On any given day, I find myself directly or indirectly involved in conversation about Millennials. There is an unfortunate misconception and stereotype about this generation. Overwhelmingly, the terms I hear used to describe this generation: lazy, entitled, disloyal, distracted, narcissistic, Generation WHY, Generation I, Generation Degenerate – the list goes on and on. Now, there may have been a time or two I joined in on the name-calling (years and years ago of course), but today I stand to defend, and pay homage to, the Misunderstood Millennial.
As a former HR executive, I was the ‘keeper of company culture.’ Meaning, it was one of my duties to help create and maintain a culturally sound and thriving workforce. Not always an easy task especially when you’re dealing with multiple generations – 5 of them now to be exact: G.I. Generation, The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y, aka Millennial. Generationally speaking, the US workforce has never clashed like this before.
Being the keeper of company culture, I had to understand generational differences, what makes each tick, what motivates them, what matters to them, communication styles, and how to blend them all together. The Millennial was a challenging group to understand, but once I studied the psychology and make-up of this generation I now find myself defending them. They have so much to offer and teach us. And, whether we like it or not, they are dominating the workforce. At last count, there are approximately 80 million Millennials in the labor force. They just surpassed the Baby Boomers who are now at 79 million.
Other than the obvious tech-saavy / breathing in of technology, what exactly does this generation bring to the conference table?
1. Millennials are Motivated by Meaning.
What?! Meaning, like emotion? There is no time for emotion in the workplace, says the work-centric Baby Boomer. News flash! and one we must embrace, Gen Y’ers derive a sense of meaning by helping others and making a positive impact on the world. They need to know the work they are doing and services they are performing are in some way changing the world. This is more important to them than professional recognition. Find a way to draw the connection: Their work + the product or service = what positive impact on the community, state, nation, or globe. They will love you for it. And, it just might breathe some fresh air into your Mission and Values statement.
2. Millennials Challenge Hierarchy.
This trait is a real put-off especially for the G.I. and Silent Generation where hierarchy and protocol is King. I’m not suggesting Millennials disregard hierarchy or protocol, but this generation believes in the power of collaborative and inclusive thought. They believe we
can accomplish more, better, faster through transparency and access. When I say “access” I mean access to the Boss. Yes, Millennials want to have a relationship with the Boss. Collaboration and Inclusion: Not such a bad concept. “Group Think” anyone?
3. Millennials Crave Constant Feedback.
Millennials don’t want to wait for mid-year or annual reviews to know how they are performing. They want feedback in bite-sized morsels on a more regular basis. Wait, does this mean we have to communicate transparently more than one time per year? Yes, it does, but make sure the feedback counts. Millennials are goal setters and whether you know it or not, they are success driven.
4. Millennials Have a Hankering for Learning.
Their favorite question is “Why?” Millennials are highly inquisitive and are often motivated to work harder when they understand the importance of the task in the context of the ‘big picture’- company goals. They want to expand their skill sets and amass knowledge. Intellectual stimulation is a top factor for this generation so share the smarts. Be the teacher and mentor they so desire. Isn’t that our role as ‘elders’ anyway?
I have to give props where props are due, and in this instance they are due. If it weren’t for the Millennial I may have never revised my approach on the traditional annual / semi-annual performance review. I may have never experimented with new approaches of internal communication. I may have never looked at new ways to attract and retain the best talent. The same goes for employee engagement, benefits, incentives, all the way down to the performance management process. I applaud the Millennial for forcing cultural change. This generation gave my previous organizations a much appreciated and well deserved facelift. We are more “hip” because of them.
I celebrate now, but these changes did not happen overnight, and yes I had to fight some pretty nasty battles. I knew that if we were not open to change and could not appeal to the generational mosh-pit called the 21st century workforce then we were going to lose as a company. The bruises were well worth the fight.
Understanding the Misunderstood Millennial was indeed a journey. The task of blending 5 generations is quite a tall order, but at the end of the day I owed this to every member of every generation. Growing and maintaining a strong workplace culture is no walk in the park, but thanks to the Millennial and what they bring to the conference table we are all better for it. The next time you hear a slam on this generation, try and highlight what they truly represent: Aspiration, Confidence, Entrepreneurial, Service Oriented, Determined, Lifestyle Centered, Inclusive, Diverse, Optimistic, Hopeful, Open to Change. How can we poke holes in these characteristics? Better question, why would we?
All of this to say, it is critical to the continued success of our businesses that we understand and embrace the Millennial. At the end of the day we need them and will not survive without them. This generation represents our future and will carry us into the next evolution of business. So, let’s understand them, embrace them, learn how to attract them, and grow them. This is how we build our legacy.