There’s a Sumerian tablet that dates back to the 3rd century B.C. that documents a man’s complaints about the next generation – they’re lazy, imperious and they expect too much. This probably sounds familiar. Recent studies show that well over half of employers have difficulty dealing with the Millennial generation. But within the next few years, Millennials will make up 50% of the work force and by 2025, they’ll be our business leaders.
The Millennials really are different. They’re not only the generation that shaped modern technology and were cheered on by well-meaning parents, they’re also the generation that got hit the hardest by the recession’s impact on long-term employment. This combination has led to some unique traits. They’re more open to change, more confident and more optimistic than either the Boomers or Gen X. They’re also on track to be the best-educated generation in history and, most surprisingly, they agree with your complaints about them. They’re likely to say that other generations have stronger work ethics, moral values and respect for others. On the face of it, this may lead to a collective sigh from employers. But what it really means is that they believe they have a lot to learn and strive for.
Connected, confident, open, well-educated, even humble. These are traits that you look for as an employer. So beyond putting them in charge of your social media, what are some ways to get the best from your Millennial employees?
You don’t need a trophy to motivate your Millennials. You need one word – “together”. For a generation raised to be heard and not just seen, being a part of a team is imperative. And it turns out that simply using the word “together” creates the connectedness they want. The word itself appears to signal to the brain that co-workers are trustworthy and supportive, even if they never see each other. A recent study at Stanford shows that when told they were working on a project together and that fellow team members would provide a ‘tip’ later on, people worked 48% longer, solved more problems, were less tired and had better recall than those who were asked to do the exact same tasks but without the word “together”. The other key component of team-work is acknowledgment. Take quick time outs for metaphorical, or literal, high fives. Outward recognition of the work that your employees are doing will help make the teams you build even stronger.
Be clear and honest about workplace expectations. Millennials, like all new employees, are exactly that, new. They’re going to fill in what they think you mean with what they want you to mean. Telling employees what they expect to hear, that hours are flexible, that results matter more than process, that “everyone” helps no matter how small the task, without clarifying what these things mean on a day-to-day level creates confusion and ultimately, disappointment. Someone used to being connected to the world 24/7 hears flexible and thinks, ‘I can take a 3 hour lunch, but will be available all night on my cell.’ Encourage questions and discussion about expectations and outcomes so that everyone is on the same page. Be clear about things that you take for granted – the hours you expect, deadlines to be met and boundaries to be respected – and you will give your Millennial employees the ground rules they need to thrive.
Millennials grew up with a lot of guidance. And they want more. Engaging Millennials doesn’t mean patting them on the back, it means providing opportunities for meaningful feedback. Simply telling someone their work is “great” or that it “needs improvement” isn’t productive, but that doesn’t mean you need to set aside hours each week for individual meetings. Less formal, more frequent communication is effective because it makes your employees feel acknowledged by and integral to the organization. Short emails, texts or brief conversations that give everyone an opportunity to learn and to listen – about what is being done, what needs to be done, what’s going well and what needs to improve – encourages a sense of pride and purpose that will lead to better, longer-term employees.