In the world of human resources, rarely a day goes by without reading an article, a blog or a white paper that provides advice on how to “deal” with the unique characteristics of Millennials. Outside the human resource world, it is not uncommon to find negative opinions shared in a variety of articles and editorials. No doubt, the “Me” generation often gets a bad rap but to make a fair evaluation, one must first understand their influences.
Millennials, born roughly between 1977 and 1995, grew up in a time of unparalleled technological change. The internet and iPads replaced newspapers thus fostering the delivery of information into soundbites. This is a fundamental difference that has been highlighted time and time again…. but an important one nonetheless. They simply interact with the world differently. With that as a fundamental starting point, it is interesting to note Millennials aren’t necessarily the up and comers…they are already here. In fact, based on data from the Pew Research Center, they are the largest current living generation!
Proportionately, Millennials represent:
- The highest number of households living in poverty.
- The highest percentage of renters.
- The highest number of single mom’s serving as household heads.
- The highest number of household heads that identify as multiracial.
- Higher levels of education.
Over 40% of Millennials have at least a bachelor’s degree which, unfortunately illustrates another reality, they hold the ominous title of owning the largest amount of student loan debt of any generation in history. For those keeping score at home, you have an educated, diverse workforce that, in a lot of cases, have financial challenges.
Almost every generation gives “the new kids on the block” a hard time. Regardless of when you were born, your parents undoubtedly lived through different societal issues, pressures and stereotypes. While past generations complain they had to “walk 2 miles uphill to school in the snow”, Millennials are accused of “winning participation trophies.” No matter your generation, you likely look to the next with some level of misunderstanding.
Roll all the normal generational differences in with an ever-evolving digital world, add a soundbite or two from the twenty-four-hour news-cycle machine in which we all live and the pejoratives regarding Millennials fly. Arrogant, high-maintenance, impatient, self-centered, unmotivated, disrespectful job-hoppers with an attention span shorter than a gold fish. Arguably this is an overused generalization formulated, perhaps, on self-perpetuating stereotypes or information derived from convenience samples or sample sizes that were too small.
To dispel one point, Millennials are really not job-hoppers. Research shows that there is only a 3% difference in turnover at the 13-month mark of employment and no difference at the 5-year mark between Millennials and Gen X’ers.
More appropriate adjectives?
Collaborative. Educated. Articulate. Socially Conscious. Many find this generation to possess advanced communication and technological skills along with a greater appreciation of diversity. Couple this with a tendency to openly collaborate and one can easily identify the synergistic value that is inherently present within this group. Simply put, they work together, they foster others to do the same and through this collaboration they maximize the collective talents within the organization. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Another adjective? Different. But not necessarily bad. It’s true, on average they do need more communication and feedback than those of us born a bit earlier but adapting to that need seems like a small price to pay when compared to the enthusiasm and innovation that comes with the package. It’s also true that there is a greater pull towards achieving life balance. On the surface, this may fly in the face of the cheaper and faster world in which we live…but then again, there is a cash prize waiting for someone who can honestly claim they have way too much balance in their life.
So how do organizations thrive in this new world? The answer is simpler than one might predict. Do what we all should be doing right now. Assess and address your organizational culture by reviewing your practices, policies and processes, hire the best people and don’t settle for less, and then work hard to retain them.
One of the best ways to retain employees is to engage them. There are key areas many organizations can improve upon that will impact engagement. Start with your management team and focus on soft skills. Technical skill is not necessarily what differentiates a good leader from one that is considered poor. Skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and relationship management are components of a strong leader. Focus on employee development through mentoring programs and fostering effective employee-supervisor relationships. These strategies play right into the culture that motivates and engages Millennials to be key players on track to be highly effective leaders.