By: Darren K. Ford, SPHR
Before you begin reading this article, take a few minutes and write down all your perceptions of the Millennial generation. I’m sure you have some. It’s probably those perceptions that motivated you to read this article. After all, more and more of these young, unique workers are reporting to the office every day.
Hold on to those Millennial thoughts – we’ll come back to them in a minute. First, let’s briefly review the generations.
What Is A Millennial?
Before answering the above question, let’s look at the three generations preceding Millennials and still in the workforce.
Traditionalists: Born 1922 – 1945, traditionalists see work as an obligation and commitment. They believe all employees should pay their dues and work hard to get to the next level.
Baby Boomers: This generation was born between 1946 and 1964. Workers in this generation like climbing the corporate ladder because it represents upward mobility, status, and more perks. Baby Boomers don’t mind the long hours it takes to get to the next rung -- the rewards are worth it.
Gen Xers: Generation X is the term given to those born between 1965 and 1983. As a result of their “latch-key” childhood, Gen Xers tend to be more independent than previous generations. They are the first generation to be more skeptical of the corporation than supportive, and are more interested in their own development than the development of the company.
This brings us to Millennials, those people born between 1984 and 2000 (by the way, the current generation, people born between 2001 and today, are called Generation Z). By most estimates, Millennials total 76 million and according to a Time magazine article, approximately 10,000 Millennials turn 21 every day in America. They’re here, more are coming, and one day they will be in charge.
"Chances are when you think of Millennial workers, you use words such as outspoken, lazy, and, what I hear most often, entitled."
With this background, let’s return to your Millennial thoughts. What words do you use to describe this generation? Chances are when you think of Millennial workers, you use words such as outspoken, lazy, and, what I hear most often, entitled. While some of this thinking may certainly be deserved, I believe other words are better descriptions of this unique generation. Words such as entrepreneurial, passionate, and collaborative. Their ability to connect with others, use technology, and deal with change will allow this generation to transform the workplace – and the world – like never before.
The Positive Stuff
Let’s start our Millennial exploration by looking at a few positive attributes they bring to the table. While there are many, three stand out.
First, they like to collaborate. They’ve been collaborating for years, working on projects in small teams throughout their high school and college years. In fact, sometimes Millennials work so well in a team environment, they don’t even have a leader! Brad Karsh, co-author of Manager 3.0, was shocked when interviewing recent college grads about their college projects. Interview after interview, job candidates would tell Brad about the leaderless project teams they participated on during college. When asked how the group accomplished anything, the job candidates would say, “It just worked.”
Another positive Millennial characteristic is the passion they bring to the workplace. Yes, previous generations have entered business vowing to change the world, but Millennials are actually doing it. They join the Peace Corps. They work for nonprofits. They get involved with causes, often trying to make a difference in their local community.
Businesses can use this passion as a way of retaining and developing Millennial talent. Why not put a Millennial in charge of your yearly United Way campaign? Let them coordinate a Heart Walk with the American Heart Association. Or have a Millennial worker connect with a school district to organize a back-to-school campaign that gets all of your employees involved in supporting the local community.
A third great thing about Millennials is their thought process. Technology has rewired their brain so they think differently than previous generations. What does this mean? Give a Millennial a process that has ten steps and they may think, “Hmmm, combine steps four and five, move step seven to the end, and get rid of step nine.” So when your young worker says, “I can complete this process in eight steps,” don’t doubt them – they probably can!
For all of the positive things Millennials bring to the table, there are also some less-than-positive attributes business must contend with. First and foremost, they think differently. Yes, we just explored how Millennials’ thought process is a good thing but it can also be a challenge.
When your computer stops working, when the hourglass (or pinwheel if you’re an Apple person) just spins and spins and spins, what do you do? You reboot. Shut the computer down. Hit the power button. Unplug. Control-Alt-Delete.
Well, that’s how Millennials view the world. For example, when Mr. or Ms. Manager says to Johnny, “I need you to work on Friday night,” Johnny thinks to himself, “I was going out with Suzie on Friday. I can’t work! In fact, this whole work thing just isn’t good for me now.” And the hourglass starts spinning.
So what does Johnny do? He reboots someplace else! To Johnny, it’s no big deal to hit Control-Alt-Delete, leaving his current employer and starting over down the street. Of course, what do older workers think?
“That Johnny was a lazy, good-for-nothing kid.” Johnny really isn’t lazy, he just thinks differently.
Finally, Millennials need more time and more patience than older workers needed when they entered the workforce. Remember your first job out of high school or college? You thought you knew everything but, of course, you didn’t.
"For all of the positive things Millennials bring to the table, there are also some less-than-positive attributes business must contend with. First and foremost, they think differently."
Millennials entering the workforce, while they also think they know everything, they don’t either. In fact, they probably know less about work life than you did when you started years ago.
Why is this? Why does business have to teach new, young employees a work ethic, the guidelines for moving up in the organization, or how to adhere to company policies and procedures? Because for many Millennial workers, the job out of college is their first experience in a working environment. They’ve spent their entire childhood and college life going to summer sports camp, volunteering to dig water wells in poor countries (there’s that make-the-world-a-better-place passion), and studying nonstop for AP courses that will help them get into the “right” college.
For many Millennials, this hectic schedule has prevented them from having a job in high school or college. This means they are growing up and “learning life” as your new employee! In the end, your young Millennial worker will be great teammates. Getting them there, however, may take time and patience.
What Does All This Mean?
So how can business get the most from these unique workers? Two general points to keep in mind. First, management practices must evolve. For example, managers must update their communication procedures (email is too slow – start texting!). In addition to communication methods, managers must communicate more often with their Millennial workers. Millennials want to hear from their boss on a daily basis!
On an even broader perspective, where can work be accomplished? Must a Millennial sit in a cubicle to be seen and managed or can this new worker use technology to work from home or Starbucks a couple of days a week?
In addition to updated management practices, organizations must pay attention to the corporate culture more than ever. Millennials won’t accept a lousy workplace. If they can’t put their passion to work, sense the company doesn’t value them, or feel constrained by inflexible work rules and dress codes, the hourglass will start spinning which means the reboot is not far behind.
Generally speaking, Millennials just think differently. In many cases, this can be leveraged to a company’s advantage since they bring a unique perspective to the discussion that other generations aren’t as likely to provide. Combine that perspective with their familiarity and comfort with technology along with a passion to see business make the world a better place and you’ve added valuable strength to your team.
Meet Darren Ford:
With a driving passion to see people succeed, Darren has “reinvented” himself several times throughout his career. After starting in the IT industry as a business development professional, Darren moved to Bulgaria to become headmaster of a small school. After four years, he returned to Texas and started NexGen Leadership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching leadership and life skills to high school students.
Most recently, Darren worked for a large financial organization, first as the Director of Employee Development and later as Vice President of Culture and Engagement. In this role, Darren led the charge to develop a corporate culture that would allow employees to be happy and satisfied while doing their best work.
During engaging keynotes and interactive workshops, Darren presents the concepts and principles that are critical for organizational and personal success. Darren challenges employees to be accountable for their work, motivating them to perform at their greatest ability and “stop trading hours for dollars.”
A VP of Talent Acquisition said, “Darren is an engaging and impactful speaker. His common sense approach to corporate culture and values is refreshing and inspiring.” Another HR professional simply said, “Darren has that ‘it’ factor.” Whatever you call it, Darren has the ability to connect with any audience.