Four tips for working with Millennials

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Four tips for getting the most out of your Millennial workforce

Millennials, those people between the ages of 18 and 34 as of the year 2015, have now surpassed the number of Gen Xers as being the largest generational population in the US workforce. Based on a recent Pew Research Center report, there are about 53.5 million Millennials working in the US, with a large portion of them still in college. This generation will be leading the workforce for decades to come. So what say we get over our differences and focus on leveraging Millennials for the unique skills they offer?

Millennials.jpgDigital natives prefer digital learning

Millennials are tech-savvy and came of age in a digital world. They have probably never consulted an instruction manual nor used an analog device of any kind. They are referred to as digital natives,” which are defined as “children raised in a digital, media-saturated world [that] require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention.” It’s like they came out of the womb knowing how to navigate to EVERY setting on their iPhones in order to figure out how to solve a problem, and they will quickly become bored during an interaction that doesn’t promote active engagement or leverage rich media. As Kathy Cuprino wrote in Forbes, perhaps we should stop trying to engage Millennials and simply appreciate their unique set of skills. Maybe we should stop seeing digital natives as having an obstacle to be overcome and start appreciating that they are self-starters and encourage them to do their own research and learning:

“… while Boomers and Gen Xers needed to attend live classes, visit the library for research, and read all the required materials in order to succeed, huge number of Millennials have found more efficient ways of learning. Between Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, recorded lectures, mobile study apps and Google searching through books (why read and browse for data or quotes?), Millennials have learned that they will succeed by doing things their way. Thus, they’re deeply drawn to work that promises self-direction, work-life balance, fulfillment and other benefits and perks that come across as entitled to older generations.”

Get over their bad spelling

original.pngIn a recent article in The Thought Board, a corporate CEO noted that across the board, millennials tend to be weak when it comes to grammar, penmanship and even writing a business letter or proposal. Because they have been limited to communicating their ideas in 140 characters or less, there tends to be an inability to express ideas in great detail and they tend to shy away from face to face conversations that may require confrontation.

Again, why not choose to view this downside as an upside? Delivering an idea in a concise manner is a sought-after skill, so give it the right amount of value in the workplace. As for the spelling and grammar mistakes, keep in mind that a spellchecking robot can perform that task. What a robot can’t do is deliver an honest analysis in a pithy manner–you need a Millennial for that!

View entitlement as initiative

Another observation about millennials is that they seem entitled. While other generations have patiently waited their turn to climb the corporate ladder, Millennials don’t seem to have that same patience and don’t feel they need to wait around at all. They are eager for responsibility, and having grown up in the world of start-ups and explosive technical know-how, they’ve seen the relative ease with which today’s entrepreneurs have had growing an idea into a multi-million-dollar business. They believe “if they can do it, so can I.” They’re not a “pay-your-dues” generation and those who manage Millennials say they’re unafraid of responsibility and when it’s entrusted to them, they take the ball and run.

Again, instead of viewing the lack of patience with advancement as an obstacle, I’d encourage you to see the shoot-for-the-stars approach as a valuable commodity. In short, you want employees that see the big picture and want to be a part of it. The U.S. Chairman of PwC, Bob Moritz, did a study on Millennials within the organization and offered advice on leveraging that desire for effecting organizational change:

“… we’ve implemented programs to engage all our people, so they know what the firm is doing and why, and so they can have a voice in where it’s going. For example, we’ve asked them for ideas on how to invest in human capital and what the firm’s next $100 million idea should be. Some of their suggestions were pretty compelling, but what was even more important to us was that 70% of the organization took part in the ideation process.”

Show your true colors

Finally, while there are some in this age group who tend to be very motivated by money, others are not and find great satisfaction in finding a career that offers a greater sense of purpose. They have little patience for organizations whose values don’t align with their own, and they will leave an organization if there is the perception of a disconnect between words and actions. Says Moritz:

“At PwC we see greater retention and higher performance when people are engaged in corporate responsibility programs. For example, those who participated in more than one CR activity had an average tenure of 7.4 years, while those who participated in none stayed with the organization an average of 6.3 years… Millennials are quick to react negatively to any perceived disconnect between the firm’s words and its actions. If they don’t believe us, they leave.”

Make sure you live your mission statement. Ask Millennials if any of the organization’s activities don’t seem to align with that mission statement. Offer opportunities for participation in corporate responsibility programs–that volunteer day at Habitat for Humanity may keep that Millennial with your organization for months or years longer than anticipated!


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