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Millennials, motivation and making management work

Managers may despair with “young people today” in the workplace, but LSCA Business Board chair Angus Farr says the problem could be with “managers today” who fail to motivate their staff – just talking can help avoid the 5.30pm rush for the door.


June 2019

On a recent training course on managing performance, there was a lively discussion around the perceived work ethic of “young people today”. A couple of managers grumbled that junior staff seemed to be taking too literal a view of their employment contract, turning up at 9.30am, leaving at 5.30pm and not just taking their full hour for lunch but actually leaving the building to do so!

As far as these managers were concerned, this was frustrating but ultimately hard wired into “millennials”.

A few other managers disagreed, suggesting that staff would still “go the extra mile” and stay late if managed the right way.

I tend to agree with the latter group for three reasons.

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to tar an entire generation, or worse, simply anyone younger than me, as being attitudinally the same. I’m pretty sure that when I was a junior, there were plenty of us who would arrive early and/or stay late when necessary. Equally there were many staff who would stick religiously to their contracted hours.
  2. I think we need to be very careful not to equate hours of input with quality of output. If someone can do what’s expected of them during their work hours, then fair enough, off you go at 5.30pm. Indeed, it would be a shame if we were only rewarding those who stayed late. They might be putting in extra time simply because it takes them 10 hours to do what others can in seven.
  3. Managers do still have an important role in motivating staff to get the job done. Isn’t blaming this on a ‘generational thing’ an abrogation of our management responsibilities? I think we’d all accept that motivating staff, of whatever generation, is tricky and comes down to more than just being able to give pay rises and bonuses. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still popular to explain motivation, but I think it’s had its day. Just because something fits nicely on a flipchart or slide deck doesn’t make it right!

Much better, I think, are some of the models around expectancy as they reflect my experience that people are motivated by different things at different stages of their careers. The implication for manages, of course, is that we do need to talk to our staff to find out what their aims and objectives are - hardly an earth-shattering revelation! So, if you haven’t had a chat with your staff recently, why not give it a go? Perhaps do it before 5.30pm though, just in case…

Angus Farr is chair of the LSCA’s Business Board and director of Training Counts

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