All I Want for Christmas is to Feel Valued

first-5-icon-07Perhaps you’re wondering what to give your millennial coworkers this holiday season. Is it the latest gadget? A great book? Truth be told, what we actually need the most this season is something money can’t buy.

I know you hear it in all the latest millennial posts on tips to keep the generation engaged and motivated in the workplace: millennials need to feel valued to stay in the workforce. While this blog series is supposed to be about advice from millennial to millennial, this week’s post is primarily for older audiences in government who may still wonder why they see such high turnover of younger employees.

One of the biggest turnoffs at a job or internship for me is feeling that I’m “just the intern.” And the fact is, I get that I am an intern! I’m not asking for much. I’ll put in long hours and I’ve loved my time at internships where I wasn’t paid a dime. Honestly, it could be a job scrubbing toilets. But please – just don’t put me in my place and make me feel like the intern.

For example, I don’t mind doing errands if it’s for the organization. But when it comes to personal errands, I really don’t want to walk your dog or drop your personal package off at the post. How can I say no though? I’m “just the intern.” We don’t need to be reminded that we’re at the bottom of “the food chain.” Not remembering my name or things about me is another way to rub this in. It’s the worst feeling when at the end of the day I wonder how much my organization could really care about me.

Kristen Hadeed, millennial head of Student Maids (an organization that exclusively employs millennials) shares her advice on keeping millennials motivated in organizations. Her primary piece of advice centers on family, friends, and feeling valued.

“We’re not interested in fading into the background in our jobs. We want our supervisors to know who we are,” Hadeed said. “If we don’t feel valued, we see no reason to be loyal to a job and may leave relatively quickly. If we are unsure about the impact our work is making, we won’t be fulfilled.”

This holiday season; make your millennials feel appreciated using these tips:

  • Give us some autonomy. Hadeed suggests instead of handing down a list of instructions or a script to follow every day, give us a project outline or some jumping-off points and let us fill in the blanks. Millennials thrive on autonomy. Granted, there may be a limited amount you can give, especially in a government agency, but any bit helps. Let us be in charge of our own projects or day-to-day tasks without a supervisor checking up every step of the way. This gives us a sense of ownership, accountability, and eagerness to do well by the organization.
  • Boost our confidence. I’m not suggesting you give compliments to your interns every day. This simply means you show trust in us to be able to accomplish a task, while also reminding us that it’s okay to fail. Hadeed calls this “popping the safety bubble.” Do you create a safe space for your young professionals to fail so that we’re not afraid to try new things or ideas? Do you actually let us fail so that we can learn from it, or do you keep us in a stifling safety bubble? If it’s the latter, it’s time to pop the safety bubble! It isn’t doing you, your employees, or the organization any good.
  • Be flexible. You’ve probably already heard that work-life balance is especially important to millennials. Most government jobs are based on 8-5 days, but arbitrary hours of having to sit at a desk all day long is highly unappealing to us. And frankly, it’s a waste of time for everyone. If you have unpaid interns sitting around in your office with no work, do them the courtesy of sending them home early. Additionally, most of us are full time students taking on internships, fellowships, or entry-level positions. I’ve really appreciated when supervisors understood that I was a student and that school comes first. Offering flexible scheduling, occasional telecommuting, or even unlimited vacation time shows you trust us like you trust your full time older staff members. It also helps us better perform for you.
  • It’s not about the free food. Yes, most of us are poor college or grad students struggling to make ends meet in our young professional lives and free food is a nice perk. But just because you give your interns free doughnuts, pizza parties, or free breakfasts does not make us fall in love with the organization. That’s not enough to keep us committed. If we don’t feel valued, trusted, or invested, we’ll just take the free food and leave eventually. Millennials care more about the cause and what our purpose is at your organization rather than monetary perks or having our bellies full.
  • Invest in our professional growth. Nothing is more demoralizing than feeling like we’re at a place just to pass the time and put something on our resume. Give us training and mentorship opportunities. It’s made all the difference in the world when supervisors asked me what my long-term and short-term goals were and took the time to help me make meaningful connections. Your interns may only be temporary, but showing your willingness to help us excel in our careers makes us perform better for you. You’re also creating better people for the workforce.

I hope this doesn’t come off as another millennial “gimme gimme” wish list. I know that we have a bad rep for being entitled and self-centered. And I’m not saying there aren’t millennials out there who feel they can sit back and have opportunity fall into their laps. I can reassure you though, the majority of us are ready to be humbled, do the grunt work, exhibit patience, and learn from our superiors. And if you take the time and invest in us, I promise, the vast majority of us will go the distance for you. I hope this holiday season; you show your millennials a little love. For more tips on keeping millennials motivated and feeling valued, check out these posts:

This is How Millennials Want to Be Managed

Understanding the Workplace Values of Millennials


For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial

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I had the honor of working with an intern this summer. She had just graduated from high school and this would be her first year in college. I followed some of your suggestions above. I gave her assignments and projects, and worked with her availability. The one short fall I see with all interns is the cell phone usage while sitting at your desk and suppose to be working. They are checking emails, on facebook, answering the phone while I’m talking, etc… I had to finally say something to the intern to maybe put her phone in her desk because it was distracting her and she was making too many mistakes. I tired to explain to her it takes longer to fix a mistake than it does to make one. Her mistakes became less, and she was given more opportunities. I am an older worker (been working for 30 years) , “put the cell phone away” while you are working.