Here’s how not to work with millennials: A couple of years ago there was a hotshot tech startup in Silicon Valley. The company made a cool product and received several rounds of successful venture funding until it was growing faster than the founders had ever anticipated. They actually didn’t know how to run the company at that point, and before long they (and the board) decided to bring in a professional CEO.
On the morning of his first day, the new CEO put on his sharpest suit, drove to the startup’s new offices, and called an all-hands-on-deck meeting. With about 100 people gathered around, he explained how excited he was to be there, praised the great work they were doing, and invited everyone to stop by and meet him in person. He opened the floor for questions.
Out of desperation, the CEO pleaded, “Come on guys, ask me a question!” Finally, from the back of the room, an anonymous worker called out: “Why are you wearing a tie?”
So yes, working with millennials is different. As a manager, you know that one size does not fit all — different employees require different strategies. And the same is true for different generations; managing a Baby Boomer is not the same as managing a Gen Xer. Millennials require a deft touch.
But before we get into how best to work with this younger generation, it would help to know just who they are. The highly respected Pew Research Center had the same question when they conducted an in-depth survey of millennials last year, or whom they called, “The Next America.” According to Pew, millennials range in age “from 18 to 31, are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry — and optimistic about the future.”
Here then are some things to keep in mind to help you work with millennials effectively and efficiently:
1. Understand they have different motivations: What a millennial employee wants from work is not the same as say, what a Baby Boomer wants. For instance, at this stage in their careers, Baby Boomers essentially want two things: benefits (especially insurance) and stability.
But millennials are still on the way up, still proving themselves. As educated millennials typically do not see any one job as their long-term career, they want to acquire new, transferable skills. They appreciate learning and ongoing training, which can take the form of hard business skills and also softer skills like investing and money management.
But this is not to say millennials are not interested in money. Of course they are, and maybe more so. According to Pew, “They are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations.”
2. Listen up: You simply cannot bark orders down the chain of command to a millennial employee and expect to see results (unless, of course, you like bad results). According to the Pew study, this generation is generally distrustful of organizations, including businesses, including probably your business.
What that means is that if you want their respect, you have to earn it, and part of that means they expect to be listened to.
3. Provide a flexible workplace: If you want to attract and retain the best millennial employees, provide a flexible work environment, for two reasons:
- Between mobile technology and changing attitudes, your millennial employees expect to work in a contemporary environment that allows for flexibility.
- Millennials are in the thick of their lives. They have family commitments, friends, social and volunteer activities, sports, music — a life away from work. They don’t expect to live in the office; they expect to be treated like adults who will be in and out of the office as necessary.
4. Offer a good work-life balance: Along the same lines, millennials can be said to live by the motto, “work hard, play hard.” Sure, you will find some work-obsessives among them, but far more common will be the millennial coworkers who wants, values, and expects to have an employer who understands that work is only one part of a well-rounded life. Being able to attend to family commitments is a high priority, and as an employer, you will need to keep this in mind.
5. Create a fun culture: When you see profiles of workspaces at Google or Facebook, what is the distinguishing characteristic? You bet — foosball tables, basketball hoops, food stations, and the like. millennials want to have fun at work too — to make friends and enjoy what they do in an atmosphere they like. The good news is that fostering a positive work culture has proven to be beneficial, not only to your staff’s well-being, but also to the bottom line. Happy employees equal happy customers, and happy customers means more profit.
And the Pew research bears this out. The millennial generation is a positive one. Between the Boomers, Generation X, and the millennials, it is the latter that is the most optimistic, with “49% of millennials saying the country’s best years are ahead.”
The upshot of all of this is that millennials in the workplace bring a host of valuable skills and ideas to the party. If you want them to stick around, be mindful of what makes them tick and nurture that.