How to Adapt to Millennials in the Workplace

I had a federal government agency recently ask me to do a training on “how the heck do we work with millennials in the workplace?”

I thought it was a funny question, given that millennials have been in the workplace for 15 years now. As a matter of fact, the next generation (generation Z or the “post-millennials”) will be entering the work force starting next year. But, people have been asking for a long time how to adapt to the new generation of workers.

Let’s be honest, millennials get a bad rap. First of all, how can we lump 15 years and millions of people into the same category and say that are all a certain way? While I was doing research on millennials, I came across this snippet from an article.

You’ll be much better off focusing on your employees as unique individuals than lumping them into large and meaningless meta-groups. Consultants who work in the fields of management and HR are frequently asked, “What do millennials want at work?” The best answer comes directly from the title of Bruce Pfau’s Harvard Business Review Article: “The same things the rest of us do.” Benjamin Granger, Ph.D.

But, if that’s true, then what is all the fuss? Why do I repeatedly hear the same complaints about Millennials? I’m sure you’ve heard them too. If I had to boil it down to one complaint it would be: They’re Entitled. One CEO I coach said it this way, “They have only been in the workforce a couple of years, and they think that their opinion should count as much as mine. I have a Ph.D. and am close to retirement after 40 years of working in this field.”

So, if we look at trends in technology, child development and workplace evolution, we can point to a few things that researchers seem to think are generally true with the new generations.

1. Technology: The Millennials and even more so the Post-Millennials have grown up steeped in technology. They haven’t had to grow into the internet, they were born into it and are sometimes referred to as “digital natives.” The downside of this is that it can result in an impatience and an expectation of immediate results, and quick advancement in the workplace. Of course, this also means that this generation is very tech savvy and brings a lot of know-how and quick thinking to help solve workplace challenges.

2. Child Development: Children of this generation were included more in family conversations and decision making. Many Baby Boomer parents didn’t want to force ideas or punishment on their children, so children were asked for their ideas, asked what consequences should be, and included in family decisions. This may have resulted in the expectation that workplace “elders” will also solicit and listen to their ideas, and that their voices and ideas should have equal merit. Some older workers can find this way of interacting bordering on disrespectful. However, the upside is that they want to contribute and make things better!

3. Workplace Evolution: In general, the typical workplace has changed in the last few generations. If you look at the values, beliefs and habits of the Traditionalists (now about 73 and older) down to the Millennials (ages 22-37), the workplace has gone through several significant changes. The first is that the workplace has gone from more formal to more informal. Secondly, the workplace has shifted from more hierarchical to more collaborative. Finally, many workplace cultures have shifted from “show up and get your work done” to a desire for “greater employee engagement.” This is in part due to the growth in professional development and coaching in the workplace. More and more workplaces are investing in the training, education, growth and well-being of their employees. The way this shows up for the younger generations (Xers and Millennials) is that they want to make a difference and contribute. They want to feel like they are contributing to an important mission and vision.

The above 3 trends are no doubt going to continue. By 2020 Millennials will make up 50% of the workplace. When you focus on the positive aspects of the above 3 trends, quick thinking, greater collaboration and wanting to make a difference, are all amazing skills and values to bring to the workplace. There is always pain in adapting and doing things differently. If those of us over 37 can change our ways of thinking and take the good with the perceived “bad,” I think we will find that the innovation, passion and skill of the “youngers” outweighs the discomfort of having to do things a little differently.

In conclusion, here are 7 specific things that consultant Michael McQueen advises us to do to get the best out of Millennials in the workplace.

1. Put the Relationship before the Role. They are loyal to people. “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Caring about them as people and being authentic and genuine will build trust.

2. Keep them challenged. This is the most important thing to them – provide them training, educational opportunities and opportunities for advancement. They don’t want to get bored. They will be more engaged and stay longer if you keep them challenged.

3. Make Flexibility a Priority. This is the next most important thing to them. Think about times, locations, flexible schedules. What is the culture you have in your team and your organization? Do you encourage and make space for work place flexibility?

4. Give Regular Positive Feedback. Yes, you are paying them, but everyone wants acknowledgement and to know that they are contributing. This generation is used to external validation. 60% want positive feedback at least once a day, 35% said 3-4 times a day would be even better. If you are a task-oriented leader (D or C in the DiSC), you will need to stretch to look for and give feedback about what is working.

5. Embrace Their Ideas. They can bring in a lot of creativity and innovation. Take it with stride, they are not trying to take over or turn the whole workplace upside down. Don’t take it personally that they might be questioning, “why do we do it this way?” See it as an opportunity for innovation and collaboration.

6. Be Values Driven. 86% of this generation said they would leave an organization if there is not a good values match. Are your values defined? Do you walk your talk as a leader?

7. Adopt the Role of Coach. They are looking for mentoring. As a leader, do you have training to be able to coach your employees? Do you know the difference between coaching, managing and mentoring? Do you have a formal mentoring program? How are you harnessing the energy of your younger people? Do you see them as competent?

At Transformative Training Solutions, we can help you with leadership development, professional development, team training and growing your team’s emotional intelligence. Contact us Who We Arefor a free 20 minute consultation to see how we can help you grow. We can even do a training on how to work with Millennials in the workplace!

Millennials in the Workplace

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