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The most important asset that any employer could have is not the benefits that they get, money, materialistic goods but their employees or subordinates. Therefore, it encourages employees to create a welcoming work environment so that other employees could grow and be motivated. High employee motivation has been linked to efficiency, enthusiasm and greater productivity which as a result could give a more qualitative outcome (Honore, 2009). Today, the study about millennials in the global workforce is not uncommon as the growing population of millennials will constitute as the “biggest chunk” in the workplace, in the near future (LaCore, 2015). As millennials enter the workplace, organizations are concerned about how to change the working environment as they have different expectations and orientations compared to the elder adults (Gen X and baby boomers) (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2018). The millennial generation is often stereotyped negatively as self-centered, disrespectful and disloyal. However, they have positive stereotypes as well such as working well in groups/teams, favors open communication, and is familiar with technology (Myers & Sadhagini, 2018).

A recent news article by Forbes (2018) highlighted that millennials are misunderstood for being lazy and incompetent. A Harvard study found that 59% of millennials were less likely to go on vacations compared to the other employees who are at the age of 35 years old and above. This suggests that millennials prioritize their work over their personal life. On top of that, millennials are also more up to date to the advancing world of technology (Villa, 2018). Due to the growing population of millennials, it is important to maintain this state of favorable state so that it could increase the efficiency and productivity of the organization. This journal will discuss the relevant theories and solutions that employees should consider in order to create a better work environment.


To understand the basis of motivation in the workplace further, Alderfer’s ERG theory (Alderfer, 1969) and goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1979) will be discussed.

ERG Theory

The ERG theory was first posited by Alderfer in 1969. It is based on a three-fold conceptualization of human needs: existence, relatedness and growth. It includes acquiring a person’s material existence needs, while still being related with other people and seeks opportunities for his own personal growth. These three needs provide the basic elements in motivation. For example, when an employee gets a promotion, it satisfies the psychological desires of his material existence needs in the form of extra pay, while still having friends (different group) and gaining new opportunities to develop his talents. According to Alderfer (1969), existence needs could be satisfied by various forms of material and psychological desires. Material desires are such as monetary compensations by their superiors like pay and benefits. Whereas psychological desires are such as hunger and thirst. On the other hand, relatedness needs involve relationships with anyone including family, subordinates, friends, coworkers, superiors and enemies. However, if the relationship must be mutual to satisfy the relatedness need. The growth needs include needs that involves the employee to make productive or creative effects on himself and his environment. The satisfaction of this need cones from when an employee is facing a problem which requires him to utilize his capacities. That way, the employee experiences a greater sense of wholeness as a human being by satisfying growth needs (Alderfer, 1969).

Goal-Setting Theory

The goal setting theory was first developed by Locke & Latham in 1990. It is making goals to affect the employees’ achievements to increase their motivational effort towards a task. According to Locke & Latham (1990), the goal required must be specific and difficult. There are four mediators of the relationship between goals and performance. First, higher goals lead to greater effort and/or persistence compared to easy or vague goals. It is more likely to stay committed to a task if it relates to a goal. Next, goals help a person to direct their attention, effort and action towards that certain goal so they could only focus on that things that matter. Third, goal effects depend on having the necessary task skills and knowledge as performance is a function of both motivation and ability. Last, goals forces employees to use their existing knowledge and/or skills that requires them to achieve a goal. Previous knowledge that they have already forgotten may automatically get “pulled back” and this could motivate them to use it to search for new knowledge (Locke & Latham, 2006). The central of effectiveness for this theory is feedback or knowledge of the results on the employees’ performance (O’Driscoll, Taylor & Kalliath, 2003). Employees needs to accept feedback in order to track their progress and commit to the goal. This is enhanced by self-efficacy that they may receive from their superiors (Locke & Latham, 2006).

What Motivates Millennials In The Workplace?

To millennials, passion and purpose is more important than salary whereas the elder generations gives more importance of high pay (Villa, 2018). According to a survey, around 49% of young workers took jobs to gain work experience rather than pay. Additionally, about 25% of them took an unpaid job for the experience. These young workers have faith that they will earn money in the future if they took these unpaid/low pay jobs now. Due to this “purpose over paycheck” perspective, millennials are often motivated by finding out more about their passion (Lee, 2018). It is important to make the employees enjoy what they do and fit in the company (Villa, 2018).

According to Chan (1999), limited personal space and too much of unwanted interaction reduced employee’s motivation. Hence, the environment of office space is highly important to increase one’s motivation (Kamarulzaman, Saleh, Hashim, Hashim & Abdul-Ghani, 2011). Research suggests that millennials tend to succeed when they are challenged and given creative tasks (Society for Human Resource Management, 2009).

Millennials have been found to perform poorly in tasks that are non-challenging/stimulating (Aon Hewit, 2015). In creating challenging goals, considering the ERG and goal setting theory would be helpful. By giving them a chance at a promotion, employers would feel challenged and set a goal to make sure they obtain it. The ERG theory could be used to develop this as the employers could get a monetary benefit, gain some friends and also gain new experience/knowledge.

The millennial generation responds well with encouragement and feedback (Ray & Singh, 2018). Research shows that 80% of millennials prefer real-time praise and feedback over the traditional formal performance review (Lee, 2018). They would like to receive feedback where results can be given in the short term. However, the superiors should be careful in giving the feedback as the employers may see it as a bias and negative feedback could give the impression of them not being able to do things right. As the millennial generation is comfortable with technology, it is suggested to provide feedback using the technological platform such as video calls, chats and etc, especially when the superiors are not around. This would give the immediate feedback to the employees in an efficient way (Ray & Singh, 2018).

Personal Opinion

Work motivation has been a vast topic for research in the past especially in the I/O psychology area. The number of millennials in this world is increasing and it is important for organizations to find ways to help their workers be as efficient and productive as they can be. A news article regarding how to motivate millennials was recently published by Forbes (2018). His article talks about how to make millennials more effective by caring for them. David Villa, the author, explains that millennials work differently compared to the elder generations. With the publication of this news article, it can give solutions to organizations who are struggling with the sudden change in working environment and style. Many people stereotype millennials are lazy and incompetent. This article shows the benefits of hiring millennials such as extremely loyal and hardworking. Overall, millennials are interested in a sense of purpose and accomplishment above money and fame. This is very different with the previous generations who prioritizes on high pay and seniority (Lee, 2018). “A happier team is more effective, efficient and motivated” (Villa, 2018).


This reflective journal investigated the relevant theories and concepts that provides greater clarity to the basis of workplace motivation among millennials. On top of that, the main motivation factors for millennials and its association with the theories were discussed. As the millennials will start to dominate the workforce, it is crucial for organizations to be fully prepared by having the knowledge of millennials’ working styles, drives and interests. Hence, it is advantageous that organizations differentiate their working styles when facing with different types of people from different generations as this could help make their companies more efficient and productive.

Mark Hales

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