Do you employ Millennials? If you have twenty-somethings in your workplace, you do. Most scientists who study generations put the start of the Millennials between 1982 and 1985. Using the earliest dates, the oldest are just turning thirty this year. Sociologists can argue whether kids born in the early eighties are GenX or Y (Millennial) but the “core” Millennials are twenty-five and under.
My new friend, Dr. Ron Konopaske, has been educating me on Millennials over the last few weeks. He studies their generation like I study Boomers. Take a look at Rob’s site Millennialedge360.com.
Boomers make up the majority of small business owners in America. For us, the Millennials aren’t another generation, they are more like beings from another planet. Let’s begin with the world view of 25 year old employees.
- The US has been at war since they were in elementary school
- The World Trade Center fell when they were freshmen in high school
- Vietnam was fought by their grandparents
- They probably have no idea what Y2K means, or how the draft worked
- They have always been able to make a phone call from their cars
- Disco was dead long before they even listened to popular music
They were brought up in the longest economic expansion in history; a boom fueled by a massive influx of college-graduate Boomers and two-income households. Then they entered the job market during the worst sustained unemployment in sixty years.
Middle class Millennials, many with mid-career Boomer parents, were the centers of their worlds. They were shuttled to karate and music classes, and fed in restaurants with playscapes to keep them entertained. They were awarded trophies for participating, because their parents didn’t want too much emphasis on winning or losing. No one is a loser.
Now they work for Boomer entrepreneurs, the most competitive, goal-oriented generation in history. (For the reasons why, read my e-book, Beating The Boomer Bust). Their helicopter parents, who shepherded them all the way through college, can’t tell the boss how their children would like to be treated. So they do it themselves.
Baby Boomers don’t know how to react. Employees announce how they think work should accommodate their leisure schedule. They expect regular raises and promotions for showing up. (In a recent survey, Millennial employees said that they expected job advancement about every two years, and that it should not be tied to any performance measures.)
Millennials expect a pat on the back for doing what they were told to do — every time they do it. If their Boomer boss doesn’t dole out sufficient recognition, they will ask for it. They seem mystified if the employer objects. “I did what I was assigned, so I am owed the reward.” As a recent Time Magazine article noted, the Me Generation has raised the Me Me Me Generation.
But Millennials aren’t slackers. They aren’t stupid. They are wizards of technology. They can find answers almost as quickly as you can develop questions. They can work diligently, as long as you don’t mind the quick forays into texting or Facebook to arrange their social lives. (Hey, most don’t take smoke breaks anymore.) They ask questions, and like to know the reasons why they are doing what they do.
Flooded by inputs from every side, they feel no need to read boring memos or procedures. Most get their news via infotainment. Over 60% identify either Stephen Colbert or John Stewart as their primary source of “hard” news. They expect workplace communications to be interesting.
They accept workplace diversity without question. They will work in teams with any gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and share credit for the team’s accomplishments (We all get a trophy!). They want to belong as much as any generation before them. They just want to belong on their terms.
Boomer owners have a choice. They can try to avoid a whole generation of workers in a race to their retirement finish lines, or they can figure out how to work with Millennials. Start by realizing that it’s less about what you say than how you say it. All employee relations begin with communication, and good employers have always tailored communications to their audience.