The 411 on Working with Millennials

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411 on Twitter HashtagsMillennials are entering the workforce in droves. This new generation is quite different from Generation X and Baby Boomers. Here’s what you need to know about working with Millennials.

Who are Millennials?

The date range varies a bit, depending on the source, but Millennials typically were born between the late 70s/early 1980s and early 2000s. So the “oldest” Millennial is approximately 34 years old today, and the “youngest” is about 14. They’re also referred to as Generation Y.

Why is there a distinction between generations anyway?
It has to do with worldview and experience. Baby Boomers (those born between the mid-1940s to mid-1960s) will look at the world in a different way from, say, a Millennial 24-year-old, simply because their experiences are so different. When Boomers came of age, social media didn’t exist. Heck, the Internet didn’t exist. The workforce operated much differently as a result. The issue, of course, is that when you begin to categorize groups of people, stereotypes can result. And that leads to problems.

Is that the case with Millennials? Are stereotypes getting in the way?
Every generation has its challenges, and every generation that comes before often complains about the new kids on the block. For example, many people bemoaned Generation X (those born between the mid-1960s to late 1970s/early 1980s) as the “Me Generation.” Now, the members of Gen X (and others) are doing the same thing to Millennials. It’s part human nature, part rite of passage.

What’s different this time around, however, is how fast the stereotypes are spreading, thanks to the web and social media. We all know what can happen from there—if you see something written enough times, it’s easy to begin believing it.

What are some of the stereotypes that are floating around?
Some of the stereotypes you might hear about Millennials include the following:

  • They’re lazy.
  • They’re entitled.
  • They need constant feedback and praise.
  • They need instant gratification.
  • They don’t know how to effectively communicate in person.
  • They have no work ethic.

Those are some highlights, but talk to anyone between the ages of 14 and 34, and they will likely have others they can share with you.

Those stereotypes are false?
It’s always false when a claim is made that says every member of a certain group acts a certain way. That said, stereotypes are often born from legitimate things. For example, Millennials grew up with technology, more so than any generation that came before them. This is a verifiable fact. But that doesn’t mean Millennials only know how to communicate using text messaging and email, or that none of them know how to effectively communicate in person.

Yes, Millennials’ communication styles are different from the generations that came before them, simply because the Millennials’ experience in the world has been different, thanks to technology. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, there’s a lot Boomers and Gen X-ers can learn from Millennials when it comes to using new technologies.

So the other generations need to adjust and accommodate Millennials?
Everyone needs to evolve and adjust—Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials. Problems occur when people, regardless of their generation, dig in their heels and refuse to compromise or learn new things.

Let’s look at one of the stereotypes listed above, what it really means, and how you should approach working with Millennials given this information.

  • Stereotype: They’re lazy.
  • Reality: They’re used to more efficient systems and processes that get certain jobs and tasks done quicker and more easily.

Do you remember being in middle school or high school and trekking to the library to research a term paper? You might have had to use microfiche, make copies, consult encyclopedias (that you couldn’t borrow), and spend lots of time on your endeavor—time that (hopefully) produced quality work. (And some of you even had to bang out your papers on—gasp!—typewriters.)

Millennials didn’t grow up with that experience, thanks to computers and the Internet. They could work more efficiently from the get-go, right from the comfort of their bedrooms. Does this make them lazy? Of course not.

Yes, they expect (rightly so) to be able to find the information they’re looking for with the click of a mouse (and they’re quite proficient at conducting searches). Because of their proficiency with myriad software, they might also expect to accomplish certain tasks quickly and easily. Again, this doesn’t make them lazy.

How this might affect the workplace: Because Millennials are used to efficient systems, they could appear impatient or frustrated with antiquated methods that still exist in many businesses. But that doesn’t mean Millennials can’t adapt and learn about the old ways. Nor does it mean you should ignore their attempts and requests to improve the efficiency of outdated systems.

If this scenario describes your work environment, here’s a strategy to consider trying: You can help diminish the culture shock by assigning a peer mentor to a new Millennial worker. This mentor can show the Millennial worker the lay of the land, including any systems or methodologies that they’re not familiar with or that might appear odd—or even silly—to them. At the same time, if the Millennial worker offers ideas for improving a system, take him or her up on it. Empower the person by giving him or her opportunity to manage the upgrade, which will be a win-win for everyone.

What are some other strategies for successfully working with Millennial employees?
There are many strategies. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. The key is being aware and open. Educate yourself on potential issues (reading our article is a great start!) and be open to how you’ll navigate these issues.

Make sure upper management—especially those who deal directly and regularly with employees, such as your HR manager—are well versed in the Millennial mindset, the existing stereotypes, the actual reality, and effective strategies for dealing with all of the above.

Here’s some further reading to help you on this quest:

Do you have Millennial workers in your office? What are some strategies that you use for bridging the generational gap? Share in the comments.

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