A couple of months ago I followed Jabez Le Bret‘s presentation about Millennial Employees on a national meeting agenda. He is an entertaining speaker and an excellent story teller. As every speaker hopes, one of his stories stuck with me.
When Jabez (a Millennial himself) was eight years old, his parents decided to purchase a new house. They took him along when house hunting, and asked his opinion about every neighborhood and potential residence. As he says, it’s not that he actually had a vote in the decision. His parents just wanted him to know that they considered his opinion important. What he thought mattered to them.
I remember visiting relatives when I was young. I was usually left to my own devices in the back yard. Bored, I’d burst into the house to announce my latest discovery. My interruption of the adults sitting around the table was met with “Can’t you see that we are talking?” I could wait an insufferably long time to be invited into the conversation or (more often the case), I’d get the message (“We aren’t interested.”) and wander off again.
I thought about how that contrasted with how we treated our sons. Under the same circumstances we would invariably stop the adult conversation and turn our attention to the child. We wanted to share their excitement. We wanted them to know that what they saw or did was important to us.
Extend that to the entire Soccer Mom culture. Days are arranged around children’s school commitments, sports, and other extracurricular activities. If I participated in an after-school activity, getting home was my problem, and dinner might or might not be available. Today, most parents wouldn’t dream of letting their child find their own way home, especially on a short winter day. The chariot awaits when they are done (if the parent wasn’t already watching the practice.) Dinner is served when they get home.
“Just listen to me.”
Do you still wonder why your Millennial employees feel entitled to offer an opinion on their job duties two weeks after their initial hire? They come into your office (expecting an immediate audience, of course), and opine on your operating methods, technology and perhaps your entire business strategy.
Our knee jerk reaction is some business version of “Can’t you see that we are talking?” We feel obliged to put them in their place. Perhaps not in so many words, but by pointing out that they don’t have the experience, training or tenure to make a real contribution.
But they’ve been raised knowing that their opinion counts. Adults all around them have reacted that way since birth. All their friends experienced the same behavior. Will they think their entire life to date was an aberration, or that you are the outlier? You become the one who doesn’t understand.
Opinions offered by Millennial employees aren’t a criticism of you or your company. They don’t have appropriate respect for your experience because they have little of their own to measure it against. It will come, but in the meantime take a few minutes to listen to them.
You may see it as pandering, but you aren’t going to unravel a lifetime of learning in one conversation. Hear them out. They are less concerned about changing things than they are about being acknowledged.
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