How the Work World is Changing with Millennials
Definitions of the millennial generation vary, but basically these are people who, today, range from 20 to 36 years old. Their distinctive characteristics are attributed to two primary factors:
- Most were raised by highly attentive baby boomer parents, and
- Instant communication via electronic technology has been ubiquitous.
As millennials left home and went to college, far from being tossed into a sink-or-swim environment, many of them landed instead in a cocoon. For some millennials, that protective nest was created by institutions trying to accommodate their expectations and included some sheltering from the slings and arrows of normal life. So, when millennials join your workforce, they may assume that pattern of nurturing will continue.
That leaves employers with the choice to accommodate them (within reason), or treat them the way they treated employees of other generations when they first entered the workforce.
How Some Millennials View the World of Work
- An orderly work environment and clearly articulated directions;
- An informal atmosphere that emphasizes collaborative work arrangements instead of a top-down hierarchical structure (notwithstanding the desire for an orderly work environment mentioned above);
- A basic understanding of the broader context of their role within your organization;
- Enjoyment and stimulation tied to their work, rather than a nose-to-the-grindstone atmosphere;
- Recognition of their contributions, as well as regular feedback on performance;
- The chance to add their opinions about how things should be done;
- Opportunities to acquire new skills;
- A sense of purpose in their work;
- Work-life balance, and;
- Communication with co-workers and superiors mostly by email or other electronic means, rather than face-to-face.
Perhaps you’re confident that your management philosophy and work environment already accommodate such expectations. But it’s helpful to take a step back and assess the degree to which that’s true. One telling indicator might be the turnover rate among this generation of employees. Keep in mind, however, that millennials have been dubbed by the Gallup Organization as the “job-hopping generation” due to their tendency to not stay too long with employers. (In fairness, many jobs these days are done on a contract basis and are designed to end after a specified term, even for millennials that would choose to stay.)
Motivating this Generation
Here are some recommended steps to maximize the productivity of millennials and lower their turnover rates:
- Provide structure and guidance. While few millennials are looking for helicopter-style supervisors breathing down their necks, many would like their bosses to be attentive to their efforts and readily available for advice and direction upon request.
- Selectively encourage team formation. Group projects were common in school assignments for millennials, so you may find fewer lone wolves among this group than in earlier generations.
- Keep them briefed. They’re anxious to know how they and their workgroup or division is contributing to the performance of the entire organization, as well as how the company as a whole is doing relative to it its peers.
- Mix work and play. You probably don’t want to turn your workplace into a Silicon Valley-style field of foosball tables and other impromptu games. However, you can still be open to having an upbeat — and even playful work environment — without making the office into a playground.
- Provide feedback, feedback, feedback. Members of the generation when “every player got a trophy” don’t necessarily expect to receive high praise no matter what, but they also don’t want to wonder about their performance. Although it’s important to maintain a documented work appraisal system, millennials seem to expect and appreciate more frequent casual comments about how they are doing.
- Make conversations with employees a two-way street. “360 feedback” is an old concept, but it often has particular appeal for millennials. And it’s not just about how managers are doing, but about how the company could be better run.
- Create training and development opportunities. Like many young people, members of this generation tend to be impatient, and like to see a path to new roles and growth opportunities. Giving them the chance to make their own decisions about the direction of their skills development can be particularly motivational.
- Cultivate a “greater good” culture. Part of many millennials’ common desire for social connection (as manifested in their social media habits) spills over into a longing to do work that has meaning — and a sense that their efforts are ultimately improving society. Emphasize the benefits that your company’s products or services create in your community or beyond, over and above providing a paycheck to its employees.
- Pay attention to your digital footprint. Millennial applicants will search the Internet before they interview with your organization. Make sure your website and social media pages reflect the image you want to project.
- Prevent work overload. Inevitably, there will be crunch periods when overtime is unavoidable. But many millennials tend not to be workaholics, so watch for signs of burnout. Provide work schedule flexibility to offset the emotional impact of long stretches of demanding work schedules.
The good news about adapting to your growing younger workforce is that doing so doesn’t come at the expense of alienating older workers. At worst, they’ll probably just be neutral about it. But it’s entirely possible that moving towards being a millennial-focused organization will spur greater loyalty and productivity among your older employees as well.