Millennials are presenting significant challenges to business leaders in a way that previous generations have not. The presenting complaints by management range from “they don’t focus,” and “they are too plugged into social media” to “they won’t work overtime” and “they just aren’t committed.” While these things may seem true, and in some cases are empirically factual, they also represent a point of view which may be less than constructive. Seen from another vantage, each of these statements can reveal a deeper insight that can help employers capitalize on the unique gifts that Millennials bring. (All of this acknowledges from the outset the potential inherent risks and fallacies in generalizations. They represent no one individual or situation, but the statistical averages, and ought to be understood in that way.)
Attention deficit disorders are increasingly diagnosed among adolescents and young adults, and even those older – particularly Gen Xers. This article is not the place to explore reasons for this trend. What we can do is acknowledge and understand this reality so that we can formulate ways to accommodate. People who don’t focus are also those who notice things others might miss. What new things can you do with an employee who is hyper-attentive, alert and sensitive to multiple incoming stimuli? What about your work environment or processes have been going unaddressed because everyone was too busy to notice them? How can that person help you better understand your customers in the same demographic?
The same approach can be taken with most of these ‘deficits’ – view them from a different perspective and ask, “Where is the strength/benefit within or behind this trait?” Regarding the work ethic of Millennials, it may well be true that they are less likely, on the whole, to accept overtime and weekend responsibilities. There is often a higher priority placed on quality of life, and less willingness to delay gratification. Millennials are also more likely to question the social value or purpose behind an activity. They may appear self-centered. Some of this is simply youth. And, compared to the “ME Generation” of the 1980s, they are a breath of fresh air. They tend to see quality of life as a social value, not just a personal one, and thus wish it for others as much as for themselves. This trait may result in part from the fact that this generation does not remember a time pre 9/11. The seemingly random acts of catastrophic violence and wanton destruction could lead to a fatalistic attitude. In some people it surely does. For a great many Millennials, however, the result seems to be an increased commitment to make the world a better place, to combat violence and hatred with peacemaking and love.
These kinds of committments and the passion that drives them can also make great entrepreneurs out of Millennials, as has been demonstrated. particularly when the challenges being faced are of a quality of life or social welfare nature. They may be less entrepreneurial than earlier generations, though this too may reveal hidden strengths. Being an entrepreneur requires a kind of focus and dedication that is not considered typical of this generation. Yet given the right motivations (yes, I understand that part of being an entrepreneur is self or internal motivation) they may achieve great things.
Multitasking and even what may seem to be manic engagement with social media can also be viewed as strengths. At a minimum they mean that managers need to think differently about how they engage with Millennials, many of whom are accustomed to being connected to important relationships 24/7. How leadership might choose to address this dynamic can be negotiated in each organization, and will differ based on the needs and goals for communication. One option could be to have a member of this cohort take responsibility for the increased communication, sending updates via social networks to various constituencies. Such a solution both addresses the need of that individual employee by utilizing one of her strengths, and responds to the needs of others on the team, and those in the customer and community groups who are being reached.
These are just a few examples. Below are resources that offer others. The very best way to learn how to communicate with Millennials is to do exactly that – communicate with them. Find a sample group and take them to lunch. Interview them. Ask them what frustrates them about the contemporary work place, and about their own work styles. Ask what questions they think you should or wish you would ask, and then do it – ask those questions and be open to hear the answers non-judgmentally. Ask them what they would change, if they could. Find some small things to implement now, and empower the Millennials to help guide the implementation process. Then meet with them regularly (monthly, quarterly, you decide) for continuing dialogue – remember they REALLY like to be CONNECTED!
- Managing Millennials – by Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja, Craig Rusch
- Not Everyone Gets A Trophy – Bruce Tulgan
- 5 Tips for Dealing with Millennials – from Inc. Magazine online
- Invest in the next generation – from Harvard Business Review online
- Mentoring Millennials – from Harvare Business Review online
- Talent: How to find it, how to keep it – A Harverd Business Review Executive Edition
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