Millennials are people who are aged between 20 to 35, as at 2016. They are also known as the Gen Y’s, Internet Generation or i-Gens, Why do Baby Boomers and Gen X leaders generally find leading the younger generations frustrating? The answer lies in the differences in values, mindset, expectations and preferences between these generations. In order for us to be more effective in leading them, let’s understand a few areas of facts and myths about the Millennials. However, we need to remember that these are generalisations and some Millennials do not think and behave like this.
Myth 1: Millennials are not loyal. That is only true when we measure loyalty in terms of the length of service in an organisation. Gen X and Baby Boomers, on the average, tend to have longer length of service in an organisation when they were younger. This can be attributed to a few factors such as job opportunities and the value they place on job security and stability as opposed to now, there are more job opportunities and Millennials place higher value on personal growth and contribution. Millennials stay longer in the organisation when they engaged; when they find meaning at work and when there are opportunities to learn, grow and contribute. Millennials do not measure loyalty by their length of service but by the intensity of focus and commitment they put into their work. The moment they lose interest, they will move on rather than hang around in the hope that something will change.
Myth 2: Millennials dislike face-to-face conversations. This conclusion is drawn from the observation that they prefer to send emails or text messages to their colleagues even within the same work area instead of walking over or picking up the phone to discuss! While their preferred mode of communication might be through the social media and mobile apps, they believe it to be more efficient than face-to-face meetings. However they may overlook the effectiveness part of face-face conversation. To the Millennials, traditional meetings, has limitations of time and space while communicating virtually transcends that.
Myth 3: Millennials prefers to be spoon fed. This conclusion came from some Gen-X leaders who notice that some Millennials tends to rely on solutions from their bosses instead of thinking for themselves and taking the initiative to do research and finding the answers. It is useful to remember that they grow up with immediate answers from Bro’ Google and hence when they need some quick answers, going to their bosses is the most efficient. This behaviour can be sometimes misinterpreted as lazy and not self-reliant.
Myth 4: Millennials are impatient. When it comes to promotions and career advancement, Millennials expect to move up the career ladder after an average of serving two years. Contrast that with a minimum of three or more years of service for the X-Genners during their time. Hence, based on that reference point, we think that they are impatient. However, notice how fast things are changing around us now. Notice how short product life cycles are and notice how young the senior leaders are in organisations like Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc; notice that things change at such a rapid pace that serving two years without upward movement is a long time for them.
Fact 1: Millennials seek recognition and rewards. Well, if we think about it, this is a human need. The difference is that Millennials are not shy to talk about it and ask for it. The Gen-X’s has the same needs but they do not openly talk about it during their time and hence Millennials are perceived differently in this area.
Fact 2: Millennials are not afraid to speak up and challenge status quo. Millennials grew up in an family and educational environment that supports and nurtures their self-confidence and image. They were encouraged and given airtime to express their thinking from young. When they have an opinion, they make sure that their opinion is heard. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as being disrespectful or trying to be too smart when they voice out their thoughts and questions the current practices.
Fact 3: Millennials strive for work-life balance. Work is not everything in life for the Millennials. Friends and self-development is equally important. So when they work 9 to 5 and refuse to stay back longer to complete certain task, they are perceived as not committed. Understand that their life values and priorities are different and when they are not able to find this balance, they move on. There is an organisation that has started to experiment (successfully) with a 4-day work week and I believe this will appeal to the younger generation.
Here are some tips to bring out the best from this generation.
Create a lively and flexible work space. Open, colourful and lively workspaces appeal to the Millennials. The old thinking that work is serious and bringing laughter and fun (appropriately) into the work environment is not acceptable, is no longer true. In fact, creativity at work, which is an important ingredient that makes an organisation stand out above their competition, has a direct correlation with fun, joy and lightness at work. When people connect with each other well and have fun, their creativity juices flow.
Hold meaningful conversations. Millennials need to understand why they are asked to do certain things. They dislike being instructed and directed to do an assignment without understanding the rational and the impact of that assignment. If we treat them like objects by instructing them to do work without spending time to discuss, we disengage them. We need to encourage them to ask questions and invest the time to share the objectives and how the relates to the bigger picture. You may be thinking, this takes up more time? Yes. What is the consequence of not doing it?
Appreciate their perspectives and find ways to incorporate their ideas. Remember that Millennials see the world from their lenses and that is an excellent source of creativity and innovation. Be prepared to consider and change existing processes, approaches and thinking. This will motivate them and make them feel important. As a leader, be the one who ask, “Why not?”
Spend time to coach and mentor them. Being young and idealistic at times, they only see things from their perspectives. Be prepared to coach (asking questions) to help them to think through and explore their own thinking and mentor them (share experiences) to open them up to other perspectives and life experiences. Invest the time to build relationships with them because only in the presence of trust, will they accept our offer to teach, coach and mentor. The frustration begins when we expect them to accept and follow what we share and they don’t! Know that they have choices and so do you. Share your expectations and at the same time be open to theirs and find a middle path. The attitude of “My way or the highway” will not work in the present work environment. They will most likely choose the highway!
Create opportunities to bring out their energies and creativity. Allow the millennials to plan social functions, activities and events that appeals to their interest. Remember that they are young and they are full of energy. They need to find ways to expand these energies and make stronger connections between different generations and our role as leaders is to facilitate that to happen.
As leaders we need to shift our approaches to bring out the best in people and more specifically, the Millennials. The good news is that we know a little bit of what makes them tick. The key question is, “What will it take for us to shift our leadership style to engage with this large workforce and bring out the best in them?” Remember, what has worked for us may not work for them.
Wishing you a fabulous 2017 year filled with love, joy and happiness.