Young professionals have fallen into a grossly generalized demographic: the Millennials, or depending on who you are, those effin Millennials. They are a generation of the workers who grew up with technology, are adaptive and disruptive, and they’re giving the rest of us a run for our money. Millennials don’t do things the way we do them, which isn’t bad and is probably a good thing. We can leverage our collective talents and avoid multi-generational pitfalls with some of the tips I’m about to share. But let’s just get it out there – It’s time to stop saying Millennial like a four-letter word – it makes us sound really old.
We’ve all studied the Baby Boomers born from 1946-1964, but now everyone’s talking about Millennials – they live with their parents, Instagram everything, dedicate themselves to living with purpose, and can’t focus on anything for more than five minutes at a time – there’s an endless number of crotchety things we can say about them.
GenX though…we’re stuck middle of the clowns and the jokers (hey, chill- it’s a song lyric). No one really talks about us or studies us, and in most conversations about generational divides we don’t even come up. I must say, our angst is justified but apparently not conversation-worthy. As mid-to-executive career professionals, GenX has a unique vantage point in dealing with the retiring Boomers and emergent Millennials.
We are the translational generation in your careers. We can bridge the cultural gap. We believe passionately in the mixtape but know the future of music is digital; we still know print and cursive, but prefer our information in the cloud where it’s transportable; we don’t wanna live with our mammas. GenXers have worked with and for Boomers, and we’ve worked with, managed, and worked alongside our younger counterparts successfully. If you’re feeling stuck in dealing with Millennials, I’m here to help.
Millennials are better than us at a few important things
- They’re not afraid of change and are highly adaptable. Millennials are not risk averse and can make decisions quickly. They take action, fail quickly, and correct course. If Plan A doesn’t work out, ask a Millennial for B, C, and D because they can probably give you solid options on-the-fly.
- They’re quick to adopt new processes and technologies. If they’re not familiar with the new tools, they’ll learn them quickly and then teach you.
- They’re teachable. Millennials are less set in their ways because of all of the above, but also because they’re fresh in their careers, and they want your mentoring.
- They’re concerned with global citizenship. They’ll be the ones in the office asking for recycling bins and duplex printing, they’ll organize volunteer groups on the weekend, and they’ll solicit and listen to their coworkers’ input.
Here’s what Millennials want to tell you
- Everyone is different. Not only do millennials value individuality, but they hate that you blindly call them “the Millennials.” They like to be treated as individuals, and they hope you will manage them individually.
- They’re not know-it-alls. They don’t know it all, but neither do you. History repeats itself, but the landscape is vastly different now than it was decades ago, and even from year to year. With advancements in technology, none of us know what tomorrow will look like. Millennials run faster, and those with more years on the job must use our emotional intelligence to give them credit for that, guide them with experience, and be open to learning from them.
- Early and later millennials have different lives, different needs. The Millennial generation spans a large block of time. New college grads differ greatly in needs and focus than 35-year-olds who are mid-career with families and responsibility. Ungroup them in your mind.
- They want to make a difference at work. They want their work to mean something, they want you to trust them, and they want to be empowered. Don’t we all want that? Build that trust, and let them flex their muscles.
Keep Millennials on your team happy, they’ll stick around
- Manage to the individual. Salary, amenities, and bonuses won’t drive younger professionals as much as having fulfilling experiences and opportunities for personal and professional growth. Ask them questions, engage them, take the time to understand their talents and skills, and give them opportunities to leverage them with complementary responsibilities on your team and help them grow.
- Provide a flexible environment. Some people are more productive in an office environment while others work ten times better from a cafe or at home. Some people enjoy business attire while others like to express their own style. Trust your younger workers to do a great job and be professional, make yourself available, but also set the bar high for their expected productivity.
- Be a good communicator. Millennials have grown up with all the information literally at their fingertips. They expect that in the workplace, as well. Provide them with open and clear communication, transparent expectations, frequent and real-time feedback, and the ability to ask questions and be heard.
- Teach in a way that will resonate. Some people learn in a classroom, others in the field. While lecture or PowerPoint orientations work well for some people, many young professionals prefer to learn hands-on. Teach them on-the-job, let them play with the technology, and create an interactive learning environment.
- Recognize differences, and create commonalities. While young professionals have huge strengths in technology and adaptability, there are many business norms that may feel foreign to them. You may hear something like, “I emailed them about that urgent matter but didn’t hear back.” Well, perhaps you can call them? While we accept differences, we must also mentor in trusted (albeit old school) business practice.
Open your mind, build generational bridges
The world in which the newest generation of career professionals was raised is very different from the one seasoned executives grew up in and it’s evolving faster than many of us are prepared to keep up with, quite frankly. The professional space into which we’re all moving is new territory, and we would be wise to take advantage of the competencies and strengths of our younger team members.
It’s easy to complain about an entire generation, but generalizing is like apologizing in advance for setting them up for failure. There will be gaps in communication, skillsets, and culture, but all generations will need to work together to create commonalities, bridge gaps, and work for a more strategic, advantageous, and ultimately more enjoyable business culture.