The Millennial Worker: Generation Gap or Grand Canyon?
If you employ people who are “millennials” (our youngest working generation), you might want to sit down for this.
You should let them text. As a matter of fact, you should let them tweet, Facebook and use their cell phone while at work. Furthermore, when talking about the work ethic of the younger generation, you might be the problem.
Are you fuming yet? Before you hit delete, let me pacify you just a bit.
It is difficult to work with kids of the “now” generation if you are from Generation X or “boomer” generations; really difficult, in fact. The current generation seems distracted. They often appear sloppy or arrive late for work and are surprised when we are upset and not simply happy to see them. But here is the deal; our parents and our employers felt the same way. Admit it; more than once you heard someone say something along the lines of, “You kids these days! You don’t work like we worked.” And now, you are saying it! I know, you didn’t want to turn into your dad, but you did. Now we have to work around that.
It is the cross to bear of employers that a new generation of employees must be raised. We don’t like it and we would obviously appreciate it if schools and parents turned out minions who could run a till, answer a phone, drive a truck or just, please, do whatever it is they were hired to do. And they will, we just have to talk to them in a different way. It does not work to slam your fist on the table, yell and say, “I am the boss!” Nor does it work to ignore the problem.
Today’s young people want to move quickly, stay connected, make independent decisions, and be appreciated for the smallest act. It’s kind of our fault as parents; we praised them to the nth degree for stacking a couple of blocks and continued to give them heaps of praise paired with freedom of choice. They chose what to eat at meal times, their own extracurricular activities and even which parent to spend the holidays with. Talk about power; they know they have it and they know how to use it.
Don’t forget though, you have the power too. You have the power to pay them. You have the power to challenge them, to reward them and to develop them into an employee that would make your dad proud. Here are a couple of easy ways to do just that.
1. Listen. Kendall McRae of Synergy Station says, “Fifty somethings know what to say, but it’s the kids who know how to get the message out.” He’s right. A life of work has made you wise, yet you probably had to ask a kid how to program your smart phone so you could tweet. What? You don’t tweet? You should. You have things to say that are worth listening to. So instead of fighting with the people on your staff who want to use too much technology, partner with them and use their skills to get your message out. Have them set up your Twitter feed; you give the words, they provide the output. Listen to where they are gathering information and determine if you can use it to expand your business. They are not only employees, they are buyers too! Just listen, it’s a new way of doing business and they are glad to show it to you.
2. Reward. I know, pay should be enough reward, but it simply is not. Back pats, applause and believe it or not, cheesy certificates of accomplishment go a long way with this generation. They want to please you, you just have to tell them what to do, when it needs to be done and then get out of the way and let them figure out how to do it. When the job is done (the truck parked, the customer happy), let them update your Facebook page or send a Tweet noting the accomplishment. They will not only feel rewarded (yes, for what should just have been done), but they will also help improve your SEO, your customer engagement and your employee satisfaction index. As the saying goes, “Reward what you want to see repeated,” so choose carefully, but just think how impactful it could be to reward them with something that will build your business too.
3. Engage. Today’s generation is used to being stimulated from the first moment their feet hit the floor. They watch TV, play video games like addicts, converse with people, and probably have relationships with people they have never met who live in completely different countries. This knowledge and level of cerebral activity means they want you to ask their opinion, engage them in conversation and allow them to be part of the solution. “Because I said so,” or “Because I am the boss and I can fire your happy ass,” is not going to fly. “How would you do this?” on the other hand, will.
In addition, they do not want to stand around bored, so again, let them use the technology they seem to require as much as air to fully understand to build your brand. And when the job is done, let the job be done. “Millenials” want to leave when there is nothing to do, so, either have a demanding job with a clear description that keeps them busy, or let them leave when they have completed the expected task. The need for clearly defined roles and expectations cannot be overstated.
4. Create. Our parent’s generation designed and refined the coffee break, much to the chagrin of their predecessors. It’s probably time to design the social media break for our youngest employees. We can be brave enough to create space for their wants; we just have to set parameters we can both live with. Basically: do your work, but take the break you enjoy. You deserve it. Let them create ideas, products, and systems that work for them. You can guide the discussion, but giving them rein is not a bad idea. They are truly a remarkable generation.
5. Mentor. Many in the “millennial” generation are lonely; they are from latch key situations, broken homes, and often spent hours alone as a child. They will commit to working hard for you, they will be loyal to you and your brand and your identity, as long as you are forthright and committed to them. They can smell BS from a mile away as YouTube and Facebook have made them wise beyond their years. That means you have to be honest; you have to walk the talk like you have never had to walk the talk before. You have to do what you say, say what you mean and be a person invested in their growth. Better yet, let them mentor you too. Nothing cements a relationship like mutual learning and respect.
Yes, it’s a new generation, but like all generations it challenges the ones before to adapt and change. We did it, our parents did it and their parents before them did it too. It’s okay. We just have to breathe deep, and let them tweet about us… just as soon as they get their work done.