If you own or run a business in 2015, chances are your workforce has a fair number of employees from the Millennial generation, those anywhere between 18 and 35 years old this year. No doubt you’ve seen the differences in the working style and company culture that this generation is bringing into workplaces across the country, either to your frustration or your amazement (or both).
Millennials as a whole are motivated differently than the generations before them. The Internet is as much a part of their bloodstream as platelets; they know the compulsive need of instant gratification, hand-held connections, and information access. They are our “big picture” generation. Intensely connected to the world and each other, Millennials have used technology to put a face on every local and global conflict. As a result, they are a caring and generous generation capable of sweeping social and environmental change.
Numerous and powerful, Millennials are educated, adaptive, and innovative. That being said, without proper guidance or motivation, they can also be distracted, disloyal, entitled, and unproductive.
So how DO you make the most of a Millennial workforce?
Millennials are far more likely to engage with people than with companies. It’s why so many companies launch “human-centered” social media campaigns and why most Millennial employees identify more with their manager than the company itself. The more value a company places on the quality and integrity of their management and executive teams, the more influence they will have and the more respect they’ll receive from their workforce.
Millennials crave leaders who are approachable, inspirational, strategic, and innovative. They want to feel that their managers work just as hard as they do for success and growth. And, they want their managers to work with them more than over them.
Are you a millennial in need of approachable leadership? While you won’t likely change a company culture overnight, make sure to tell your manager what you enjoy about your position and where you hope to go within the company and your career. Understand that different generations relate to their jobs and their companies differently; there’s no one right or wrong way to approach either of them. Be open to learning new information. Just as your manager is finding ways to motivate you, you must also find ways to receive and earn further instruction, validation, and respect.
It’s true; Millennials are not a loyal bunch. They think in terms of life and career, and not company or job. This can put a company in a precarious position, especially if training is expensive and time-consuming. In order for both employee and employer to benefit, career development should be tailored to each employee, being sensitive to their learning style, career goals, and bigger-picture interests.
This customized approach to development works two-fold: it increases their experience and knowledge base (which benefits both sides of the coin) and it allows the company to demonstrate a personal interest in each employee (which is brings us to our next point).
If you are a Millennial employee seeking development, it can be difficult to learn in an environment where you know you’ll be most successful. Take the opportunities when they come, and, when applicable, demonstrate how you learn and work best. As a company invests in you, return the favor. This will keep your development moving forward.
Want to make sure a Millennial feels like an important part of the team? Notice them. Don’t mistake the need for feedback for insecurity; while this may come into play in some instances, more often than not the Millennial wants to know their position, value, how they can grow and where they can go.
Constructive criticism, sincere support, and open communication create a work environment based on trust and fairness, two things that will foster productivity, loyalty, and creativity. There are few rewards for Millennials that offer a greater ROI than a generous “Thank you” and “Excellent work!” Especially since appreciation is free.
If you are a Millennial who feels like you only receive feedback when you’ve made a mistake, or you only get an evaluation once a year, it’s time to speak up. Talk to your manager and explain that you want to do your best work in this position, but are unsure what the expectations are. Explain how helpful it is to be given both positive and critical feedback, not only because it helps you learn, but because doing a great job is important to you.
The millennial generation not only engages heavily with each other, but also the world. This means they also expect to be engaged with in return. Because most information can be gathered almost instantly, Millennials consider themselves on relative equal footing with each other, and sometimes with their managers, which can drive upper management a little crazy.
The key here is to let them know when their opinion and feedback is necessary and valued, and when to encourage them to learn more about a situation before jumping in. Either way, allowing Millennials into discussions that directly impact them or the projects they are involved with fosters the team-based environment they love.
Millennials who become as educated as possible about a company hot topic put themselves in a good position to offer formative input to the discussion. Be careful not to interject when you do not have all the information; your goal should be to add value to the project or the team. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers yet; make a point ask questions and learn as much as you can, and that time will come soon enough.
Millennials crave flexibility, and it’s not just because yoga is popular with this generation. A strong work-life balance is important, and traditional benefit programs may not appeal to Millennials, who would sacrifice pay for increased vacation time or the ability to work from home. Companies that think outside the standard benefits package and offer incentives like flexible schedules, professional development, tuition reimbursement, and self-directed projects attract—and keep—satisfied Millennial employees.
Want more non-traditional benefits at your company? Ask for them! Want a better chance of getting them? Do the research and show how you company could benefit from providing flexible work schedules, free donuts on Fridays, or ways to regularly contribute to projects and causes outside the company’s scope of work. You may not always get what you ask for, but you may find other ways to achieve the work-life balance you need.
All in all, Millennials are about the big picture. Making money is important, but only if it doesn’t come at the expense of their values, their personal goals, and their contributions to the world at large. Companies that find a way for Millennials to work, live, and contribute to projects larger than themselves will never be at a lack of a happy, dedicated employees.