3 Keys to Engaging Young Professionals

How would you describe the young professionals in your organization? Are they entitled, lazy, and unmotivated? Or are they responsible, creative, and productive? How are their needs and desires different than the seasoned veterans on your team? What is it they value most in the social contract that exists between employees and employers?

Young professionals today are the leaders of tomorrow, as I share in my book Stand Out! But will they be the leaders of your organization or your competitors’? The answer lies in your ability to engage them in three meaningful ways.

Connection to Purpose

What’s the “why” behind your organization’s “what?”

Intrinsically, we all know that purpose is critically important, but there is a lot of confusion about what purpose is, how we can identify it, and how to put it to productive use. Where past generations tended to pursue career options for more practical reasons (e.g., to earn a living), young professionals instinctively desire to make a difference through their work.

The opportunity this presents is pretty incredible. The core of most organization’s efforts comes down to providing products or services that improve life for their customers in some way. Nearly all core values include some combination of respect, integrity, service, and excellence.

For young professionals to be connected to purpose, they need a strong organizational purpose to follow. They need to see how their own purpose aligns with the organization’s. And perhaps most importantly, they need good examples of leaders with a strong personal sense of purpose to follow.

When leaders and young professionals are on the same page in their beliefs about serving others and making a difference in the world, nothing is impossible.

Connection to Each Other

Did you know that multiple studies have demonstrated that Millennials and Generation Z are the loneliest of all the generations? One study by Cigna even went so far as to call loneliness an epidemic—despite young professionals being the most technologically connected generation in history.

You don’t have to look far to see how society is adjusting to address this need. New urban apartments are now constructed with a courtyard in the center for community activities. The most successful physical fitness programs have a strong social component. Why can’t work be like that too?

Gallup conducted engagement research, which demonstrated that when employees have a best friend at work, their engagement increases significantly.

“But is it really my job to help my young professionals make friends?” you may find yourself asking. You can’t force friendship, but you can help facilitate meaningful connections and relationships at work. If you want an engaged and productive young professional workforce that isn’t looking to jump ship to your competitor, the answer is yes!

Partner on Engagement

How much do organizations spend annually on engagement initiatives? Over $700 million, according to a Bersin study. Yet Gallup reports that 55% of Millennial employees remain disengaged at work. What a waste! Why so high an investment with such a low return? It’s because executives have been duped into taking the wrong approach to engaging young professionals.

In my white paper 5 Ways to Win the Hearts of Your Young Professionals, I explain that for engagement to be effective, it needs to be a shared partnership. That means there are roles and responsibilities on both sides. Instead of simply asking young professionals to score their satisfaction on an engagement survey and then rushing to provide the latest workplace perk, executives need to turn the tables. They need to insist that young professionals identify what it is that engages them the most—and then act as collaborative partners in creating change together.

Most perks represent a temporary distraction from work. But young professionals want to be engaged in meaningful ways. They want to see how the work they do today will lead to greater opportunities down the road. They want visibility within their organization and to be actively involved in change efforts. They want an opportunity to contribute their individuality and creativity on behalf of their workplace. All of these things are well within reach, but they require greater intentionality than simply writing a check for a new ping-pong table.

Engaging young professionals isn’t always easy, but it’s one of the most worthwhile pursuits you’ll encounter. The world is transforming. There has never been a greater need for leaders who can get results, adapt to changing environments, and connect with others in meaningful ways. Why not you? Your young professionals have everything to gain, but you’ll be the one who benefits the most.

About Nathan

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership and young professional expert and serves as a consultant, coach, and speaker for corporate audiences. He’s worked in a staff or consulting role with many Fortune 500 companies and large public service organizations, including Accenture, MASCO, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency, among others. Nathan is also a military veteran, having served with the Army Special Operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to corporate work, Nathan is the author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. His articles and resources are posted on his website NathanMagnuson.com and in various leadership publications.

You can follow Nathan on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or on his website. To inquire about speaking, consulting, or coaching for young professional initiatives, contact nathan@nathanmagnuson.com.

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