Diversity & Inclusion

Spotlight on Millennials: Managing and motivating the iPod workforce

Raised by Boomer parents on a diet of praise and self-esteem, Millennials are the next big thing, and they know it. They show up to work with lots of answers.

Hierarchy? Only if it helps us get the work done.

Need it yesterday? No problem.

Technology? We eat that #@%! for breakfast.

Which brings us to workplace demeanor. Could use some serious polish.

Millennials multitask and multicareer. Cross-train them; they call it a reward. Give them four jobs to do at once, and they swim like fish in fast water. Twenty-somethings exude impatience, confidence and ambition; and with the Boomers growing gray, they are our high-speed, high-maintenance future.

The Kids Are All Right

Ready for a nice surprise? These kids are idealistic. They want big-picture purpose. Save the planet, build better cars, or create ways people can spend time with their families, and Millennials buy in. They flock to companies where they can feel like “paid volunteers,” joining because something significant is happening there.

Build a first-rate website and lay out clear career paths (Millennials had resumes when they were 8), and you’ll recruit this Internet Generation.

Keeping them is the problem. Having experienced change all their lives, Millennials attend orientation expecting to leave you soon. In order to retain them and their can-do energy, start with these best-practice basics:

1/ Communication 24/7

Information is the air Nexters breathe. No news feels like bad news to them, and silence means disapproval. Give them feedback immediately and daily—by email, by cell phone, and in person. Chart their achievements and new competencies online for everybody to see. Transparency appeals to them. Start blogs about company issues, and respond to their comments often.

Then there’s respect. Listen to their ideas, and they’ll listen back. Pragmatic to the core, Millennials don’t expect to get their way every time, but they insist on being heard.

2/ Team Theory

Nexters thrive on teamwork. Design office space that’s set up so they can share ideas. Got a go-for-it group? Assign “pack projects,” and evaluate the team as a whole. Millennials expect collaborative decision-making and problem-solving. The most inclusive and diverse generation we’ve ever seen, Y’s feel safer when everybody plays.

3/ Don’t Instruct. Involve.

Many companies lose Gen Y recruits literally within days of hiring because Millennials want to be involved, like, NOW. Consider the difference between an orientation made up of lectures and paperwork and one that includes brainstorming a marketing problem, playing a game that explains the company’s HR policies, teaching other new recruits a process, hearing personal stories about company history from Boomers, and hobnobbing with the CEO. “Rad,” huh?

After a Gen Y worker starts work, don’t let him or her get stale in any one job. “Rotate to motivate” is the rule here. Not only do Millennials expect to keep learning, but the broader a Millennial’s knowledge about the organization, the more invested he or she becomes.

4/ Benefits That Count

Offer Nexters rewards they can’t refuse. Millennials expect to be adequately paid and to get bonuses for going above and beyond. Two other areas that don’t cost you much and mean a lot to this generation are “fun” and “friends.” Ask a committee of Nexters to plan extracurricular activities like quarterly celebrations, sports events, volunteer outings, and trips to hike, ski, or canoe. These events create the kind of community that most Millennials don’t want to give up, even for more money elsewhere.

Consider expanding company discounts to Millennials’ family and friends. Few parents who have been getting discounts on your goods or services want to hear the 20-something in the family talk about leaving you. And giving discounts to his or her circle of friends helps your employee bond with people he cares about deeply. For Millennials, that’s value.

A word about measuring the effectiveness of these perks. First, determine the specific problem you need to address. Is it job-jumping, poor work habits, or no shows? Measure the problem and what it costs the organization. Present those metrics to a committee of Millennials, and charge them with coming up with solutions. Implement the best of their ideas, and keep ongoing committees at work measuring the impact and fine-tuning the solutions. Most Millennials grew up having a voice in family decisions. They are likely to take this task in stride, not only as their due but as their duty.

5/ Looking for Leaders

No matter how confident Millennials appear, they expect supervision and respond to personal mentoring and honest leadership. Having watched the dot.com bust from college, they appreciate stability. Many still live at home and say their parents are their personal heroes. Millennials who have strong relationships with a mentor seldom job jump. With that in mind, make mentoring fairly formal in your organization with set meetings and an in-charge attitude on the mentor’s part.

That mentoring style will help you with the biggest complaint about Generation Y: poor work ethic. Millennials have busy lives outside of work. They have routinely managed multiple interests and activities since elementary school. They expect as much self-scheduling and job flexibility as you can give them. For example, if an 8-to-5 day isn’t critical to performance, let teams self-schedule their hours. If Millennials commute, plan meetings for drive-time, and count that as part of the work day.

If you value this generation’s energy and innovation, you’ll flex along with them so long as the work gets done, and done well. Stress that performance is the factor that makes flexibility possible. Fortunately, that’s a notion these high achievers understand.

* * * * * * *

* When polled, Millennials is the word most 20-somethings choose to designate their generation.

Additional Resources:

Employing Generation WHY? Understanding, Managing and Motivating Your New Workforce by Eric Chester

Managing Generation Y, by Carolyn A Martin and Bruce Tulgan

“The Needs and Attitudes of Young Workers: Why the best of the young keep leaving.” Workforce Crisis: How to Beat the Coming Shortage of Skills and Talent by Dychtwald, Erickson and Morison, Harvard Business School Press, 2006

“Managing Millennials” by Claire Raines, www.generationsatwork.com

“Generations have Contrasting Views on Work/Life.” June, 2006, www.shrm.org

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