How to Engage Millennials: 3 Rs

Old manual typewriter

There used to be a time when the boss spoke and employees acted. It’s an oversimplification, but that was pretty much it. Direction followed by action. There were few, if any, challenges. Questions were for clarification, not to suggest alternatives. Those were also the days of lifetime employment with a single company. There were pensions. There was even an entire class of employees known as … (GASP) … “secretaries.” Today, things are different. Very different.

Those youngest in the workplace today, Millennials, live and work by a different code. (Generation Z is right around the corner, too). Millennials live by a different set of values and even have a different purpose for work than their leaders from previous generations. Therein lies the problem. Millennials are most often working for people from Generation X or the Baby Boomer generation—each of whom approaches work from very different value and purpose foundations.

It’s a real struggle for most leaders to deal with these generational differences because everyone’s focus is on the reason we gather together—the work. The products or services we labor over every day is what the reports are about. Time is spent making the widgets better. Conversations are about fulfilling the service level agreements. Bonuses are tied to efficiency and productivity. And so on.

The attention is on what we do, not who we are.

This, though, is where dissatisfaction and disengagement can take root. When employees are doing the work (and doing it well), but they don’t feel their leaders understand who they are or value them as people, they disengage.

Disengaged employees are less productive. They don’t solve problems as effectively. They don’t innovate. They make costly (and dangerous) mistakes.

We do not want disengaged employees.

It’s not hard to give leaders an intellectual understanding of how the generations are different. Once the facts are presented, the reaction is always, “Oh, yeah! I see that in my workplace. That makes total sense.

The difficult part is helping leaders translate that information into actionable changes in their leadership style to better engage younger workers.

If you’re a leader leading Millennials, you need to focus on three things to better engage this segment of your team: Rationale, Reinforcement, and Relationship.


Of these three Rs, this is the easiest to deal with. It’s been a long time since most of us have worked in a command-and-control work environment. Leaders have long been used to creating and presenting the rationale for any strategic effort.

In the past, it was enough to explain your rationale to senior leaders and those who control the budget. What’s different today is the need to explain the rationale to Millennial employees also. You don’t need to go into the financial detail that your CFO needs, but Millennials want to see the clear line between their daily work actions and the organization’s purpose.


You’ll also need to regularly reinforce that rationale. You’ll need to do it in a variety of ways, too. Most leaders have a preferred mode of communication. It might be email, or a blog, or dropping in to speak briefly at departmental meetings, or email, …

To reinforce your rationale with Millennials you’ll need to use three or four different methods on a regular basis. It’s been said many times, “You cannot over-communicate vision.” The adage applies to reinforcing strategic rationale, too.


For most leaders, relationship is the hardest of the three Rs to achieve. It takes time and effort. It can be uncomfortable. You’ll need to be vulnerable. You’ll need to be a servant. You’ll need to go the extra mile.

You’ll also get impatient because it will be hard to find evidence that your efforts to build relationships are working. Keep going. They may never say it, but your Millennial employees will notice.

Leaders who build relationships with Millennials build a highly engaged and loyal workforce. They will go the extra mile for you. They will help transform your products and services in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

Rationale. Reinforcement. Relationship.

It’s hard to keep all the generational characteristics straight so don’t worry about the differences between the core values of Millennials, Gen Z, Gen Y, Gen X, and whatever else is out there. Don’t worry about how each generation views family and work, or how they prefer to communicate. Don’t worry about their financial habits.

Communicate rationale.
Regularly reinforce.
Build relationship.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Daniel McCullough. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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