Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. (George Orwell)
I’m happy to see that there has been a rash of articles recently defending Millennials. Until recently, the press has been littered with articles about how narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude this generation is. Well, I can name at least one Baby Boomer or Gen X-er I know who can be described as narcissistic, lazy, entitled or rude, so it has never appeared to me to be an entirely generational issue. (BTW, I am NOT a Millennial, so let’s just get that out of the way.)
So where does all of this negative Millennial press come from?
I was having lunch not too long ago with an older friend (a Boomer) who was expressing frustration with the Millennials, specifically with their lack of employment loyalty. In his words, “As they are on their way out the door, they tell us they love the company, yet they still leave.”
This exchange encapsulates the confusion about Millennials.
And confusion it is. From my perspective (as a Gen X-er who has been working with Millennials for some time now), this new generation of workers isn’t worse than those of the past, just different as molded by the times in which they were born; or, as Joel Stein put it in his 2013 Time article:
“They’re not a new species; they’ve just mutated to adapt to their environment.”
Like any powerful tool (and they are powerful — as of 2015, Millennials are officially the largest portion of the US workforce), understanding how it works and how best to use it will yield the best results. In this case, successfully working with (and retaining) Millennials depends on understanding and appreciating both sides of each behavioral coin. For example:
- The Short Attention Span. Millennials have grown up in a world where things happen at the speed of the Internet. Some sneer at their lack of patience; but Millennials also apply that expectation of speed to their own tasks. If I ask a Millennial to do something, it usually gets done quickly (and if it doesn’t, it probably means they are stuck and I need to check on them.) This can be a problem when paired on tasks with those of us in the slower, older generations — to avoid frustration on all fronts, it usually works best to give Millennials standalone tasks or tasks that feed the front of a process.
- The Google-Plex. Millennials Google everything. In fact, this can lead to a frustrating belief that if they can’t Google it, it can’t be done. On the flip side, they are the first ones to keep from re-inventing the wheel. I’ve seen a Gen X-er avoid something new for months when he could have finished it in a day if he had only Googled for a sample.
- Hyper-connectivity. It can almost be comical to watch them try to put their phone down for a 30-minute meeting; on the other hand, they quickly connect with coworkers, they get back to you right away, and they sometimes have critical information faster than anyone else. Get them pointed at the right kinds of information, they can be a great reconnaissance asset.
- The Parent Trap. Millennials have a kinda creepy-close connection with their parents. One friend who lives near a university told me she saw a girl at the grocery store calling her mom to ask which cereal she likes. Many of the Millennials I know connect with one (or both) parents multiple times a day (via text or phone). While it seems a little silly to be so dependent, at least they aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know something (with those they trust); and they are comfortable working with people of other generations.
- Love at Work. Career-wise, Millennials are driven by something different. It may seem crazy since they are graduating with more debt than any other generation, but 59% of them say they would take a lower paying job if it meant they could do something they love (and I can confirm this from own experience). More than half also expect to change careers at least once over their lifetime. Quite simply, they are motivated to chase what they love, and they have no expectation of staying in one place to find it; but if they love what they are doing, they are all in.
Narcissistic, lazy, entitled and rude? Some. Lacking loyalty? Maybe from a corporation’s perspective. Impossible to work with? No way. I’m excited to be working with this generation. They are changing the face of the workplace, and to use them best, we just need to adapt to OUR new environment.
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