers. Any organisation that does not provide such opportunities is likely to not engage or retain millennials.


3. Team FirstTop 3 Ways to Engage Millennials at WorkThe third key finding on millennials is that they prefer to work in a team rather than individually. All previously mentioned studies support this assertion that working in a collaborative and consensual environment would lead to more satisfaction in this demographic, helping them stay longer in their organisations. In Asia where there is a collectivist culture, where cooperation, collaboration, supporting and working with others is the norm – it is only natural that millennials prefer teamwork over competition at work.


Given millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 (based on Deloitte estimates), organisations should take concrete actions to meet their expectations and preferences.


Organisations could create more shared leadership opportunities by having people to lead one another in a group setting; as compared to just thinking about the traditional top-down leadership approach.  A person who is a follower today may become a leader tomorrow in the group.  For instance, create opportunities for millennials to chair and lead large-scale company events like corporate social responsibilities events and dinner-&-dance. In organising these events, they will have to work with the senior management to deliver the events through their sub-groups or committees and increase their engagement levels with the organisation.


Organisations could also offer more learning opportunities both digitally and at work. For example, learning opportunities can be delivered digitally by tapping onto the large amount of high quality, free/low cost content available over the internet such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and videos from Coursera and YouTube. Organisations can also set up online learning platforms that allow millennials to create and share knowledge/content with their peers. In addition, given millennials’ preference for collaboration and teamwork, organisations can find ways for them to learn and develop insights together at work such as setting up innovation labs and getting a group of people to come up with new business idea/product or solve complex business problems together.

Top 3 Ways to Engage Millennials at Work
Source: By Coworker2016 [CC BY-SA 4.0  (], from Wikimedia Commons

Organisations may also want to consider transforming their physical workspaces to be more collaborative. In other words, organisations with high number of millennial employees should let employees sit freely anywhere they want within (or even outside) the company premises to work and not be restricted to a dedicated desk. For example, walls can be broken down to create an open office and hot desking can be adopted instead of having fixed seating. Tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all known for having workspaces that allow people to collaborate and work together. This could be one of the reasons why millennials aspire to work in these organisations.


While organisations can do many things to meet the expectations and preferences of millennial leaders, it is also equally important for the latter to understand that they can evoke a different reality for themselves in their respective organisations by taking ownership of their own development, creating and connecting event or people (structures) within their workplace to fit their developmental needs.


This article first appeared in Storm on 17th May 2018


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