"Such a Millennial"...
A really common topic of conversation from clients lately has been regarding their frustrations with managing Millennials. As we discuss further, more often than not, I will hear, “He/she is acting like such a Millennial” and instantly I am aware of the behaviors that they are referring to. Now let me be clear that it’s not because I agree, it is because there is an unflattering stigma that exists with the Millennial generation and unfortunately, we have all heard it.
“Millennials Are Entitled, Have No Drive Or Ambition, Are Lazy And Don’t Want To Work.”
Let’s put it out there to discuss. Entitled means that one feels that they have a right or are deserving of certain privileges or treatment. I often witnessed this in the workplace, and I admit that I experienced a certain level of "uncomfortableness" when our new hires, who all happened to be Millennials, eagerly jumped in with feedback in a brainstorming session. The “veterans” in the room were befuddled at their feedback because it was provided without limits and with no regard to how their ideas could come to fruition; in other words, they were seeing beyond the limitations that we had placed on ourselves. The fact that they had the confidence to provide their opinions really rubbed many the wrong way and that was where the conflict began. Their feedback was great and fostered a rich dialogue which forced naysayers to explain why something wouldn’t work, and when they couldn’t, were forced to concede that perhaps they weren’t thinking on the scale that the Millennial was and that was uncomfortable. Working with Millennials is a new challenge.
Let’s be honest, there are definitely lazy Millennials out there that simply don’t want to work.
There are also lazy Gen X, lazy Gen Y and lazy Boomers, it is across the board! So why does it bother us the most when it comes to working with Millennials? Why does it bother us when Millennials speak up in meetings? Why is it a problem when they don’t conform to office norms of the past? Perhaps it is a frustration because so many generations before stepped into their role with a company knowing their “place” and knowing not to provide opposing feedback to leaders, especially in front of their peers. Were we ever told not to do so? No, we just “knew better”. This Millennial generation is showing up, with no regard to old school protocol, acting like what they say should be taken into consideration from day one with zero experience and zero thought as to how their words might be received. Let’s be honest, that is annoying! It is annoying because I waited at least two years before giving my opinion openly, another two years before I disagreed openly to leadership, and another two before I had enough clout to interrupt others to counterpoint on a topic. Wait a minute, is this about me? It seems that there is a pattern there. Does this mean that I need to deal with myself better? Why should I even care to understand Millennials or why managing Millennials effectively is important?
If you hear yourself using the term Millennial as a derogatory adjective, I recommend that you take a couple of minutes to jot down what actions that the employee is demonstrating that causes you discomfort. More often than not, when I have asked clients to do this, we have found that the actions are all against the social norms of office culture that generations before us have established. It is not that they are lazy, it is that they value work/life balance and are taking vacation (that they have accrued) early into their job to go to a concert or travel. It’s not what most would do, so we read that as not wanting to work. It is not that they are entitled, it is that they provide their opinion without seemingly having the experience of others. They do not harbor a fear of losing their jobs because their value is rooted in their life experiences, rather than solely on career achievements. This is foreign to other generations whom have identified a part of their worth with their profession so the thought of losing their position has sometimes prevented them from being their authentic selves fully at their job. It hits a nerve with some, and we talk through what that means to them so they can process their thoughts rather than lash out in resentment. In coaching sessions, we work on self-discovery and owning our decisions, even those that are sometimes hard to admit.
A Couple of Things to be Aware of when Managing Millennials
Seek to gain perspective. Millennials were adolescents when they watched the live streaming of their previously safe country being attacked (9/11), the first to experience school shootings captured and posted online, sometimes in real-time. They were the first to be raised with the internet where you could be exposed in a matter of seconds for a split second act, photo, video or text of bad judgement. Understand that this group has learned that tomorrow is not guaranteed and have discovered that the world is a vast experience waiting to be explored. Millennials are waiting later to have children while they live the life that they want to live with less money than the generations before them, valuing experiences over material possessions. They have the highest college debt of generations before them and entered the job market at the peak of the recession, forcing many to become entrepreneurs when jobs were unavailable, making businesses out of what they enjoy doing, or settling for jobs that they weren't passionate about so they could pay back their student loans.
As a generation, they want to be a part of something, part of a cause; they want to make a difference in the world and feel that they are entitled to their opinion because they grew up in an internet world where opinions are currency. We may have life experiences in business but often they have many more experiences with diverse individuals through social media. Many Millennials have already traveled to more countries than you will experience in your lifetime. Yes, our generations also had the internet and saw 9/11 being streamed live as well but we also had innocence at their age that allowed us to continue with the social protocol established before us. Now, most of us couldn’t live like tomorrow is not guaranteed because we have families and material things that we must pay for.
Working with Millennials
When working alongside your Millennial partners, ask for feedback, share your vision, guide them and let them guide you. Make sure that they understand the thought process behind company decisions, the future of the business, and their role. Communicate what you are looking for from them and understand that they grew up in an online world which encourages and rewards giving your opinion and hearing feedback. It is about disagreeing openly online and a conversation of point-counterpoint, so to be expected to act differently in the workforce would be foreign. Bottom line, these aren't acts of disrespect, they are their experienced social norms.
To All of The Generations Having Difficulty with Millennials In The Workplace
Remember, it’s hard to change your thinking or approach to employees overnight, but if you really want to try and break through, engage your Millennial employees rather than try and fit them into the same box as all other employees. This generation will account for 50% of the workforce by 2020, so it’s in your best interest to garner an understanding and make a conscious effort to engage. It’s not about conceding to their social norms, it’s about discussing them. Discuss boundaries and what you are comfortable with regarding their behaviors or lack thereof. Most importantly, it’s about communication. If there is an action that any Generation is doing that strikes a nerve with you, take the time to acknowledge the feeling and discuss it with the employee. Have the respect enough to address it before it turns into something more.
To All of The Millennials Out There
Be mindful that your boldness in the workplace can be a lot to take. Do not change who you are but do be aware of how you can come across. It’s important to take a minute to understand that to the generations before you, job security meant staying with the same company for your entire adult life, even if you didn’t have a voice in it. Vacation was something you took so you didn’t lose it at the end of the year and you rationalized the little time that you saw your loved ones with the belief that you were working hard for them and all of the material things you provided. When one self-creates this belief that working hard and living in stress equals worthiness, you can see how there is a frustration when you come to work without the fear of losing your job. To you, it’s just a job. To generations before, it’s an identity, it’s a source of pride, it’s their life’s work and your indifference can read as a subliminal slap in the face. Awareness is powerful and when practiced well, can also be an ally.
There is a huge opportunity before us because a multi-generational workforce can make for a great team and can be assets for each other if all stop resisting and start embracing our differences. Coming from a place of understanding can prevent generational and personal attacks. We can stop implying that Millennials are entitled or lazy, and appreciate them as co-workers because we’ve removed the labels and the bias along with it.
If you’re encountering generational challenges in your workplace, AEM Executive Consultants can partner with your team to improve understanding, communication, and overall office culture. Learn how to capitalize on your multi-generational team effectively and see what a difference it can make to your organization.
Make it a great day!