One google search of the word “Millennial” will bring up hundreds, if not thousands of articles on Millennials in the workplace. Articles about how we (yes, I’m one of them) want to be managed, what we need in order to feel valued and what we demand of you (the Baby Boomer or Generation Xer). What we want you to provide as our employer to keep us satisfied and prevent us from leaving in less time than it took your hiring manager to find and onboard us. Basically, that you need to give us everything we deserve—and give it to us now. What’s so unreasonable about that?
And of course, there are articles from your point of view telling us to get a grip, stop talking about what we deserve and recognize that this is business—the real world and not our parents’ house. You tell us about your long, hard-won journey up the corporate ladder and wonder silently if any one of us will have the guts and grit to successfully take over your position one day—or if the world as you know it will collapse when the lot of us are running the place.
We are likely the most studied and scrutinized generation to date. At 80 million plus strong according to the U.S. Census Bureau, we’re a wide target for examination. Looking at multiple data sources on us will leave your head spinning with contradictions. But what generation’s youth wasn’t full of contradictions?
According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by Pew Research Center, Millennials represent the largest share of the American workforce, with one in three American workers belonging to the 18-34 age bracket. Brad Szollose, author of Liquid Leadership and an expert on generational leadership development, says on forbes.com, “The reason companies must start embracing Millennials instead of rejecting them is simple; boomers will be forced to retire soon. This leadership exodus will leave a leadership gap like we’ve never seen before. Since Generation X is much smaller demographically than Millennials, who do you think will be the dominant force competing for those positions? Millennials.”
So we’re not going anywhere. And one day, we’ll be running your businesses.
The purpose of this piece is to share my experience working for a company that has not only embraced my Millennial-ness, but found a method to manage me in such a way that I am constantly motivated to exceed expectations and always do my best by my company. Presented below are considerations to enable you to quit “managing through” difficulties in working with Millennials and move towards collaboratively building a sustainable, successful organization for the future.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need a gold star for everything we do right. But we do want to know, on a regular basis, how you think we’re doing. In a New York Times interview with Jeff Lawson, chief executive of Twilio, a San Francisco-based cloud communications company, he says that Millennials aren’t looking for constant praise but rather they want to “keep score” on how they’re doing in all aspects of their careers. Lawson says, “[They] never want to have a surprise.”
When you consider the world we grew up in, with parents who constantly told us how amazing and special we were, and social media providing instant feedback on every aspect of our lives—both positive and negative—it’s no wonder we crave knowing how you think we’re performing with every report or project completed.
My boss doesn’t wait until my annual review to provide feedback on my performance. Even if it’s just a “nice job” after a meeting or a suggestion on how I could think about something in a different way—or flat out saying that something may just not be my strong suit—I always know where I stand. Providing regular feedback, even if it’s informal, on a more frequent basis is good for both parties. It empowers your Millennials to keep moving forward and taking initiative; and allows you the opportunity to handle any issues or concerns that pop up real-time.
We know on a professional level, we’re not your equal yet. But we are your equal on a human level, and keeping that in mind when providing feedback will earn our respect in a major way.
It isn’t a myth that we’ll probably jump ship sooner than later. But it’s not because we’re flaky. RecruitiFi, a crowdsourced talent acquisition platform, found in its 2015 Millennial Outlook Survey that 83% of Millennials acknowledge that job hopping looks bad to prospective employers—but 86% of us would not think twice about leaving a job to pursue other professional or personal interests.
Why wouldn’t we think twice? Look at the economy. Seven in ten Americans across generations say Millennials face more economic challenges than previous generations did at the same age, according to a Pew Research Center survey. With more Americans unable to find full-time jobs, the growing popularity of internships (many unpaid) and astronomical levels of student loan debt, it’s no wonder we aren’t trying to follow in our parents’ footsteps of the 40-year career capped off by a nice retirement package and a Rolex watch. The sort of financial stability required for things you were doing at our age—like getting married, buying a house and having kids—still seems light years out of reach for most of us.
So if we aren’t scared of leaving, how can you incentivize us to stay? Embrace what motivates us. Not everyone can adapt Google’s philosophy of workplace flexibility, but if most companies got honest with themselves, they could allow for a couple of days a week working remotely or flexible hours. I’ve been working remotely for three years now and truthfully, I would rather take a pay cut than have to work in the office again. The majority of Millennials agree—a survey published by Progressive Insurance said 58% would rather take a job that lets them work remotely than one that pays 20% more. Another truth? I work harder than I ever did because my work situation means so much to me.
Not only does my flexible work situation allow me to feel more in charge of my own life, it shows me that my boss trusts me to get the job done, regardless of when or where I do it. He measures my performance in outputs, not in hours spent. In that respect, we’re no different than any other generation—trust and autonomy go a long way in building loyalty.
Deep down, we know we don’t deserve the corner office with the view after only six months on the job. But it doesn’t mean you can’t begin developing our skills for it. Most of us don’t want to just earn a paycheck—we want the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Since we aren’t driven by money as much as previous generations and don’t expect to stay in one job for the rest of our lives, the most valuable things you can give us are training and experiences that take us beyond advanced Excel applications.
My boss once had me co-facilitate a leadership forum for one of our clients for which I mined employee satisfaction data. Not only did I perform my usual task of extracting and synthesizing information, I was allowed the opportunity to think strategically, develop a presentation and present it myself—something that people much more advanced in the organization did. To date, it was the most terrifying (and rewarding) experience I’ve had in my career, but it showed me a path of where I could be if I worked hard and put in time with my organization. On a personal level, it forced me to overcome a great fear of public speaking and develop more confidence.
According to Deloitte’s 2014 Millennial Survey, 75% of participants believed their organizations could do more to develop future leaders. Anticipating and preparing for the impending leadership gap will put your company ahead of the game and safeguard the organization against major uncertainty.
Even if some of your Millennials aren’t future management material, you may be able to move them horizontally by continuing to develop skills that tap into their individual interests and passions. An analyst that lacks the people skills necessary for managerial roles but shows design promise could be a valuable asset to the marketing team if the appropriate computer skills were developed.
Speaking of computers, don’t underestimate what we can bring to the table in terms of technology. Our world has always been a connected one, and our representation as the largest generational consumer group is shaping the way the world goes to market. We have always had immediate access to information, and it’s likely that even the least tech savvy Millennial on your team can provide some perspective on social media or online strategies.
In summary, here’s what you can do to effectively manage your Millennials and ensure the continued success of your organization through our generation:
- Provide feedback on our performance—and provide it often
- Treat us as your equals (if not professionally, on a personal level)
- Embrace the idea of the flexible workplace—this is the future, whether you want it to be or not
- Develop us not only with job-specific, but “experience” training we can use in our personal lives
- Tap into what we bring to the table as consumers
When you get right down to it, we simply want you to want us in your organization, and to treat us accordingly by expressing our value and implementing policies that match our lifestyles and career goals. If you think about this and what you want from your own employer, are we really so different after all?