Millennials, one of the largest generations in US history, certainly get a lot of attention. The word itself has come to symbolize not only a generation of people but the entire modern condition brought on by technology, globalism, interconnectedness, diminishing attention spans and a heightened sense of self-importance. Born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s, this group of 70 million Americans is taking over the workforce, already representing a majority of employees in many sectors. Before we begin to look at how best to manage this shift in your business, it is important to reflect on a couple certain truths. First, generational disruption is inevitable. Second, while discussing generalities is useful, remember that each person on your team, regardless of age, is an individual and should be viewed and treated as such.
Research and surveys conducted over the last few years have revealed that younger workers want to feel good about what they do. This is an important factor on both a micro and macro level. On the micro level, millennials want a firsthand view of the impact of the work they do. Is there a clear connection between their daily tasks and the greater vision of the organization? Can they have real influence over that vision and the end product your organization produces? If you can define the significance of the role each member of your team plays, they will be more internally motivated and committed. On a macro level, millennials want the companies they work for to be change agents in the world. This generation is very engaged in social issues. They have a strong belief that what they do 40 hours a week should contribute, in some way, to making the world a better place. Highlighting philanthropic efforts your organization participates in is crucial. Another way to demonstrate your sense of social responsibility is to organize volunteer activities. Pick a cause, allot some time during the workday, encourage your team to get involved and spend time volunteering together. These events can also serve as team building opportunities, which make them even more important to consider.
Another theme that is emerging as millennials take over the work world is flexibility. They want more control over when they work, where they work, how they work and what they work on. Coming of age in the digital world, they have a hard time accepting the arbitrariness of the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Younger workers also understand more about flow states, inducing peak performance and creating conditions that foster creativity. They believe they can be just as effective working from home a couple hours in the early morning, taking a long lunch, and then coming into the office or meeting clients out for coffee. Making these accommodations, when appropriate, will go a long way in getting buy-in from your millennial employees. It’s also likely to result in better work and more effort from your team. Similarly, younger workers are looking for roles that are more fluid and flexible. It’s important for them to continue to learn and develop new skills. The way they do that is to stretch their responsibilities and tackle new opportunities as they are presented. Rewarding well-done work with money is easy. But, offering new responsibilities and being open to new approaches really communicates to your team that you value them and that you want for them, what they want for themselves.
Finally, members of the millennial generation consistently mention authenticity as a trait they value. Possibly a reaction to their heavy exposure to marketing, Millennials really respond to genuine, direct communication. As a group, they are quick to identify when they are being told something less than the truth. They are also quick to judge accordingly. So, be upfront and give feedback that is clear and honest. Your team will be confident they know where they stand which will alleviate anxiety and increase their sense of loyalty.
Regardless of the kind of business you’re in, Millennials will soon dominate your workforce. Don’t let this intimidate you though, it’s something to be extremely excited about. Millennials are incredibly creative, adaptive and competent. In order to best harness that talent, you have to create a culture and environment that empowers younger workers. That means being committed to authenticity and flexibility while taking opportunities to make the world a better place.
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