I encountered an employee of the Millennial persuasion in the copy room in a state of panic. He was working feverishly to reduce and scan a near mural-size floor plan that had been requested by an executive who sat two floors above ASAP. He was having trouble figuring out how to reduce and email the document expeditiously.
With each passing moment, he became more frustrated; almost to the point of tears. So, I asked, “Does this have to be scanned and emailed, or can you walk it up personally, like people used to do back in the day?” He looked up at me as if a celestial choir sang out at that very moment and calmly responded: “I guess I could do that.”
In my up close and personal observation while managing Millennials, I’ve learned that problem solving without the use of technology can be challenging, particularly for those that are singularly focused on the use of technology as a primary source of communication. Millennials have grown up with the technology as a staple of communication that connects people. While this experience can be in some cases be an asset, they can be far less savvy when communication requires a more direct and personal approach.
As much as I reject stereotypes and believe that employees should not be judged based on when they were born, certain stereotypes are rooted in truth, and we can’t ignore the fact that that there are measurable differences among employees based on several factors including circa of their upbringing and how they were taught to learn:
Millennials born 1981-1996 represent 56 million in workforce
Generation X born 1965 1980 represent 53 million in workforce
Baby boomers born 1946 1964 represent 41 million in workforce
Understanding the difference between your workforce populations can make it easier to manage them. No workplace is complete or operating at maximum efficiency without a healthy representation of all generations. However, since Millennials have surpassed all other generations as the largest generation of the workforce since 2017, let’s focus on how best to engage them. If you haven’t perfected your Millennial whispering skills, this might be a good time to start.
First and foremost, change your paradigm. The workplace has evolved and managers must help Millennial employees nurture and utilize their enhanced technology skills while identifying opportunities to develop new skills. This can be done by frequently assigning new projects or shadowing opportunities that will stretch them beyond their comfort zone, preferably both personally and professionally. Millennial employees need to feel that what they do has purpose and meaning beyond making money. I know, crazy right? They want to be able to see beyond the horizon and may require more your leadership to help them get there.
Be prepared to be that coach and mentor you never wanted to be. Employees that don’t have a good relationship with their leaders will not stick around, this is particularly true of Millennials. Retention needs to become a part of your dashboard. You will need to think more about a retention strategy more than you’ve ever had to before. Plan for more frequent career conversations outside of your annual performance review; and have more personal exit interviews with departing staff to understand what failed and what to avoid going forward.
Keep in mind that Millennials have a inherent need for the approval of others. They are not motivated by power or intimidation, they are motivated by leaders that are approachable and available to encourage and guide them through their careers.
Relax. Research reveals there is a gap between Millennials and older generations when it comes to process and organizational structure fostering a perception that Millennials are not hard-working. Older generations value things like fixed work schedules, core hours, shirts with collars ties, and pantyhose. Millennials tend to be less focused on conventional and more focused on outcomes. Truth be told, Millennials are hard-working with amazing technical skills. With the right leadership, they can work in ways that weren’t available to previous generations.
Denim is not the enemy. If you haven’t noticed, many Millennials believe their personal appearance is not relevant to their ability to perform their job, and they feel they should have the option to work remotely on occasion or even exclusively if they are getting the work done. If you seek to attract and retain Millennials, you may need to lighten up on the traditional notions of professionalism and productivity.
Millennial workers expect flexibility and autonomy in their work. They do not want to be tied to an eight-hour office schedule; they do not share previous generations’ commitment to in-person collaboration. Strive for a more denim-friendly progressive environment that offers more flexible work schedules and a less restrictive dress code that ban ties and sansabelt synthetic blend slacks. Focus on results, not fashion.
Are you ready to disrupt?
I know that managing Millennials can be a challenge, it can also be an opportunity – for managers to disrupt convention and put your stamp on an impactful culture shift that leads to a more progressive organization. Millennials are here to stay, make it work to your advantage.
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.