They are the newest generation to enter the labour market, yet they already have clear ideas about what they expect from you as an employer. They are in high demand, so if you can’t meet their needs, they’ll find someone who can. And, with boomers beginning to retire, they will play a pivotal role in the continued success of your organization.
You may know them as Gen Y, Generation Next or Millennials. Whatever you call them, they bring a very different set of perspectives and capabilities into the workplace. If you don’t already have young employees on staff, you may be surprised at how different their perspectives are. Given the potential for misunderstandings and conflicts that can negatively impact the performance of your organization, it’s important that you get to know Millennials – their values and unique attributes – so you can attract, retain and manage them effectively. Here are a few insights, based on leading research in this area and conversations with our clients, to help your organization understand and capitalize on the connected generation.
- Technologically savvy - Born between 1980 and 1994, Millennials have come of age in the Internet era. They are comfortable using new technology, able to multitask and are constantly connected. You may find them listening to their iPods as they send text messages while working on time-sensitive projects. This might lead you to believe Millennials aren’t productive or have short attention spans. Value judgments such as these can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts that will hamper your ability to engage young employees. Instead, see their connectivity and capacity for multitasking as an opportunity to increase productivity. Provide young workers with the most advanced tools, and they will find ways to boost the effectiveness of your common business processes.
- Strong sense of self worth and self interest - Millennials are the products of self-esteem parenting. Possessing unwavering confidence, they have been raised to believe they possess the intellect and talent to achieve their goals, and are acutely focused on their own success. As such, Millennials have a strong desire to make a meaningful contribution from day one.
This often is a source of resentment among older workers, who believe that everyone must “start at the bottom and work their way up” and perceive Millennials as having a sense of entitlement. As well, Millennials will not hesitate to express their opinion on any issue, which can be perceived as a lack of respect. And as you may have already discovered, Millennials often have a hard time accepting criticism in the workplace.
The best way to leverage this generation’s confidence and desire to make an immediate contribution is to follow the example of the Canadian military and embrace accelerated development. Give Millennials a baptism by fire with a major, meaningful challenge – an opportunity to stretch themselves and see that they can have an impact. The result for you is increased output and enhanced employee engagement in a highly competitive labour market.
- Focused on self development - Millennials want to keep developing their skills and knowledge on the job. They thrive on ongoing learning and constant challenges. Encourage and support them in their learning, and you’ll find it easy to keep pace with changing business technologies and practices. Neglect their needs and they’ll become bored quickly. They’ll also start looking for other employers who will appreciate and leverage their skills and desire to learn. Taking an active interest in and supporting their long-term learning plans is an investment in your future, and theirs. They can achieve their full potential and career goals; you can develop a new generation of leaders conversant in emerging trends, giving you a leg up on your competitors.
- Strong work ethic - With the right motivation, and under the right leadership, Millennials are generally highly productive and hard working. They value innovation, creativity and collaboration, resulting in increased teamwork and focus on executing your business strategies. Millennials will flourish under leaders with a participative leadership style, but struggle when faced with the traditional authoritarian leadership of many older managers.
Furthermore, as members of the Internet generation, Millennials respond well to tasks with short deadlines and clear outcomes. Such tasks provide Millennials with a sense of accomplishment, keeping them engaged. Multiple tasks with short deadlines also create opportunities to satisfy a generation conditioned to expect instant gratification and continual performance feedback. Instead of quarterly or annual reviews, offer constructive criticism and recognize Millennials’ contributions frequently.
- Work to live, not live to work - Parents have encouraged Millennials to travel and to pursue their own interests, and few are willing to give up their lifestyle for a career as a result. In fact, they seek out careers that allow them to live the life they want, and may switch back and forth between career, travel and education. Your value system may interpret this as a lack of maturity or work ethic, but there is a business value to encouraging Millennials to pursue their interests through sabbaticals or secondments. They can broaden their horizons and skills, which will result in improved levels of performance and engagement in your workplace.
You should also consider allowing more flexibility in when and how young employees work. For example, some Millennials may be more productive working offsite, or prefer to work evenings to keep their days open. Sure, the notion that you can manage employees effectively without looking them in the eye may feel like a leap of faith. Yet if you make it, you have the potential to harness benefits ranging from increased productivity to enhanced customer service.
- Healthy skepticism - Having been bombarded by marketing all their lives, Millennials have an acute nose for authenticity. They’re critical thinkers, willing to question everything, which can help you resolve business issues. But if you don’t walk the talk when it comes to your own values, they will find an employer that does. Review your values or messages to ensure they are believable. If you claim to provide opportunities for advancement, for instance, be sure to deliver. Demonstrate that you are authentic and Millennials will be highly likely to stay with your organization.
One more thing to remember: the unique values that Millennials bring to the workplace are not ones they will outgrow. So it’s crucial you understand and accommodate these values to attract and retain young employees. As discussed in our previous issue, generational differences are best addressed as a diversity issue. Through a variety of human resource strategies, you can turn many of the values you thought were negatives into positives. You’ll also find that Millennials bring new competencies and abilities that can make an invaluable contribution to the competitiveness and success of your organization.
Anna Stuart is a Partner at Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, Atlantic Canada’s leading integrated human capital solutions provider. Throughout her 20-year career, Anna has provided recruitment, strategic and operational advisory services to government, industry and family business throughout Atlantic Canada.
Dr. Sean Lyons is a Professor in the Department of Business at the University of Guelph. His research focus is generational value differences and their impact on workplace dynamics.