Working with Millennials
It happened. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Generation Y, the generation born between 1980-2000, also known as millennials, has been a hot topic recently as more of these individuals graduate college, begin their careers and attempt to climb the corporate ladder. Millennials are undoubtedly different than baby boomers and Gen X, which can lead to conflict and power struggles in the office.
“We moved from an industrial era to a post-industrial era, and millennials are the first generation of the post-industrial era,” Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, a Minneapolis-based company focused on helping organizations recruit, engage and retain young talent, said. “[That means] they’ve been raised during an era driven by technology and innovation, and the result of that is a shift in what the millennial generation values, how they engage and how they communicate. ... While millennials are the first generation of this major shift, we’ve all moved into a new era and we’re being forced to adapt to it.”
Read on for tips on how to engage millennials, reasons why you should hire them and ideas for how to keep everyone happy in a multigenerational workplace.
HOW TO RECRUIT AND RETAIN
“Millennial” isn’t the only nickname that has been assigned to this demographic—Gen Yers also are notoriously known as “job-hoppers.” According to a 2016 Gallup study, six in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities. Sladek explained why they’re often so quick to leave. “When millennials come into the workplace, one of the main complaints we hear for why they leave is because there was a lack of a relationship—they didn’t feel really welcomed, they didn’t feel like they were part of a team,” she said. “And we even hear some millennials say that they felt lonely at work.”
In order to keep millennials at your company, Sladek has three tips. First, create opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and team building for all generations. Second, keep in mind the post-industrial era values millennials were raised with. They grew up with technology, want instant gratification and always had access to a plethora of information. “I think that companies have to take a good, hard look at how they’re operating, and kind of ask themselves, ‘Are we really thinking with a technology mindset? Are we able to be responsive to situations quickly? Are we allowing for customization of employee benefits or employee schedules? Are we thinking global? Are we giving our employees access to products and relationships [available] beyond the company’s doors?’” she said. “I think that’s really important because, again, millennials come in and they kind of have this unique mindset, and it bumps up against some of the workplace models of the past.”
Sladek’s third tip was to make sure you let your millennial employees know that their work is making a difference. “One of the things that we observed in our generational studies is that, as a result of coming of age during a recession and terrorism ... we find that millennials crave things that they can control,” she said. “One of the things that they can control is their time. ... And we found that millennials, more than any other generation, put a really high value on their time. ... They want their time to be spent in valuable, meaningful ways. And that’s really what it comes down to when we hear millennials say, ‘Well, I just want to do good work. I want my work to have meaning and purpose.’”
Mary Ellen Harden, president of Wall Street Greetings, Versailles, Ky., agreed, adding that, for millennials, a job is not just a job. “Most all millennials are hardworking [and] striving to make an impact with their work,” she said. “They really care about what they are doing and want to impact things positively. They want to be known as a unique and important part of the team. They will get bored with their work if they do not see how they are improving for themselves and making a difference for others.”
WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE MILLENNIALS
So, why would you want to hire people from a generation that often has been described as “entitled,” “over-stimulated” and “impatient”? On the flipside, they frequently have many good traits that will help your company grow. “Millennials are really unique in their abilities to problem solve and to be innovative because, again, they aren’t accustomed to some of the processes and mythologies of prior generations,” Sladek said. “They’re the [most] educated generation in history. They are the most diverse generation in history.”
Sladek also explained that the millennial generation is changing the assumption that age is the only thing that makes someone wise. “It used to be that the elder of a society—the person who was the oldest and had the most experience—was the wisest and had the most power,” she said. “Now, because of all this access to information and education, we find that every generation has something to learn and something to teach. Millennials are bringing whole new skill sets, whole new ideas to the table that weren’t previously there.” Sladek went on to say that millennials are better at networking and collaborating compared to previous generations, making them great candidates for working in the print and promotional products industry.
KEEPING ALL GENERATIONS HAPPY
At the same time millennials are moving into the workplace, baby boomers are retiring later than previous generations, which means they both—and Gen X—need to peacefully coexist. “I think that the first tip I would give for teamwork is carving out time to actually have teamwork and have fun,” Sladek said. “I’ve advised organizations to have some sort of team-building activity or fun activity for your team at least once a month. And whether that is a picnic, bowling, potluck, costumes at work, fundraiser, whatever it is, carve out time each and every month for that relationship-building aspect.”
Team bonding aside, Sladek also encouraged employees to make an effort to try and understand other generations. “A lot of times, we find that baby boomers, or even Gen Xers, will say, ‘I totally remember what it’s like to be young and it’s nothing like how these millennials are behaving. I just don’t get these millennials. They’re high maintenance and they’re difficult,’” she said. “But the fact is that they don’t really know what it’s like for the millennial generation. And vice versa. Millennials need to really, truly understand their peers who are in other age groups. So one exercise we recommend is to have 30 conversations in 30 days with someone in another age group.”
Sladek explained this exercise could be performed with co-workers, relatives or even strangers. “[Ask] them a few key questions, like, ‘What are you and your peers really challenged with right now?’ or ‘If a company like ours wanted to engage someone in your age group, what would our company need to do to be able to do that?’” she said. Sladek believes performing that exercise allows people to gain a greater appreciation and understanding for people in other generations.
Gaining an understanding for other generations is important to Harden, as well. “Too often, millennials are misunderstood as trying to change traditions or disrespecting authority,” she said. “This simply is not the case. When a millennial comes forward with a way to do things differently or ignite change, it is not out of disrespect, but out of a passion to continue and add to the legacy of success.”
Harden offered another suggestion: Don’t take yourself too seriously in the workplace. “Everyone is working toward the common goal of success; there are simply different approaches,” she said. “My now-partner still refers to me as ‘The Kid.’ This is endearing, a way for him to address me in teaching moments [and] a way for us to play off each other in sales calls. The worst thing to say to a millennial [is], ‘That’s how we’ve always done it.’”
Communication also is key for keeping the peace throughout varying generations. “It’s important to have some tough conversations as a team, and it’s going to require compromise,” Sladek said. “So, just as an example, maybe the team is frustrated because millennials want to leave work at 3 p.m. and older generations say, ‘You’ve got to be here until 5 o’clock. You cannot leave that desk until 5:01.’ And that creates conflict, obviously, and people aren’t happy. Sitting down as a team and saying, ‘OK, what’s really important as far as our schedules? How are we going to compromise? How will we work together more effectively as a team?’ Some of the ideas and work practices that were normal in the past are now under question. It’s not a 9-to-5 workplace anymore. It’s not a hierarchy anymore. There are certain work practices that we have to talk about as teams, and come up with processes and strategies that work well for the entire team, not just one age group on the team.”