skip to main content
What Disruption Reveals About Engaging Millennial Employees

What Disruption Reveals About Engaging Millennial Employees

by Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • The Gallup Panel shows some millennials' engagement rising up to 75%
  • There are five variables driving it to such high levels
  • Remote work, keeping millennials informed and preparing them is key

Millennials are the biggest age cohort in the U.S. workforce, the least engaged, the most likely to quit, and pingpong tables and free beer aren't fulfilling their notoriously high expectations of their employers one bit.

And then the pandemic.

And then remote work.

And then this: An astonishing, unprecedented spike in millennial engagement.

That's not hyperbole. Gallup analytics found that 75% of some millennials are engaged at work. The national average was 35% in 2019.

But there's a big but.

These results are not general. The new engagement numbers only apply to millennials working remotely since the onset of COVID-19, and, in the case of the staggering 75% engagement level, only among millennials working remotely who also strongly agree their managers keep them informed and who feel well-prepared at work.

These "buts" show that Gallup didn't detect a lucky surprise, some silver lining in the storm cloud of the pandemic. Millennials' engagement surge clearly relates to a particular employee experience. An experience that can be analyzed, categorized -- and replicated.

Gallup analytics found that 75% of some millennials are engaged at work.

Indeed, the highly engaging experience relates to five distinct variables, according to Gallup's Principal Researcher of Predictive Analytics Sangeeta Agrawal, using data collected between March and November 2020 from the Gallup Panel -- one of the nation's few research panels representative of the entire U.S. adult population.

And all five variables, listed below in order of intensity and divided by remote vs. nonremote response, are well within any leader's control.

The Five Variables of Millennial Engagement

Variable 1: Remote Work

41% of millennials who work remotely are engaged vs. 30% of on-site workers

Remote work is by far the most powerful variable. But a word of statistical caution: This response may have something to do with the peril of having a public-facing job during a pandemic.

However, Gallup has years of data recording millennials' desire for flexibility and a greater work-life balance, and 75% of millennials who work off-site right now want to keep doing it. So millennials' sheer generational heft means that a substantial proportion of the labor force has its engagement needs met just by being allowed to work remotely.

Variable 2: A Plan of Action

56% of remote millennial workers and 51% of nonremote workers who strongly agree with the statement "My employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19)" are engaged

This variable reflects a fundamental element of the employee experience: followers need to trust leaders, feel their compassion, find stability and have hope. (Early in the pandemic, Gallup shared a meta-analysis of nearly every major crisis of the past eight decades that illustrates the phenomenon.) An effective plan of action touches on all four needs and, if communicated clearly, that plan affects engagement.

The fact that millennials working from home are more likely to say their leaders have such a plan (50% vs. 41%) suggests that leaders have been conscientious about communicating plans to off-site workers -- which is good -- but it goes to show that information doesn't diffuse in the office as well as you might think.

Variable 3: Preparation

64% of remote millennial workers and 63% of nonremote workers who strongly agree with the statement "I feel well-prepared to do my job" are engaged

This variable reflects the fundamental importance of having "the materials and equipment I need to do my work right." That's why those exact words are included in Gallup's Q12 engagement survey. Every newly remote worker who felt well-prepared to do their job is a testament to their leadership (and probably their IT department). But feeling engaged because of feeling well-prepared is a testament to workers' needs being met -- specifically the stuff they need to do their jobs right.

So it's interesting that remote millennials were more likely than nonremote workers -- 48% to 39% -- to feel well-prepared. The workplace changed a great deal more for remote workers, after all. Their leaders should be proud of their fast response to the pandemic, but they shouldn't forget that less than half of all millennials feel well-prepared to do their jobs. That number can be boosted by managers who know how to coach and allocate resources effectively, and the sooner the better.

Variable 4: Managers Provide Information

65% of millennials who work remotely and 61% of nonremote millennial workers who strongly agree that their "immediate supervisor keeps me informed about what is going on in my organization" are engaged

This variable reflects how badly employees need information that affects them and their job -- and how important managers are. Managers influence 70% of the variance in engagement and are best situated to individualize information to the employee. Clearly, they've been doing a bang-up job with remote workers and most managers are doing fairly well at keeping in-house staff informed too.

That's a good sign. Individualized information is important to everyone. But it's really important to millennials. More so than any other generation, millennials need to be in the loop about their day-to-day work, their part in the organization, how they contribute to the purpose, and where the company is headed. The data behind this variable shows leaders the crucial link between managers, communication, and millennials -- and that millennials consider honest, frequent communication a non-negotiable aspect of a good job.

Variable 5: Wellbeing

65% of remote millennial workers and 63% of nonremote millennial workers who strongly agree that "My organization cares about my overall wellbeing" are engaged

Don't mistake this variable for some kind of health check. Sure, when a lethal virus is on the loose, you can expect a higher level of engagement among people who feel their company cares about their wellbeing. But wellbeing isn't just about health. It's a combination of social, community, financial, career and physical elements that affect each other. So millennials who feel that their leaders care about their wellbeing may have a very broad definition of care and a very broad definition of wellbeing, too.

That may help explain the similarity of remote and nonremote workers' responses, which may seem odd. After all, the whole point of sending people home was physical safety, and millennials who work from home probably have a more limited risk of exposure. But feeling cared for holistically doesn't depend on the worker's location, it depends on the leader's behavior.

Incidentally, that behavior isn't just good for employee engagement, it's good for business. Employees with high wellbeing are more resilient, suffer fewer sick days, and perform better than those with low wellbeing, and it makes an employment brand more attractive too.

All of these variables affect engagement.

Let's get back to that 75% who are engaged. If a leader had to focus on three variables, they should concentrate on allowing remote work, keeping employees informed, and helping them feel well-prepared, because all millennials who fall into the 75% category strongly claim those three.


Bar graph demonstrating the most powerful variables for millennial engagement. 37% of all millennials are engaged; 41% of millennials working from home are engaged; 65% of millennials who work from home and whose supervisor keeps them informed are engaged; and 75% of millennials who work from home and whose supervisor keeps them informed and who feel well-prepared to do their work are engaged.

But leaders don't have to limit themselves to three. Nor should they. Employees have 12 basic engagement needs and meeting them -- according to Gallup's 2020 engagement meta-analysis -- can result in median percentage differences for companies: 81% in absenteeism, 64% in safety incidents, 14% in productivity, 18% in sales, and 23% in profitability.

And a close look at the variables shows that each of the five delivers on engagement needs, just packaged a little differently these days. For instance, remember how "feeling well-prepared" relates to materials and equipment? It also relates to feeling like your job is important and having the opportunity to do what you do best, which are fundamental elements of engagement. Or take "my supervisor keeps me informed." That fills workers' needs to feel their manager cares about them as a person and to know what's expected of them at work.

Now, the fact that those variables have such a formidable effect on millennials is a major finding and, not incidentally, Agrawal found an identical trajectory among older respondents in each variable. But the effect of engagement on workers is not new news. We've always known engagement is powerful. We just need to find ways to tailor it better to millennial workers.

That's the lesson leaders need to take into the new year. Millennials are the majority and as they move into management, their influence expands. Their needs matter and they've never needed pingpong or beer at work. They need engagement. And when they get it, their employee experience can change extraordinarily fast, allowing them to achieve extraordinary business results.

Keep engagement high now and in the post-COVID-19 future:


Sangeeta Agrawal contributed to this article.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030