Stop complaining about millennials and get back to work

If you ask some marketers, you’d think millennials are as mystifying as they are valuable. Brands are scrambling to figure out Snapchat and tap into millennials’ buying power; employers are spinning in reaction to millennial tales like that of Mic, a company run by millennials with a “freewheeling office culture,” and of an Eat24 employee’s polarizing open letter to her CEO. We hear “millennials, this” and “millennials, that” constantly.

We all seem to be wondering – are millennials changing the future of the workforce, and if so, how should organizations respond?

I’ll share something that I usually choose not to broadcast. I’m a millennial. I was born after 1980. Quite honestly, most days I’m ashamed of my generation’s image and find myself fighting to keep distance from it – telling myself things like, “They’re really talking about the ‘younger millennials.’ We’re not all like that.” And, “It’s hard to pass one generalization for an entire generation as everyone within it is growing and maturing quickly, right?”

Employers’ concerns are real, though, as we continue to hear anecdotal stories of both frustration and fascination with millennial employees. As our team at Metis skews young, our management team focused its last leadership book club discussion on this subject and read “What Millennials Want from Work” by Jennifer J. Deal and Alec Levenson. The book provides strong situational analysis and actionable advice. Our general consensus after reading: millennials, as a generation, aren’t so different after all. Much of the research cited throughout the book shows that the requirements for most millennials to be happy and engaged at work are very similar to those of previous generations.

So, why are millennials getting such a bad rap?

We have to remember that negatives, flaws and imperfections always stand out more than any positive attributes. These are the stories that spread wide and far – particularly in our constant news cycles.
We also have to remember that the workplace is going through a transformation independent of the changing demographics within it. Work and life are more integrated, workforces are embracing remote employees and real-time collaboration is expected. Millennials are prime candidates for adapting to these changes, as they grew up immersed in technology. It can be challenging for earlier generations to keep pace with a younger generation’s “evolved” thinking and habits. Plus, our society is transforming and impacting this generation differently than others – student loans and repayments are high, young people are flocking to cities (or are they?) and starting families later, rather than purchasing homes quickly.

All of these elements change the working climate for millennials, including how they view work and what they desire from it. Deal and Levenson address millennials’ view of the world and sum up three dimensions that most affect how companies attract, engage and retain millennial employees:

  • People (friends and mentors, team and boss)
  • Work (interesting, meaningful and balanced)
  • Opportunities (feedback and communication, development and pay)

Much of what Deal and Levenson cover in the book, we pointedly (and successfully, we think) address at Metis. Still, armed with these takeaways, we came to seven conclusions about how we can improve our workplace for the whole team, not just millennial employees:

  1. Open a direct discussion with everyone we manage about their preferences, knowing that compromise may be required. For instance, consider creating a “How to work with me” guide for both managers and reporting employees.
  2. Go above and beyond to express appreciation and gratitude for all work, recognizing the approach to which each team member responds best.
  3. Emphasize the opportunity to hack their work or recommend better, more efficient ways of completing projects – then test and implement what works. “Because we’ve always done it this way” isn’t a smart way to work.
  4. As mentors, managers and leaders, recognize the difference between providing career growth guidance and immediate feedback on work. Millennials look for support in both of these areas, so be sure they receive both, even if from different people in the organization.
  5. Accept that monotonous work assignments will happen. Remember to always explain the why and the value behind the assignment so it isn’t viewed as busywork, and be appreciative of the employee’s time spent.
  6. Provide flexibility when you can. We already offer flextime and remote working benefits. While flexibility can be limited in a client-based service business, remember that meeting deadlines and deliverables is more important than tracking butt-in-chair time.
  7. Continue to give back to our community, particularly through opportunities that tie directly to our community and where we can impart our expertise.

We’re sure to hear more about millennials as they take over the population and the workforce. Hopefully, we’ll begin to hear more positive stories than the negative anecdotes. In any case, if you’re still tempted to complain about millennial behavior, try to first educate your team about how to recruit, retain and connect with millennial employees. The future of your business depends on it.


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