It’s time to stop complaining about younger employees and start engaging them
A colleague of mine was a bit taken aback by what she described as “millennial bashing” during a lull at a professional conference she recently attended. Her table mates were complaining about how lazy millennials are, how their work ethic is lacking, and god forbid they should get their hands dirty. Now, I won’t share my friend’s age, but she and the people at the table were, let’s say, highly experienced. Finally, she let drop her own opinion: “I’m not sure that’s true. Millennials aren’t perfect, but neither are we. We all bring different skills and perspectives, and we all have blind spots and baggage. Isn’t it time we figure out how to work together?”
Of course, my friend was right. Each generation has its own way of looking at the world of work and life that’s different from prior and proceeding generations. Our lifetime experiences and subconscious assumptions are distinct. While each generation has been confused or dismayed by certain characteristics of the next one, millennials are purported to be the most misunderstood generation.
Why should you care about millennial needs?
Let’s be clear, millennials aren’t going anywhere, but up. Millennials are joining the leadership ranks at an increasing rate, and in a recent Gallup podcast, they estimated that in 2020, millennials will make up 70% of the U.S. workforce. That’s right…as much as 70%! Another research survey shows millennials at 75% of the workforce by 2025.
Born between 1980 and 1996 (Pew Research Center), people in the millennial generation have generally learned to be flexible and resilient, responding to technology advancements and an economy that continues to rapidly change education and the workplace. They tend to speak up for what they need, and are not reticent to leave their employer if those needs aren’t met. In a recent Gallup survey, 60% of millennial workers reported actively seeking other employment, often because they lacked a sense of value and higher purpose in their current employment situation. If recruiting, developing and retaining the great talent of the millennial (or Gen Z) generation is of interest to you, you’d be wise to learn what makes this generation tick, reflecting on how you can flex your leadership style to new realities.
Common generalization descriptors: Millennials are team players, collaborators, continuous learners, diverse, ambitious, and socially conscious. After decades of surveying millions of people in the global workforce, Gallup has observed a shift in the most common natural talents using their CliftonStrengths assessment tool. For those in the millennial generation, one of the top 5 natural talents is Empathy – which is not one of the most common top 5 for previous generations. Showing strength in empathy may well reflects the innate way millennials tend to connect with others and with a greater purpose. Together with the younger Gen Z generation (the oldest of whom are in their early 20s and entering the workforce), millennials tend to care more about impact and social justice, and not just climbing the ladder of advancement. But be clear, development for career growth remains critically important.
The shift in focus observed by Gallup aligns with modern social science findings, which indicate that, to be most successful, younger people need to be supported in different ways than employers practiced in the past. As a leader today, you likely need to provide people with a much more welcoming workplace environment than the one you came up in. Shift your organization’s culture to match today’s (and tomorrow’s) expectations.
6 ways to let millennial needs shift your leadership focus
Traditional-style leaders, like the ones at my friend’s conference, tend to look at millennial behaviors through the lens of their own experience. For example, baby boomers often found success at work by logging many extra hours of desk time. They learned that to be successful and deemed “committed” to the job, you should arrive at work before your boss and leave after them. The typical millennial-age person’s facility with technology and the blurring of work-life boundaries allows them to get their work done on a 24/7 schedule and take a three-day weekend, which looks a lot like slacking to the must-be-visible-in-the-office boomer. (However, some recent studies show that the 24/7 ability to work is causing burnout of millennials and other employee groups. Leaders need to help set expectations here, as well.)
The trick for leaders is to shift your approach to highlight the things younger workers find important, like teamwork, community, collaboration, purpose and growth. In an in-depth analysis of millennial workers, Gallup identified some critical transitions to consider:
1. From Paycheck to Purpose: Pay still matters, but many younger workers choose careers and employers that reflect their personal values and contribute to the greater good. Show your millennial workers how your organization connects with what they care about.
2. From Job Satisfaction to Development: The continuous nature of change today requires adaptability and evolution of skills. Ongoing learning and professional growth are essential. Sticking with the same job just won’t work for most millennials—leaders must provide opportunities for them to learn, evolve and face new challenges.
3. From Boss to Coach: Top-down authoritarian leadership has lost its edge, and collaboration is the rule of the day. Employees at all levels of the organization want to be heard and contribute. They are looking for a leader who can help them discover their talents and strengths, and to use them in service of the larger purpose.
4. From Annual Reviews to Ongoing Conversations: Raised to be team players, millennials benefit from clear expectations, frequent check-ins and ongoing dialogue that provides for real-time learning. The most effective leaders have a routine of frequent check-ins that are purposeful and forward-looking. Not a check-the-box transactional interaction, this is personal connection that simultaneously fosters a culture of accountability. (This need for continual meaningful connection is even influencing changes in recruiting methods.)
5. From Weaknesses to Strengths: Moving from a deficit mindset to building on what people are doing right is inspiring and allows room for the talents of others on the team to shine. Neuroscience is showing that critical feedback doesn’t really work, and leaders should instead highlight moments for positive learning. Weaknesses will not develop into strengths; however, strengths can grow exponentially to achieve exceptional results.
6. From Job to Life: Millennials don’t live to work. They consider their job to be just one aspect of a multifaceted life. Leaders are wise to be flexible about where and what time of day work gets done, as the job and level of personal accountability allow. Set clear expectations including measures of success with the employee, and between today’s technology and the creativity of an inspired employee, your expectations will be met.
The good news is that taking a leadership approach designed to satisfy millennials is beneficial to everyone on your team, whatever their age.
Motivate millennials and you motivate everyone
Successful organizations are the ones that attract and develop the most productive, energized and creative employees. You can do this with a leadership style that provides millennials, who make up an increasingly large share of the workplace, with the kinds of support they need most. Appreciate your millennials instead of making them feel devalued and disrespected for their different perspective and approach to getting things done. Encourage their contributions and build on their strengths.
At the same time, harness and celebrate the dedication, experience and distinctive attributes of traditionalists, boomers, Gen Xers and the upcoming Gen Zs. By respecting and engaging all individuals, you can satisfy the needs of every employee and lead them in blending their unique strengths and generational perspectives to elevate each other’s progress and achieve your organization’s shared goals. Take care of your people and they will take care of your organization—whatever their generational perspective.
If you need help creating an approach that works for your multi-generational team, check out the work we do. I invite you to contact me at Integrated Success to talk about proven tools and techniques you can use to build on the best of every generation.
Yours in success,
Linda is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Integrated Success HR Consulting & Coaching, LLC. She is a Gallup-certified Strengths Coach and a leader in strengths-focused development. Integrated Success works with organizations in developing effective teams and human resources practices to bring out the best of individuals for their own success and that of the organization. That’s why we say Integrated Success is the engine behind individuals and organizations thriving!