Performance Conversations and Motivation of Remote-based Millennials

Posted in : Webinar Recordings on 23 February 2021
Michelle Halloran
Halloran HR Resolutions Ltd
Issues covered: Performance Management; Remote Workers; Performance Conversations; Motivating employees

The subject of performance conversations never goes away for employers or HR professionals. It has been to the fore in this last year. Assuming our speaker is correct, how can you ensure your top performing Millennial employees remain top performers or get back to performing at their best, where they may have slipped or become demotivated, particularly when working from home and without obvious peer support in the next office?

Performance conversations are vital retention and motivational tools, regardless of the actual performance: poor performers are generally a drain on others until they are managed out, and top performers leave, unless managers show appreciation. And it’s not just a question of managerial capability – you need to equip them with the information and techniques that will enable managers to be confident that their conversations are not built on sand. And, just to make matters slightly more fraught, they are almost all done by video.

Michelle Halloran, Director, Human Resource Management Services sets out options for creative performance discussions and techniques that allow your managers to motivate staff, particularly those that should be top performers, in the areas of resilience, creativity and adaptability, whilst working remotely.




Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our webinar on performance management conversations with your millennial employees.

I actually started looking at this topic early last year, pre-COVID-19, because it was becoming clear that the current majority generation in our workforce, who are the millennials, were looking for more flexibility, more two-way dialogue in performance management conversations, and less rigidity in their working environment.

Well, we all know what happened next. Many of us last year were catapulted into a remote working environment at warp speed. And we were the lucky ones who could continue to perform our roles remotely, as opposed to getting laid off during the pandemic.

So I've reframed the topic of how to have performance conversations with your millennial employees in the context of COVID-19 and the remote working environment. 

Now, all the old principles of performance management and motivation still apply. But as organisational managers and leaders, we now have to pay extra attention to the work performance wants and needs of our remote workforce.

Worker’s Needs – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 

I've put Maslow's triangle on the first slide here. I've added in the very important Wi-Fi and battery life, because we are in the digital age, slightly tongue in cheek. But I think it's fair to say, setting aside the slight glitch we have at the moment with the pandemic, here in Ireland we're at the top of that triangle, self-actualisation. That's what we're looking for in our work environment. We are looking for a meaningful, challenging, work-life-balance-friendly role.

Workforce Generations

So I'm going to go on now and talk about the generations in a little bit more detail. You've probably all seen these categories, Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers, etc., which were originally created by marketing gurus to help them segment their market. But they're very relevant to the workforce.

Just to give us an idea in broad terms of what we're dealing with . . . of course, we're all individuals and that's important to remember. For the first time ever, in 2016, millennials became the majority of the workforce. And quite simply, a millennial, or maybe you'd prefer the term Generation Y, are people who were born between 1980 and 1994. So that's putting you somewhere in your mid-20s to late 30s now.

Before that, we had Generation Xers. I'm a Generation Xer, and there are still a lot of us around. We're not quite half the workforce because we've been outstripped by Generation Y, the millennials.

You had Baby Boomers, who are mostly now at retirement age. They were people born in the '40s, typically 45 to 64, after World War Two.

And the silent generation, or traditionalists, have pretty much retired from our workforce now. They were people born during the war or pre-World War Two.

So what's the significance of all of this? Well, Baby Boomers, of whom there are still some in the workforce, grew up in a very compliant environment. They kicked back a little bit in their in their youth. We had the hippie movement. We had the beginning of women's liberation. But by and large, by the time they hit their mid-20s, they were settled down, married, with two kids and a house, and hopefully in a job for life. So very compliant, very adherent to work norms and dress codes.

Generation X came along then. I'm a Generation Xer. And it's been said that we quietly started to dismantle things. We were quite anarchic apparently as a generation. Think Sex Pistols. Think the AIDS crisis. Think about the equality agenda, the sexual orientation equality agenda, the gender equality agenda.

So whilst we are okay working within norms, and within strict dress codes, and timekeeping, and so forth, because we learned it from our parents, we're far more comfortable with a proper work-life balance, and equity/equality is a big deal for us.

Generation Y, the millennials, there's definitely been a shift here away from this automatic respect being attributed to roles in authority. If you're my manager and I'm a millennial, I'm not going to respect you just because you're my manager. You have to earn my respect. That's a key difference now.

I'm goal- and achievement-oriented. My thinking is very short term. I've seen the world dismantled. I am not thinking of 5 or 10 or 30 years of distant promotions. I'm thinking 6 to 12 months.

And Gen Zers, in the pink there, are our very new workers just coming out of college over the last few years, born from 1995 onwards. I've got a couple of them bounced back to me at home here. Interesting to see how they evolve. Interesting to see how this pandemic influences their evolution.

But a big and a key trait for Gen Zers is that they are digital natives. They've grown up in a digital environment. They're very comfortable with networking digitally. And actually, that's very good for them in the current environment.

Remote Working Environment  - Worker’s Needs

So let's move on now and look at the remote working environment. You will know better than I do what the key attributes and competencies and requirements are for the particular roles of your staff that you need to performance manage. But it's useful to know that there are a few key performance attributes that we should all be working to develop in our remote working force at the moment.

The first is strong written and oral communications. That's always a given, I suppose, in many executive- and office-based roles. But it's more important than ever, because we don't have the luxury of the "pop by my desk" or "stick your head around the door and ask me a question" type of communication. So structured communication has to be very good.

We need our remote workers to be able to prioritise results over activity, to feel accountable for delivering results, as opposed to sitting at their desk and expecting you as a supervisor to say, "Michelle, how are you getting on with that? I need it by lunchtime".

We need remote workers to be able to plan and execute their tasks independently. Now, time management is a huge challenge for us all, even when we're working in an office together. And I don't think we pay it enough attention in the performance conversation. So I'll come back to that in a moment.

Self-sufficiency is very important in remote workers. Am I able to get up in the morning, get myself set up for the day, plan my work, know when I need to interact with colleagues, and when I'm able to do stuff on my own? Again, we've lost the luxury for now of being able to call to a colleague and ask a question if we get stuck. So self-sufficiency is important. 

A positive attitude, resilience, is extremely important right now. And interestingly, being easy to work with is very important in a remote environment, because we are having to communicate through the digital medium. So those positive, interpersonal characteristics are more important than they've ever been.

Resilience. I probably don't need to spell this one out, but we all need a lot of resilience right now to get us through the current crisis.

Am I motivated to work remotely? That's something you need to ask me about in my performance conversation if I'm working remotely for you. How am I finding it? What are the challenges for me? It could be home-schooling, it could be an elderly parent, it could be a small house where I can't find a quiet space. How am I getting on with it? It could be loneliness, for example. So you need to be asking those questions to make sure there are no barriers to strong performance.

And lastly, technical aptitude. How am I coping with the day-to-day glitches that arise in the Wi-Fi, in the system, etc.? It's definitely helpful if we can troubleshoot at least the small technical problems when we're working remotely, because again, we don't have the luxury of calling across to a colleague and saying, "My screen is frozen. What do I do?" We've got to go and pick up the phone or do a Zoom call, and it takes more effort.

So there are very important attributes that you need to be developing in your performance conversations with remote workers. And we come back to those themes when I look at the questions now.

Performance Management Cycle

So I'm just going to move on and talk to you about the performance management cycle. If you studied HR, you might remember the performance management cycle: set objectives, monitor, plan, review.

I've softened the performance review cycle wording here to reflect the modern millennial worker and what he or she needs.

So it starts with explaining or agreeing the deliverables of a job. Explaining if it's a new person and you have to be a bit more directive, but by and large, agreeing with the employee what their deliverables are. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Once those deliverables are agreed, we need to break them down into weekly goals for the individual. And they should be reviewed every week at the moment in a remote working environment, and certainly at the very least every month.

Jointly, we make a plan for how the employee is going to achieve this. And jointly means a two-way conversation.

Then, as a line manager, you check in every week and ask about progress. You're there to troubleshoot problems areas. "How can I help? What challenges are you running into?"

And finally, never forget to congratulate employees on reaching small or big milestones. Frederick Herzberg, one of the most reputable organisational psychologists of the 20th century, said that the biggest motivating factor for us in work is feeling appreciated and recognised for our efforts.

Motivating Millennials 

So let me move on now to talk about this theme of motivation a little bit more. You see on the screen here the curmudgeon, the grumpy old man who's giving out about the younger generation. And there's probably been one in every generation. So the question is do we actually need to look at motivating people today in the workforce, the majority of whom will be Generation Y or millennial, in a different way to the way staff were motivated when I started work in the '80s, or when my parents started work?

Some of the things you'll hear the curmudgeon complain about is, "Argh, young people, too much entitlement, no loyalty, no respect for authority, no work ethic. They're only interested in themselves". So let's move on and see is this actually true?

It's not true, in my opinion, to say that the modern workforce doesn’t have a work ethic. On the contrary, I don't think we've ever worked harder than we're working now. And CIPD research in Ireland supports that conclusion.

However, we want to work smart. We want to get jobs done efficiently and effectively so that we have more free time. Time is the precious commodity for us now. So keep that in mind when you're setting performance goals with your employees, and let them lead the conversation. And it's got to be a conversation, not a delivery of a series of objectives.

Good questions to ask would be, "What do you see as your key work goals for the next three months? And let's talk about them. How do you feel about these goals? What are your options for achieving them in the timeframe we've set? Say, three months. So, for each goal, Michelle, what are the next steps? What are the first steps you're going to take to implement that goal? How likely is it that you're going to achieve the plan we've just discussed? You're doing a reality check there to see, 'Am I as an employee being realistic about my time management?'" And of course, "Is there anything else that you'd like to talk about?"

Time Management

So the next question we want to address in response to our curmudgeon is the question of time, and are we committed, etc.

Time management is very important to the modern workforce. We are prepared to work hard. We're not looking to scoot off at every available opportunity until we've done what we need to get done. But we are very challenged in terms of managing our time. I think this is a very important point to remember in modern performance conversations.

So, when you've set the goals, and we talked about that on the previous slide, you need to do your check to see, "Am I as an employee able to cope with this workload?"

So good questions to ask in the performance conversation would be, "How will you schedule the implementation of the work goals we've just discussed? How do you feel this will align with your work-life balance?"

So you're checking, "Am I actually committing to something that I'm going to have to stay up at night working on? And if so, that's not realistic".

"How are you coping with your task scheduling in general?" Very important question to ask, and an important conversation to have.

And if I'm struggling, you'll go on and say, "Well, let's talk about what you think needs to be prioritised, and what do you think needs to be deprioritised?"

And in case you're thinking at this point, "Well, Michelle, you're making me hand over all responsibility for this conversation to the employee. How do I influence it?" That's not really what's going on here. Getting people to volunteer and suggest their own goals gets their buy-in.

What you can do if I'm completely missing the point as an employee is gently say something like, "Can I add a suggestion there?" And that's how you introduce your own input, but it still sounds very democratic and very two-way. 

Recognition and Reward

Is there a sense of entitlement amongst the modern workforce? I don't think so. Yes, we want to get paid and we want to get paid as well as we possibly can, but really fairly for what we're doing. And whilst we've all got ambitions and dreams, really, in reality, most of us want to be able to pay our bills and live comfortably and happily, and we have a 6- to 12-month time horizon on that. We know that jobs for life isn't really a thing anymore. We're not thinking about that. 

What I would say to you with the younger portion of your workforce, particularly, say, graduate employees or new employees, is think about salary reviews maybe after probation rather than waiting for a year. A year is a long time in a graduate's life.

If you're in the public sector and you don't have that luxury, there are other things you can do to motivate or to give benefits to your younger staff. For example, a training course, paying for them to go on a relevant training course in their first year.

And always keep abreast of market rates of pay. It's important that pay is fair. It's by no means the most important motivating factor. It's what Herzberg calls a hygiene factor. So it's got to be fair, it's got to be organised, but it's not the most important thing.


So, moving on, one of the big changes we've seen evolve over the last couple of decades and escalate to warp speed in the last year is our working environment and the changes in it. We've had a movement towards a more flexible, less rigid work environment for some time now. 

So, while Baby Boomers were really into the dress codes and that sense of cultural belonging of wearing a uniform, and going to the company picnic, and all of those things, and Gen Xers sort of started out like that, but we've evolved, it's certainly true to say that the younger portion of our workforce, Generation Y, like more flexibility in location, in hours, and a less restrictive dress code.

Now, that's happening at the moment anyway, and it's expected to continue after this pandemic is gone.

But good questions to ask in your performance conversation to show your employees that you are interested in how they feel in their work environment is, for example, "How do you feel about our corporate norms, our dress codes, our rules of engagement, if you like? If you were in charge, what would you change? Given the rules we can't change, what could we do at our own team level to make the environment more aligned with your vision of an ideal workspace?" So getting their input on the work environment is very, very important.

The key phrase I would suggest to you in your performance conversations with a modern workforce, especially a workforce working remotely, is to be holistic. In other words, look at the whole person, not just at a list of tasks or objectives that they've got to do in order to meet the performance standards of their job.

As I said at the start, Generation Y, which is the biggest portion of our workforce now, are seeking self-actualisation. And I think the Gen Xers are as well. So the job has to add value for them to stay in it.

Individuality is very important to millennials, so we need to be a little bit creative about balancing the need for a corporate identity with giving some room for personal expression and diversity.

So it's very helpful when you're having your performance conversation to show you are interested in the person and not just in the tasks they have to do, and ask questions like, "Apart from being a source of income, how does your job enrich your life as a whole? What do you think you and I could do to make your job feel more enriching and rewarding for you? How do you feel about the extent to which you're forming enriching social connections at work?" Now, that's a very searching question, especially at the moment.

"What if anything needs to change, do you think?" So the social side of work has never been more important than it is now. It's probably the only social connection many of us are having during our working day. And it's important to explore it in the performance conversation.

Loyalty does exist, in answer to our curmudgeon's question, but it's got to be earned. It's no longer enough to just hire someone and give them their tasks and say, "Look, I don't need to worry about what's going on with you personally. I'm just here to do a job and you're here to do a job". I hear those phrases nowadays still, but they're not appropriate.

You actually do need to win hearts and minds now as a line manager. You don't need to become somebody's friend, and definitely don't become their confessor, or priest, or counsellor, but you do need to be their advocate.

So good questions to ask in the performance conversation in order to remove any barriers to good performance are things like, "How can I help you with what you've got on your plate this week? How are things going for you? How are you getting on with Project X? How are you getting on with the team? How can we make things better?" So you're showing you see a person in front of you and not just a list of tasks.


Teamwork is actually something that Generation Y are really, really good at. I have to put my hand up and say, as a Gen Xer, I heard the term teamwork all my life, but I never felt truly invested in it. I feel when we were educated growing up, all of our project work, all of our exam work, was individually based. And even when we went into jobs, we got individual assignments. All of it was put together then by a manager. We never really felt we were working interdependently.

That's different with millennials. Because those of you in this category, Generation Y, would have done a lot of group work in school, a lot of group project work in college. There has been a sea change in education. It's been recognised we can be more creative and more productive if we really work together and brainstorm. There wasn't much brainstorming when I started work. So that has changed.

And you can really build on that in terms of enhancing the performance of your teams. Look to structure projects in a way that requires the route to get together. Everybody has a defined role, but make time for brainstorming on projects, because it does produce very creative results.

And consider investing in team-building training or activities. I know there's not a lot we can do by way of activities at the moment, but we can certainly do some team-building conversations online and plan for something a little bit more fun when we're out of our current lockdown. 


So, in conclusion, folks, loyalty, mutual respect, teamwork, commitment to achieving results, and a need for social connection are all qualities that exist within the younger half of our workforce. They exist in all our workforce if we're to be honest, but they're more pronounced in this generation.

We have to understand, though, that career time horizons have become much shorter. Nobody is going to be motivated by the promise of a distant promotion. It's a 6- to 12-month timeframe everyone's working on.

Millennials, Generation Y, have seen their parents work around the clock, because the Baby Boomers were workaholics once they discarded the hippie clothes and settled down, and it wasn't always with the desired success, either professionally or personally. And millennials don't want to make the same mistake.

And we also need to remember how the advent of technology means that this generation doesn't see the need for fixed work schedules or a rigid corporate framework in order to feel committed to their organisation's vision. So they want that bit of individuality.

The questions I've given you on those slides are designed to help you ask the questions, start the conversation, in order to win the hearts and minds of your workforce in your performance conversations.

Thank you very much.


This article is correct at 23/02/2021

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Michelle Halloran
Halloran HR Resolutions Ltd

The main content of this article was provided by Michelle Halloran. Contact telephone number is 086-8198536 or email

View all articles by Michelle Halloran