Employee Engagement: Managing the Millennial Generation in the Workforce

Effective performance measures drive success. They are clear, focused, and actionable. They serve both as incentives and practical tools for improvement. Not uncommonly, the act of measurement itself will trigger positive actions.

The 20-item court Employee Engagement survey developed by the National Center for State Courts for both trial courts (see Measure 8 of the CourTools) and for appellate courts (see Measure 7 at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddc3k4gt_14cpvjn2c2) is a measure that fits this bill.

Employee engagement is a constant challenge for court managers. This challenge is even more daunting for “millennials” – a new crop of young people in the work force who were born between 1980 and 2001. Court managers will need them for succession planning as retiring baby boomers leave their positions.

Trouble is that the general perception of the millennial generation seems to be that it has great – and sometimes unreasonable -- expectations. These young workers tend to be more opinionated and less timid than older workers about challenging authority.

In The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace (Jossey-Bass, 2008), Ron Alsop describes millennials’ workplace attitudes and what makes them tick. He says that they were coddled by their parents. They have a strong sense of entitlement and expect much more and sooner than older workers. In an October 21, 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal adapted from his book, Alsop says that millennials are criticized for demanding too much too soon. “They want to be CEO tomorrow,” is a common refrain from recruiters.

Alsop’s highlights three ways to help managing millennials easier. These three ways and other he mentions correspond closely to three items in the Employee Engagement survey.

First, Alsop explains, millennials want things spelled out clearly. Managers should be very clear in explaining even mundane job responsibilities and how meeting them will pay off. Such actions are clearly prompted by responses to Item 1 of the survey (“I understand what is expected of me”). Taking the survey may itself help reduce frustrations by communicating that managers are committed to clearly defined rules and expectations.

By adding age to the response categories in the survey that identify respondents work location, court managers would be able to ascertain whether millennials in the court workforce differ in their responses with older workers, where in the court the difference may be more pronounced, and whether the differences warrant immediate actions targeted on millennials.

Second, because of their heightened expectations, managers may need to exert greater efforts in explaining to millennials how their job is meaningful and critical to the court’s mission. Here again, the Employee Engagement survey is right on target with Item 12 (“I understand the connection between the work I do and the mission and goals of the court”).

Finally, Alsop claims that millennials prefer a work environment in which they feel their views matter. He says that managers should listen to them and give them their say in decisions. Here Item 8 (“I have opportunities to express my opinion about how things are done in my division”) and Item 15 (“I feel free to speak my mind”) are particularly relevant.

Millennials want managers’ attention and guidance. The want engagement. They want to know how they’re doing much more frequently than their older counterparts (see Item 7, “In the last month, someone in the court has talked to me about my performance”).

It seems that new hires of the millennial generation are much like older workers, except more so. Court managers will need to be especially attentive to showing these new hires how their work in the court makes a difference and why it’s of value to them and their community. Opportunity, says Alsop, will be a big retention tool.

A measure of employee engagement should help court managers sort out the differences between millennials and older workers and craft strategies that target young workers in performance areas that matter.

(See also, In Praise of Employee Satisfaction, Made2Measure, November 22, 2006; Friendships in the Workplace Good for Court Performance, Made2Measure, August 14, 2006).

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