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How to be a Supervisor Who Engages Millennials

You’ve heard the stories and the stereotypes. Millennials, it appears, aren’t as loyal to their employers. They don’t “pay their dues” or wait around for promotions and opportunities. Their expectations are unreasonable. They feel entitled.

But wait. What does the data really say? Is it true that Millennials won’t stick around and that supervising Millennials is challenging? Or are there some things you could do differently to retain talented Millennials?

Supervising Millennials

Let’s start with the data. Here's what it says about loyalty and retention rates for Millennials in the workplace:


Millennials believe they are loyal. 82% of Millennials say they are loyal to their employers (but only 1% of HR professionals describe Millennials as loyal to their employers) (
Millennials define loyalty differently than other generations do. 25% of Millennials believe that staying at a job for seven months indicates they're loyal; Boomers believe that number is five years (Ultimate Software)
Millennials don’t believe employers are loyal to them. 57% of Millennials believe corporate loyalty is dead (Elance/Odesk)
Millennials would stay longer if they had assurances of corporate loyalty. 90% of millennials would choose to stay in a job for the next 10 years if they knew they'd get annual raises and upward career mobility (Qualtrics)


Millennials plan to leave their jobs sooner than others. 41% of millennials expect to be in their current job for two years or less (compared to 17% of Gen X and 10% of Boomers) (Job Applicator Center)
Millennials are willing to change companies in order to change jobs. 93% of Millennials left their company the last time they changed roles (Gallup)
Millennials make longer-term plans to stay in great workplaces. Millennials who feel they're at a great workplace are 25 times more likely to plan a long-term future at that workplace (Great Place to Work)
Millennial departures are costly for employers. Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually (Gallup)… 87% of companies said it cost $15,000 to $25,000 to replace a departed millennial employee (Millennial Branding/


Millennials decide where to work based on workplace qualities. 52% of millennials say opportunities for career progression is the most desirable quality in a workplace, and 35% say the most desirable quality is good training and development programs (PWC)
Millennials will stay at jobs that give them learning opportunities.   53% of Millennials say learning new things or having access to professional  development opportunities would make them stay at their job (EdAssist)
Millennials also want opportunities to lead and learn about leadership. 55% of Millennials cite leadership opportunities as a key consideration (Impraise)
Millennials expect employers to provide learning opportunities.

87% of Millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important (Gallup)

58% of Millennials expect employers to provide them with learning opportunities relevant to their job (EdAssist)

Millennials want to work where they feel a sense of purpose.   6 in 10 Millennials cite a “sense of purpose,” as part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers (Deloitte) 


What Are the Main Responsibilities of Supervisors?

That’s an important question, and it’s the right place to start. Your job as a supervisor is NOT the same as the frontline contributor role you used to have. Your job now is to get work done through other people. That requires ten basic responsibilities which, it turns out, also meet many of the needs of Millennials who want to learn and grow.

Graphic Showing Choosing Different OptionsThose responsibilities are:

  1. Know, model, and communicate company policies and standards.

  2. Hold others accountable to upholding these policies and standards.

  3. Set goals and expectations related to job performance – both what is done and how it’s done.

  4. Organize the work and clearly communicate about roles and responsibilities.

  5. Provide feedback to ensure employees know what’s expected and how to be successful.

  6. Delegate work to continually provide development opportunities.

  7. Monitor employee performance and development.

  8. Coach employees to help them improve, stretch, develop, and achieve success in reaching goals.

  9. Interact with other supervisors to ensure smooth work flow between teams or departments.

  10. Look for ways to improve team performance and contributions through incremental innovation.

All 10 of these responsibilities require regular interaction with the team members who report to you. Sitting in an office and running reports isn’t supervising, and it won’t make you and your team more successful. Doing the same work that the employees who report to you are doing won’t move the needle either.

If you’re attending to these ten responsibilities, you’ll meet the needs of Millennials (and others) who want to do meaningful work and have opportunities to learn and grow.

What Should I Do As a Supervisor of Millennials?

Let’s break it down into specific behaviors and actions so you can make smart choices in your day-to-day work.

  1. 29% of millennials are engaged at work, 16% are actively disengaged, 55% are not engaged (Gallup). Therefore, as a supervisor, you will want to choose daily behaviors – even small ones – that have a positive impact on engagement levels. By increasing engagement, you’ll boost retention. This daily checklist provides reminders about the little things you can be doing to engage employees.  

  2. Millennials' top attributes of the perfect boss: Ethical and fair 35%, Transparent and readily shares information 35%, Dependable and consistent 32% (IBM) The actions that would convey these attributes include maintaining open lines of communication, DWYSYWD (that’s Do What You Say You Will Do), sharing decision criteria and your rationale for making decisions, not showing favoritism, and following through.

  3. 26% of Millennials feel their employers are actually invested in their professional development (EdAssist), which means 3 out of every 4 Millennials do not feel their employers are invested in them. You can demonstrate that you support individuals in their professional development by asking about their goals, providing stretch assignments and delegating work that is slightly challenging, allowing time for learning experiences, mentoring employees, and having candid conversations about what they need to learn or do in order to reach their career goals.

  4. 53% of Millennials say their biggest motivator is having the chance to work on exciting and interesting projects (Elance/Odesk). By delegating work that is slightly challenging, inviting diverse opinions before making changes, offering committee and project work as a learning opportunity, and enlisting employees to share in a vision for the future, you can provide this kind of motivation. You can magnify it by coaching, encouraging and recognizing employees who embrace these challenges.  

  5. 42% of Millennials want feedback every week. This is over twice the percentage of every other generation (Ultimate Software). It’s always been a best practice to offer regular feedback, both positive and constructive. To do this, consider weekly 1-to-1 meetings with employees. During these meetings, talk about the higher meaning and purpose of the work being done and link it to the longer-term, shared vision.

These are the types of behaviors supervisors can exhibit more frequently to engage Millennials and provide more of the elements that make work satisfying.

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Successful Supervisor If I Have Millennials on My Team?

The skills needed to supervise Millennials are no different than the skills needed to be a successful supervisor with any team. In addition to choosing specific actions and performing the basic responsibilities of supervisors, it’s useful to work on “soft skills.” These interpersonal skills make a supervisor easier to approach and trust. They also foster emotional connections, an important aspect of employee engagement. Start by working on:

  • Communication, especially empathetic listening

  • Conflict resolution

  • Openness to invite feedback for yourself

  • Inclusive decision-making and hearing all voices

  • Self-awareness

  • Empathy to understand individual values and motivators

  • Sharing credit and recognition

Supervisor Training Can Boost Employee Engagement With Millennials

Boosting employee engagement generates a cascade of benefits including improved retention, higher levels of productivity and customer satisfaction, and both top-line and bottom-line growth. These links are backed by research and indisputable. With Millennials, you can expect to see even more impact on retention when you work to improve engagement, which is defined as “the emotional connection an employee feels toward the organization that causes him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to their work.”

The best supervisors have teams with high levels of engagement. But it doesn’t happen by luck or accident. Those supervisors know what to do, on purpose, to engage their team members. They deliberately choose certain behaviors and actions, knowing that more work will get done when employees are engaged. Top-performing supervisors learn to do their jobs, and they practice to perfect the skills and behaviors required.

You can do the same. You don’t have to wait for your company to train you. You don’t have to figure it out on your own through trial and error. You can improve rapidly by investing in yourself. This popular online course is one way to learn the skills and get the practice that will make you successful. You’ll receive job aids and practical tools you can start using immediately. And you will see a difference in employee engagement levels right away, too – with Millennials and people of all ages.

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