So your newest hire is a Millennial. Now what?
The working world is still struggling to figure out how to adapt to the Millennial generation. With the 35-and-under set now the largest part of the workforce we should know them pretty well by now, but several myths about this generation stick around the offices of America.
For a long time, managing the Millennial generation has been an essential part of a boss's duties, but, as countless articles ripping into this generation show, it has never completely clicked.
It doesn't have to be that hard, though. As Ray Carvey, an executive vice president for Harvard Business Press, explained, there are a few key lessons that bosses can learn to work with their Millennial staff and several myths that need putting to bed. Such as:
Myth 1: Millennials need constant validation.
Reality: They want training and feedback.
First things first, Carvey said, Millennials are huge on coaching.
"Feedback is very important to them," he said. "A lot of what Millennials will someday need to know to do their job hasn't been invented yet. [So] there's an undercurrent of continuous development, continuous learning."
When asked, Millennials consistently rank training as the number one benefit they want from an employer. Although seminars are helpful the best kind of training comes from a mentor, and many workers want to know how they're doing within the organization. Millennials want to improve and aren't shy about asking for feedback.
This is a departure from previous generations who generally take the "no news is good news" approach to workplace relations. For Baby Boomers and Generation X, if the boss doesn't speak up then all's well. Millennials will knock on your door and ask how they're doing.
It rubs many people the wrong way. In fact this is often mistaken for a nattering, attention-seeking culture. Managers can take it for an "IRL" expression of the kind of always-on constant gratification that young people get from social media and e-mail accounts. Carvey, however, suggests looking at it differently.
He urges managers to think about this as colleagues seeking collaboration. Rather than waiting passively for feedback Millennials actively want to improve. This is in part, because they've grown up in a world constantly changing under their feet; that kind of proactive learning has been essential for a generation that leapfrogged into the Internet, email, two wars, smartphones and then a Recession.
It's also not a bad thing and can offer fantastic workplace benefits for a boss who's willing to reach out and engage.
"I think that the uber-headline is that a kind of marriage of needs and partners is one way to think about it," he said. ""When we're talking about development for millennials, it's an expectation. I think employer need to be ready to do that."
Myth 2: They're entitled.
Reality: They're willing to ask for opportunities.
Proactivity is one of the hallmarks of this generation.
Most previous generations thought of their career as a ladder, Carvey explained, looking to work a steady way up, possibly with the occasional lateral move to a similarly-situated firm along the way. Millennials see their careers "as a lattice," a long-term plan that's as much about moving among professions and employers as getting promotions.
The upshot is a generation that has proven very open about seizing opportunities, or, as older generations see it, "pushy."
"The CEO-of-you thing is where many of them are at," Carvey said, "and we in the learning and development business need to adapt to that."
Millennials see it as not wanting to sit still and wait their turn. They're eager to try new challenges and get ahead right now, often driven by a self-confidence surprising in young workers. Other generations see it, in well… exactly the same way, and it can often come off abrasive and wrong. Baby Boomer managers waited their turn, and many expect the next generations to do the same thing.
The key, according to Carvey, is communication.
"There's a high expectation of being part of the team and being a participant in things," he said, "and not going back to the Confucian method of somebody telling you what you need to know and what you need to do. It's a much more participatory process. Communication is hugely important."
Just because someone is 26 and cocky doesn't mean he should be pitching a client… but it doesn't make him wrong to ask either. Treat the person as what he is: someone who's eager to participate in the team.
Myth 3: They're lazy.
Reality: They expect to be treated fairly.
Could anyone in pop culture be more #millennial than Ilana Wexler? Employed (until recently) by a Groupon-esque startup, she spent her time tweeting and showing up in the office as little as possible. For anyone who's walked by a 28-year-old colleague surfing Instagram after lunch, that all has to seem incredibly familiar.
Except that it's not the whole story.
Millennials, Carvey said, have grown up in a fingertips culture. Where older generations had to learn the practice (for better or worse), Millennials are used to pulling up email at any hour of the day and hopping online "to get just one quick thing done." Thanks to this always on attitude this is a generation that's very comfortable with the idea of work bleeding over into home.
That sounds great for the bottom line, bosses may be saying, but what does it have to do with someone playing Zynga games in the office? That comes from another core Millennial trait: fairness.
As a generation Millennials believe in fair play from their employer, to an extent not seen from Baby Boomers or even the infamously skeptical Generation X. (This is also, not coincidentally, an idea that spills over into how this generation sees the wider world). Available at night thanks to their heavy integration of technology, Millennials expect those same rules to work the other way around: if the boss wants work to bleed into home, then home should get to bleed into work.
"Their bosses are going to have to understand that," Carvey said. "To me that's a pretty simple issue. Work is 24-by-7. There are different modes of it, but I don't know anybody that doesn't check their email on a daily basis, I don't know anybody that doesn't respond to it or isn't thinking about it in periods of time that we used to think about as off time or vacation."
But, he said, "the inverse of that is when they [Millennials] are at work, you have to expect them to think about their dentist's appointment or to check on the babysitter."
The infamously lazy Millennial is anything but. The key for managers to remember is that they may not always look like it, and that's O.K. This is a generation that's willing to give a lot of flexibility as long as they get some back.
Like everything else about the new generation, it's not the way it used to work. That doesn't mean it's wrong.