For Better Results with Millennials - Know Your Myths
For the first time in history, four generations are working side by side. Of these groups, millennials represent a cohort who have experienced dramatic changes over their lifetimes...and received unfair backlash from previous generations as they navigate their world. Meeting the millennial generation’s needs can seem like a minor diplomatic mission - but it’s helpful to know the characteristics of this generation don’t always match up to the myths.
Using a performance management system that provides timely, specific, and observable feedback and updating feedback processes to be more frequent, coaching style can improve experiences and performance across the board. But what else can we do to meaningfully connect with the largest cohort in the workforce?
First, we have to throw away the idea that millennials are job-hoppers who lack grit or staying power. In a CNN opinion piece, Angela Duckworth, psychologist and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance says that’s bunk. She notes that boomers remember themselves a little more favorably than facts show (don’t we all?). The Bureau of Job and Labor Statistics evaluated boomer job movement trends and found they held an average of 11.9 jobs from age 18 to 50 - or a job every two years or so. Duckworth suspects job-hopping is a characteristic of youth, not of a generation. But for traits that strongly correlate with grit, like conscientiousness, studies show millennials demonstrate higher levels than previous generations. Perhaps the secret to high-performing, “gritty” millennials lies in recognizing, acknowledging, and harnessing the power of these corollaries.
Next, while millennials may be used to perennial feedback - what millennials really value is meaningful feedback. And every generation needs to hear they are appreciated. Lee Caraher, author of Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work, talked about her experience in a recent podcast. She was raised to think “please” and “thank you” were implied. But as a manager, she decided to incorporate these two simple statements into routine exchanges. She intuitively recognized it was a simple way to say “I understand... that they are people and they are making an effort, but they don’t have to - because they don’t! They could walk out the door.” After a month, everyone was saying please and thank you. At the end of the quarter, she reviewed their job tracking software and saw a significant reduction in time-wasting, non-billable activity. The only change they’d made was saying please and thank you. Regular demonstration of appreciation changed the entire company culture - and had a profound impact on morale and the bottom line.
Millennials have a reputation for valuing non-traditional benefits over traditional ones. But CNBC shared results from a recent survey of 1500 millennials - and found they are just like any other cohort - they place a high value on stable jobs and good pay. Ninety percent of respondents said they would choose to stay in their current job for 10 years or more if they knew they would get annual raises and upward mobility. And 77% of respondents would be willing to take a salary cut in exchange for long-term job security. The attitude that 'they're probably leaving anyway'... creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where business leaders don't invest in their youngest workers, who then leave as a result.” They suggest that millennials need “a valuable reason to stay”. Team leaders should demonstrate an interest in the career trajectory and upward mobility of millennials. The regular goal setting and feedback method outlined here fits in neatly with this need.
Lee Caraher had another valuable insight - older generations may complain millennials expect recognition for sub par work. The problem, she says, lies not in the effort but in language. Don’t take for granted that what you say is what millennials hear. This is important for any generation, but especially for millennials, who grew up with very different technology, schools, and parenting styles than previous generations. She gives an example - when a manager says “I’d like that by end of day Friday.” A boomer might mean 5 p.m. eastern standard time, where the team leader is located. But a millennial might leave the office at 4 p. m., head to their kid’s ballet class, log on from home and turn the assignment in at midnight, central time, where she lives. Technically, neither party is wrong. “That is the worst place you can be as an employee, to be right and wrong at the same time, because if you’re right and wrong at the same time, your manager thinks you’re wrong.” A good instruction is specific and clear - “I’d like a clean draft of that report by 5 p.m., eastern time, Friday the 18th of August.” A good instruction assumes both parties want to succeed and ensures that happens.
We all struggle with understanding generations we didn’t grow up with. It helps to know more about millennial work attitudes - not just for interactions with this cohort, but for success for the entire organization.
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