The job of leaders, whatever our generation, is to teach and coach the up-and-coming generations on the finer points of operating within various business situations. In one of the divisions of our company, we have 11 millennials. Although they approach work and business relationships differently from older generations and often don’t see a difference between personal and professional relationships, confronting their bosses openly, or pushing the boundaries of insubordination, generational differences become less and less pronounced in later life stages. In other words, a millennial just out of college is very “millennial-ish,” but after three to five years, a stable relationship, their own place, and a few bouts with the real world, they start to normalize.
Many who broadcast they want to work on their own terms are getting it, to some degree. Here are a few examples: office environments are slowly breaking down cube farms; more flexibility in working from home or remotely; conference calls instead of face-to-face meetings; using Slack for team-based collaboration instead of formal email; and, putting emoji’s at the end of messages to better convey tone. And, approximately 56 percent of millennials only stay in a job for two years or less. If they don’t like their environment, their boss, their peers, the technology, or the challenge, they leave and don’t look back. Millennials have disrupted business-as-usual.
They are also the “go and get it” generation. They don’t generally wait for permission or look for handholding when on project. They do their own research, make their own recommendations, collaborate openly, generate ideas, and hire from within their networks versus going on the open market with Monster, Indeed, or Career Builder. They embrace newly released technology/apps, work into the evenings and on weekends and otherwise operate in an entrepreneurial fashion even within a corporate environment.
True, they may have been coddled by society growing up with participation trophies, safe spaces, lattes, organized sports, play dates, blurred lines between parent and child, and the rest, but life and the “law of the jungle” will put them right at some point.
For companies that want to be a destination employer for this demographic, there are a few things you may have to accept early on that may be way outside of your comfort zone. Here are some changes we have made based upon working with our millennials.
1) Asking a millennial to leave their phone in a non-visible location during any activity is futile. Tell them to put it away during meetings and they will leave your company. Their devices are an extension of themselves. Come to a meeting at our office and everyone has a computer open and device in hand; they are multitasking and are the first generation actually good at it. We tell our millennials not to waste time, so if multitasking in a meeting works for them, by all means do it. But there is one simple expectation. Don’t miss a thing! If asked a question, it’s expected that they have been listening. If assigned a task, it’s expected to be completed on time.
2) “Please,” “thank you,” and praise have become a much bigger part of what we do. For all the talk about diminishing social skills, we see the opposite to some degree. There is a lot of sensitivity in this generation and without a smiley-faced emoji at the end of your email, they may think you are angry or dissatisfied with them.
3) Early on, we broke from the usual communication norm of team meetings/huddles. We installed Slack, created a channel for everything we needed to talk about by project, by client, one for funny stuff, one for just the leaders, one called “only after midnight”. . . it’s PG. To date, we have sent 58,000 messages. The velocity is constant and, if you can keep up, the stuff flying back and forth is gold. Put millennials in a conference room and nothing gets done. Free them from the conference room and communicate differently and WOW, the things they come up with.
4) There is no workday anymore — just get over it. We will be one of the last generations to embrace the concept of an 8-5 workday. Some may still conform to the norm for now but by iGen/GenZ, born after 1998, there’s no way. There isn’t work life and personal life anymore . . . only life.
5) What millennials’ think they are good at and what they are actually good at can be two very different things. Giving everyone a participation trophy was the worst thing we’ve ever done as a society. It made everyone think they were good at everything. What ends up happening is the need to pivot people after uncovering their true strengths. Adjusting tasks around talent is very different from earlier generations where you get hired for a specific job and from there you either get promoted, fired, or look for another job.
It’s a brave new world folks, and the wave of iGen/GenZ is coming with even more changes. Here’s a hint. The millennial wave was an American phenomenon . . . GenZ is global.
Tony Streeter is the CMO/SVP of San Antonio-based Y&L Consulting, Inc. Y&L Consulting is a comprehensive IT services & solutions company specializing in Application Development, Information Management/BI, Social Monitoring & Response and IT Help Desk Services.