The Risk of Ignoring Millennials

by Lindenberger, Judith Friday, February 18, 2011
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One of the biggest challenges for businesses today is integrating the Millennials twenty-somethings into a Baby Boomer culture. They are the newest generation to enter the labor market, arriving with their distinct ideas about what they expect from their jobs. They are our future leaders and our next generation of revenue-generators. So who are the Millennials and how do we manage their expectations while maintaining high performing organizations?

The Millennial Generation was born between 1977 and 1998. They are 75 million strong in size and were raised by “helicopter parents”, who doted on them, giving them an ample supply of attention and validation. Because they were heralded with high expectations, Millennials tend to display an abundance of self-confidence and believe they are highly valuable to any organization from day one. They are extremely focused on developing themselves and thrive on learning new job skills, always setting new challenges to achieve. They are also the “can do” generation, never worrying about failure, for they see themselves as running the world and work environments.

Unlike other generations, the Millennials are overly connected to their parents. As they move through their twenties, they still speak to their parents frequently and turn to their parents for personal and career advice. Some are still even living at home, not uncomfortable with the arrangement. Organizations must remember the parent involvement factor when dealing with this group.

When it comes to work life balance, Millennials are not willing to give up their lifestyle for a career. They have traveled extensively and value having flexibility in their daily lives. They choose careers that allow them to live the life they desire, busy with after-work activities, including philanthropic involvement. Multitasking is their way of life. This generation grew up with little unstructured time as their parents carefully selected their life choices. The result of their minimal “down time” is that they are highly comfortable going from activity to activity in their adult world. When their workday ends, Millennials charge out into gyms, volunteer positions, classes and social events.

Millennials are team-oriented, banding together to socialize in groups. In school, this generation was taught lessons using a cooperative learning style. Therefore, they feel comfortable working on teams and want to make friends with the people at work. They believe that a team can accomplish more and create a better end result. They also grew up in a multi-cultural world which enables them to work well on a team with diverse co-workers. They communicate in snippets through instant messaging, texting, Facebook and e-mail. Quick and efficient communication is the way Millennials choose to interact, not necessarily face-to-face.

Of all of the talents that Millennials bring to the workplace, being technologically savvy is their greatest skill contribution. They are constantly connected as they listen to their iPods or send text messages, all while working on a critical project. Social media is at the heart of their world. This allows them to connect with co-workers and friends around the world at great speed. The electronic capabilities of Millennials are extraordinary. On a recent twitter chat, several Millennials participated at lightning rod speed, sharing their thoughts: One even commented: “Social Media has expanded my network tremendously. More people to talk and learn from.”

Another characteristic of the Millennials is their need for constant feedback and in particular, praise. They were reassured daily of their achievements and were recognized with stars and trophies for those successes. Whether or not the trophy was deserved for each individual, the entire team received the positive reward. It is a generation that needs to continue feeling valuable, while adding their opinions and ideas to every company decision. They want to be heard. In giving critical feedback, managers will need to first compliment Millennials before they will listen to any criticism. They also have little patience for ambiguity, so directions during feedback sessions must be clear and specific. Organizations will be more successful in delivering performance milestones on a more frequent basis than once a year. Once a week might do the trick. The feedback sessions must be interactive, so that the Millennial is presented the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas. Brainstorming together could be a very effective technique.

So how do you integrate and manage the youngest generation within the workplace? Here are some key tips and insights.

Category: Work Environment
What to do: Provide flexible work schedules and a relaxed workplace. Create opportunities for social interaction like Friday afternoon alcohol-free “happy hours,” scavenger hunts, and Nerf battles.
Why: Millennials put friends and lifestyle above work. They are getting married, and having children later.

Category: Learning and training opportunities
What to do: Provide tuition reimbursement and employee training.
Why: Boomer parents raised them to believe that education is the road to success.

Category: Recruiting
What to do: Emphasize the ways that your company contributes to society.
Why: Almost 70% say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.

Category: On boarding
What do do: Give them exposure to different parts of the business, provide resources on the intranet for them to use at their own pace, and help them build relationships with current employees.
Why: Millennials want and need connections, checkpoints and mentoring.

Category: Work ethic
What do do: Millennials ask “what is my job” and go about figuring out the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done.
Why: “… when we (Baby Boomers) were younger, you had a piano teacher who expected you to practice your piano and work hard at it, and the parents expected it. Now, parents say, Have fun, learn the piano, and practice a little bit,” says WSJ columnist, Jeffrey Zaslow.

Category: Motivation
What do do: Provide paid time off as a reward.
Why: They view jobs as “something to do between the weekends.”

Category: Boss relationships
What do do: Win their affection. Be careful not to cross the line from “boss as advocate” to “boss as friend."
Why: Loyalty to the boss is the number one reason they stay in a job, especially during the first three years. Dissatisfaction with the boss is the number one reason they quit. Millennials want a tight bond with a boss who is close, caring and aware.

Category: Managing
What do do: Describe the result you’re looking for and let them figure out how to get there. In many cases they’ll develop a better process. To bring out the best in them, teach them about the company and explain how their work will lead to specific results. Hold them accountable for mistakes and praise them for success.If you tell them it’s your way or the highway, they may walk.
Why: Millennials grew up learning how to figure out things on their own. With the Internet and a network of friends a text message away they will find their own answers. They do not take well to orders and resent being handed busywork with no explanation as to its purpose. They are impatient but always eager to learn and quick to do so.Millennials think of themselves as a commodity that they can sell to the highest bidder.

Category: Work Assignments
What do do: Give them several projects. Put them in the field with clients, where they can work in teams and solve problems collaboratively. Let them work on projects with higher-ups when appropriate.
Why: They are great multi-taskers with 10 times the speed and technical knowledge of their older siblings. “This generation understands that there is no need to stay up all night to make an overseas phone call. They can simply text message the person with the information they need and continue the conversation the next day on their own time,” says Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions. Though they are independent thinkers, Millennials love working in teams. They question the status quo and expect to make an impact on day one.

Category: Performance feedback
What do do: Provide coaching sessions to discuss career paths. Shorten the feedback loop. Do reviews at least quarterly.
Why: Millennial employees “feel entitled to a raise and promotion in a week, that corner office in six,” says Dr. Carolyn Martin, co-author of Managing the Generation Mix. Boomer parents coached them to ask for what they want. They’re used to constant feedback.

Category: Reducing Turnover
What do do: Create career paths with a timeframe short enough for them to envision. Reward small successes along the way.
Why: They set short-term goals and want to make an impact from day one.

With 75 million Millennials entering the workplace, organizations have no choice but to learn how to recruit, grow and retain these workers. If not, companies will lose talented employees who, because of their strong networking and technological capabilities, have the ability to be the most productive generation to date.