The Time to Welcome Millennials Is Now
By Terri Klass, Judy Lindenberger, and Jean-Baptiste Marchais
Have you ever wondered what makes the Millennials tick? We did, so in the fall of 2011, we set out to learn more about this generation.The Millennial generation was born between the years of 1977 and 1997. The workplace today also includes Generation Xers born between 1965 and 1976, Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964m, and Traditionalists born between 1900 and 1945.The Millennials are the youngest generation to enter the workplace. They grew up with school shootings, terrorist attacks, AIDS, the Exxon Valdez spill, and the Internet, all of which influenced their view of the world. As children, they experienced everyone getting awards for playing sports and went to school at a time when gold stars were handed out freely. As a result, Millennials want frequent feedback. They grew up with Baby Boomer parents, manywho are self-professed workaholics, and therefore they desire more work-life balance than their parents had.
Millennials have many gifts that they bring to the workplace. They are resourceful and able to multitask. They can surf online, email, and write a report at the same time, and they can comfortably find information through the Internet. They work well in team environments and are comfortable speaking up. They also want to make an immediate impact in their jobs and move up quickly.
Because many of our clients struggle with how to best integrate Millennials into the workplace, we interviewed these young workers, along with their managers, through face-to-face and telephone interviews. Interviewees came from a variety of organizations and industries, ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to small companies. The survey spanned different industries including pharmaceuticals, engineering, biotechnology, and financial services.
We asked managers these questions:
How are your Millennial employees different from your other employees?
- What challenges do your Millennial employees present? What benefits do they bring to the workplace?
- What do you expect from your Millennial employees?
- What do you need to better understand and manage your Millennial employees?
- What kind of professional development would be most beneficial for your Millennial employees?
We asked Millennial workers these questions:
What is your world like?
- What are your professional and personal goals?
- What do you expect from your manager? What do you expect from your job?
- Do you have work/life balance?
- What challenges do you have at work?
- What do you need to succeed at work?
- What kind of professional development would be most beneficial to you?
According to the managers we spoke with, Millennial employees are energetic and creative. They also are flexible, technology-savvy, resourceful, able to retrieve information quickly and efficiently, and open-minded. Millennial employees are not afraid to discover new things; in fact, they want to learn and are eager to try something new.
Managers tell us that Millennials prefer communicating through email and that they do not like face-to-face meetings as much. Millennials tend to get distracted and lose concentration easily because of technologies; they spend time checking texts and emails.
Millennials may choose the fastest path to the solution and think they deserve to be promoted quickly. The energy and enthusiasm they can generate can be considered a challenge by their managers. One manager said, “They are highly ambitious, but they have short-term goals. They want to reach management quickly but they need to be managed very carefully with career paths that keep them in companies.”
They are inexperienced at understanding the complexity of politics and processes and underestimate their importance. A manager said, “They need to understand company policies and work within them as opposed to making up their own rules.” A Millennial said, “I want to understand and manage politics and learn effective project management strategies.”
Millennials have a positive vision of the world and consider it filled with opportunities, reporting: “There are so many things to learn and to be exposed to and not enough time to do everything.”
They also have a real desire to learn and grow, which is advantageous to organizations because as Baby Boomers and others retire from the workplace Millennials must take over leadership positions more quickly than generations before them. There’s a perfect match between the Millennials’ desire to make an immediate contribution, to be leaders, and to learn and grow in their organizations, and the need for them to quickly assume these leadership roles. This means that frequent performance appraisals, mentoring programs, coaching, and training will be essential for growing and sustaining leaders. A Millennial said, “I want to know when my manager is happy with the work that is done and if they are expecting more.” Another commented, “I want the opportunity to shadow others and learn about areas outside my scope of responsibility.”
Their attraction to fast-paced environments and their self-confidence allows them to handle multiple tasks without a problem. However, it is important to find a balance regarding workload. Too much of a workload could turn them off, not enough could reduce their enthusiasm. Also, workplace flexibility is a benefit that Millennials value. We heard comments like, “I usually work 11 hours a day but I am satisfied by the fact that my boss doesn’t demand a strict 9 to 5 schedule.”
As Millennials move into management and leadership positions, we predict there will be an emphasis on them asking others for their opinions as opposed to “it’s my way or the highway.” There will be respect for different points of view and different opinions. There will be greater teamwork, a lot of creativity and a lot of having fun as well as working hard.
One thing that really struck us is that many Millennials are interested in working for an employer whose corporate ethics match their own. Another thing we heard over and over is that they want to hear the truth from their bosses, they want feedback, and they want it right away. One Millennial commented, “I want honesty, respect, open communication, to be informed constantly, and to learn my manager’s expectations.”
In our leadership development work over the last 20 years, we have found that it’s often difficult for managers to give straight, honest feedback to their employees. However, giving employees helpful and timely feedback is a skill that is essential for managers and leaders in today’s workplace. To bring out the best in your Millennial employees, give them specific and honest feedback and continually let them know how they are doing.
A case study
Jack was hired four months ago to work in research and development for a company that specializes in healthcare products. Jack graduated from college last June and this is his first professional position. He was assigned to a few projects and has done a good job so far. Because Jack has expressed a desire to take on more responsibility, his boss, Karen, asks him to take the lead for researching a new product. Jack is excited; this is his opportunity to show what he’s got.
After a couple of days, Jack has researched a lot of information from specialized magazines, on the Internet, and by connecting with college friend through LinkedIn and Twitter. He wants to meet with Karen to ask her some questions and keep the momentum going, but she has been travelling and sends him a few quick emails in response that don’t fully answer his questions. Frustrated, Jack posts on his Facebook page and his Twitter update “Having a bad day at work.”
What mistakes did Karen make in managing her new Millennial employee? What could she do now? First, she should have let Jack know the company policy on using social media. Next, for a new project like this, where Jack will have a lot of learning, she might have had him work in a team with more experienced researchers. And because she won’t always be around to give Jack on demand coaching and counsel, she could have assigned him a mentor.
What mistakes did Jack make? What could he do now? Jack needs to adhere to company policy, especially on social media. He needs to set up regular meetings with Karen to be respectful of her time.
The time is now
The time to leverage the talents and welcome the Millennials into organizations is now. More experienced workers are rapidly nearing retirement age and their accumulated wisdom and expertise could soon be walking out the door. In addition, Millennials are actively asking for more training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities. Bringing together older workers’ experience and Millennials’ creativity can lead to groundbreaking innovations. Here are some ways to provide just that.
Add large, open mentoring programs to pre-existing small, targeted programs. Create an open mentoring culture where people learn from each other in a wide variety of formal and informal relationships on an enterprise level. This allows everyone to reap the benefits of mentoring.
Use technology to make it easier to get started, connect with others and expand the mentoring experience.Using technology to help people sign up and get connected can enhance the personal nature of the learning experience. Mentoring is people-centered learning—technology just makes it easier.
In addition, some more tips to recruit, manage, and retain Millennials include:
- Articulate your employer brand—communicate internally and externally what it means to work for your organization.
- Have a clear statement about corporate responsibility—make this part of your employer brand and be committed to deliver the promise,
- Think creatively about how technology can be used to engage Millennials, such as avatars and internal networking sites.
- Create an onboarding experience for Millennials that helps them learn your company culture.
- Be crystal clear about company policies such as social media.
- Set clear performance expectations and explain why something needs to be done.
- Use email and voicemail as primary tools when you cannot meet face-to-face.
- Don’t force utilization of the chain of command.
- Don’t talk down to them—they will resent it.
- Provide feedback early and often.
- Hold them accountable and let them know when they have screwed up.
- Tell them what they do well.
- Judge them by what they accomplish rather than the number of hours they put in.
- Encourage them to share their ideas with you.
- Invest in personal development and training—explore coaching and mentoring programs.
- Provide variety and fresh challenges, and consider promoting cycles of experience in other parts of the organization.
- Teach your Millennials to become problem solvers.
- Tell stories, share your wisdom, or teach them something you wish you would have known when you were their age.
- Think creatively about reward strategies and what motivates them. For example, is it time to shift from cash bonuses and cars to other things?
Organizations today need to understand and support each generation. Training and mentoring programs will reduce conflict and improve communication and interaction. Don’t delay. Your success depends on it.
Terri Klass Consulting has been designing and presenting highly successful leadership workshops and programs for more than 20 years. Presentation topics include assertive communication, leadership skills, supervisory training, dealing with difficult people, conflict resolution, differences in generations, and team building. The company’s focus is in the following industries: healthcare, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, media and marketing. Klass holds both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA, as well as certification in Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judy Lindenberger “gets” leadership. She couples personal growth with professional development and focuses on driving performance. Lindenberger’s background includes designing and facilitating the first-ever sexual harassment prevention training for federal workers, leading the management training department for a major financial organization, and creating a highly successful, global mentoring program for a Fortune 500 company, which won the national Athena Award for Mentoring for two consecutive years. She also is a certified career coach and human resources consultant. Lindenberger earned a bachelor’s in communications and an MBA in human resources. In her free time, she serves as president of the board of Dunham Hall and is a trained community mediator and child advocate. She is the past vice president of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, past vice president of the board of the YWCA Trenton, and past president of the board of SERV Achievement Centers; email@example.com.
Jean-Baptiste Marchais was born in Normandy, France, and currently lives in Princeton, New Jersey. He is pursuing an MBA in human resources. As an undergraduate, he did an internship at the Lindenberger Group, where he on the Millennial Project performing interviews with people of this generation and managers from different industries. The results were used to build the contents of a new training run by Judith Lindenberger and Terri Klass.
© 2011 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.