“They’re lazy. They don’t want to work like we did and they want so much accommodation. It’s like everything is a free-for-all. You can’t even count on them to show up on time. It’s hard to believe how much support and attention they want. I just can’t work with them.”
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think that was a quote about millennials? Those same statements could have been heard in any conference room in 1970, with members of the silent generation, aka the Greatest Generation, talking about baby boomers. According to Inc. Magazine’s article on millennials not being that different from other generations, “We all want what millennials want: meaning and purpose in our work, regular feedback from our bosses, career development opportunities in companies that will invest in us, recognition for doing good work and freedom to make our own choices.”
It’s true. Every generation has a tendency to look at the generation that follows them with a critical eye. It could be chalked up to the fundamental attribution error. You know, when you’re late for a meeting it’s because of traffic, the weather or your incredibly busy schedule. However, when your colleague or client is late for the meeting, it’s because he’s inconsiderate and disorganized.
So, what are the top three stereotypes about millennials, and how can we address them?
STEREOTYPE #1 - They need to know why
I’m a Gen Xer or even more specifically, a “Latchkey Kid," a subset of the Gen Xers that was defined by working parents who left their children alone after school. Like the baby boomers before us, we feel like someone told us what to do, and we did it - all with a smile on our face. The millennials are quite different in this aspect. They like explanations. Tell one of them to do something, and they want to know why. What’s the purpose? Well, let’s be honest, what’s wrong with explaining the purpose of a project, task or assignment? Makes sense, would you agree?
Are you sure you know why you’ve asked them to do something? If you are, take a minute and explain the purpose up front. You will likely get that five minutes of productivity back later in the day. Just stop playing Fantasy Football or shopping online, and you’ll pick up all kinds of time that you can use to explain stuff to millennials.
STEREOTYPE #2 - They want a trophy for everything
Hey, who started giving participation trophies? Not the millennials. We did. The baby boomers and Gen Xers thought it would be a great idea to hand out “Congratulations, you’ve finished the race without causing lasting embarrassment to your family trophies,” and now we’re mad that millennials are expecting them. Like we often say regarding things that seem to upset people - so what? Is it really a big deal that everyone gets some additional recognition? Is an overabundance of trophies really destroying the competitive fabric of our workplaces? I know plenty of millennials who will compete until they drop and shove you out of the way to cross the finish line first. Just take a few minutes to tell them why it’s important to win, right?
Many studies are available that show the effects of rewarding everyone for basic effort. In Luke Simmons’ article, Millennials and the Participation Trophy Mindset, he suggests, “the participation trophy mindset has actually provided powerful motivation for Millennials to work harder, seek more growth, and strive for greater success than their parents.” This is an area where you could apply “and/both” thinking. Feel free to recognize participation and give additional praise and recognition for higher achievement.
STEREOTYPE #3 - They want too much accommodation and flexibility
What’s wrong with accommodation and flexibility? Maybe the additional work/life balance, or as we call it in our company, life/work balance, is a great thing? Maybe granting more flexibility in schedules helps people feel more balanced and therefore able to be the best version of themselves at work. We call our additional flexibility “schedule shaping.” We ask our representatives to be in community, in the office, 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time can be flexible. If there is an ongoing road construction project, come in early and leave early to miss traffic. If you want to be home earlier with your family in the summer months, come in early and leave early. If you don’t like your kids – author’s note: I ADORE our daughters, and this is a judgment free blog – as I was saying, if you don’t like your kids, come in after you drop them off for school and go home later. What’s wrong with accommodation and flexibility? Maybe millennials were right to ask for it, and maybe we were right to provide more.
The truth is that we all want flexibility in our jobs. Both employers and employees benefit from flexibility, and because millennials are so connected to technology, it’s no surprise they gravitate toward remote employment options. A study by Bentley University indicated that 77 percent of millennials believe that a flexible schedule would make them more productive. You can start to explore flexibility options by first evaluating the tasks that employees perform and decide if flexibility can be incorporated into operations. This will no doubt make your company more appealing to millennial jobseekers.
Several flexible working arrangements you may want to consider include alternative work hours, a part-time schedule, telecommuting or freelance status.
At the end of the day, I know millennials who want more structure than others. I know some for whom it is more important to know why, and I know some who thrive on recognition, while others couldn’t care less about affirmation. I would suggest that you take the time to get to know each person individually and keep the conversation flowing with regular check-ins. While there are absolutely trends and truths about each generation (WWII shaped realities, and the internet changed nearly everything), I still think it’s more important to know each persons’ unique work preferences in addition to his or her age. If you want to hedge your bets, provide everyone in your workplace with a greater sense of purpose, recognition and accommodation. I promise the baby boomers won’t turn any of it down.