The phrase “millennials in the workplace” may bring to mind open work spaces with bean bag chairs, organic kale salad bars in the break room and in-office yoga. It may bring up thoughts of iPhones, social media and remote work. Or, it may bring up stereotypes around entitlement, laziness and an inability to commit to a job or a company.
Whatever your opinions are of millennials, they are rapidly becoming a growing and important part of the workforce, and they work and think very differently than the generations before them. For instance, they often use technology to work more efficiently, and their desire to understand the “why” behind everything can create opportunities for your company to refocus on doing the right things to meet big-picture goals.
So, why do so many business leaders have a negative view of millennials and hesitate to work with them or give them more responsibility in their organization? I believe it’s because the millennial value system is very different than that of previous generations.
Many millennials don’t value titles or appearances. They don’t need to wear nice suits or work in fancy offices. They have very little use for stiff organizational flowcharts that allow employees to move vertically, one rung at a time, on a set schedule. In the past, workers found validation in climbing the corporate ladder, receiving a new job title and office and staying loyal to the same company for many years. Millennials find very little value in any of this. This can be operationally disruptive to an organization, and frustrating for the manager trying to motivate and lead a millennial to work with a team and perform.
To attract, retain and lead a millennial workforce, start by understanding what is important to this generation and what drives them to perform. The following six tips can help.
- Regularly tell them “why.” Millennials are driven by impact. They want to feel that the company they work for has a worthy mission, to know they are measurably contributing to that mission with their work, and that there is a reason for every task they are assigned. The employer who can tell them the “why” will likely be successful leading this group. Warning: If you can’t give a compelling reason as to why their job is important and contributing to your organization’s mission, you have done yourself more harm than if you hadn’t answered the “why” in the first place.
- Ask their opinion — a lot. You may not be used to asking your employees or team for their thoughts on a task, project, meeting, or goal, but this can go a long way with millennials. They want to feel like they are personally valued and contributing to the organization’s mission; giving them a chance to voice their opinion will create buy-in and ownership for your millennials. Try to make a habit of asking for their ideas, thoughts and opinions, and listen carefully to what they say.
- Let them try new jobs. Millennials place a lot of importance on finding their calling and doing work they are passionate about. Create ways for them to try jobs and develop new skills outside of their division or team. Many companies have rotation programs where employees can get a feel for how each area of the organization works, and then the employer and employee decide where he or she will be the best fit. Finding ways to allow your millennial employees to feel like they can grow, learn and explore new opportunities will help you attract and retain them.
- Allow flexibility in how they work. Millennials often place a lot of importance on the experience rather than the results. This means that many will choose to make less money for a job that offers a better work experience, a strong company culture or the ability to work remotely. These young workers want jobs that allow them the freedom to develop outside interests.
- Find ways for your company and your employees to give back. The millennial generation was raised in a world so connected by technology, the issues of people in the developing world are just as present as problems their neighbors have in their own community. This generation tends to be incredibly passionate about solving humanitarian, social justice and environmental issues, and they appreciate an employer who feels the same. Consider a cause or a project that might align with your team’s or organization’s core competencies — or develop new ones — and be intentional about letting employees contribute to larger philanthropic efforts.
- Encourage face-to-face interactions. With so much technology within reach it’s easy to get out of practice interacting face to face. Encourage in-person meetings when possible, and create space for informal relationship building. Provide free lunch for the whole team, with the caveat that no cell phones or computers are allowed into the lunch room. Millennials may not like the idea at first, but if you promote human connection and authentic relationship building, they may get a lot out of the experience and appreciate you facilitating it.
Leading these young workers can be challenging, but if leaders invest in this incredible generation they can make a difference in their teams and in their business.
Larry Little is CEO for Eagle Consulting. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.