Are Millennials Just Gen X With Hipper Clothes?
Recently, I was asked to provide career advice for a friend of a friend’s daughter. She’s in the first year of her career and trying to figure out if she’s chosen the right path and how to navigate so she can apply her strengths and talents. What struck me wasn’t how different her expectations and questions were as an infamous Millennial – but how they were exactly what I would have said 20 years ago.
I’m fortunate in my work that I get exposure to all generations in the workforce. It so often hits me how consistent we all are. Yet, I’m commonly asked in workshops how to manage Millennials effectively. We’ve all been warned: Millennials are selfish, lazy, entitled, and demanding. As the so called, “Me Me Me” generation, Millennials put themselves and their individual goals above the good of the team. Plus, they need an exhausting amount of feedback and pats on the back.
But as Millennials approach 36% of the workforce in 2014, how much of the hype is actually playing out? Do Millennials really need a different management style, or is it more about their career stage, age or the overall economy? Another way to put it is this: “Are Millennial Employees Truly Different, or Just Younger?”
While the exact age and date range differ by a few years, a Millennial (also called Gen Y) can be roughly defined as someone in their late teens to someone in their early 30s. A lot has been attributed to this group, generating headlines ranging from “We can all agree that Millennials are the worst,” to “Why Millennials Will Be the Generation to ‘Save Us All.” It’s no wonder that the generation suffers high levels of anxiety.
As I wrote last year, I see Millennials changing corporate norms for the better. I also believe that Gen X did their fair part, as did the Boomers before them. Every generation comes in young, with something to prove and a fresh perspective. Some ideas stick; some don’t. (We can all agree that mandatory suits and pantyhose are good to be gone.)
As Millennials become the majority of those you manage – and eventually your manager – being able to appreciate their perspective while not locking them into rigid stereotypes serves all of us. After all, we’ve attributed a discrete list of attributes to the largest generation in history.
When I’m asked to comment on how to manage this group of about 95 million people, I defer as I’m not a generational expert. However, I’m coming around to the idea that none of us needs to be. We’re better off keeping a few well verified social trends in mind, then using good management skills to fill in the rest. Here’s what I advise:
1. Embrace Millennials’ inclination toward technology and contribution equality.
According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, 75% of Gen Yers have a social media profile. Millennials “outpace older Americans in virtually all types of internet and cell use. They are more likely to have their own social networking profiles, to connect to the internet wirelessly when away from home or work, and to post a video of themselves online.” 83% of Millennials sleep with their phones by their beds.
Millennials grew up integrating their lives with technology – and training their parents.
This is one reason that Millennials in Viacom’s research believe in a bi-directionality of authority. In other words, they say that being a boss and an equal aren’t mutually exclusive.
2. Don’t expect them to be self-centered or entitled—any more than any Gen Xer or Boomer is.
In a recent EY generations survey, 68% of respondents considered Millennials “entitled and concerned primarily about individual promotion.” However, 51% also attributed this trait to members of Gen X, and 32% thought Boomers were a bit entitled themselves.
Further, when asked to reflect on their own generation, all respondents viewed their own generation as entitled, including 60% of Generation Y, 49% of Generation X and 27% of Boomers. Note the declining percentage as we get older, and hopefully wiser, with a broadened perspective. (Otherwise called aging.)
3. Remember what you were like when you were twenty-five.
I know many of us would like to forget our first grunt jobs, but go back there for a moment. Remember what that was like. Your priorities matched your life stage, and you were struggling to find your place. You wanted to make an impact and a name for yourself. You wanted to be seen not just for your present job, but for your potential.
Many of the characteristics we perceive in Millennials are a result of where they are in life. (It’s quite a different experience talking to a 22-year-old Millennial versus a 34-year old one.) And like all of us, Millennials are affected by the overall socioeconomic environment they’ve grown up in: post 9/11 global awareness, an extended recession, and rising college costs without the guarantees of a job at the end.
Instead of looking at ways to manage Millennials as if there’s a secret sauce to pacify these crazy kids, instead think of them as younger versions of yourself. Even if it hurts.
4. Attribute Millennials’ pushing to good intentions.
According to the Pew Research center, behind marriage and children, Millennials’ top priority is helping others in need. Many want to make a difference and do what’s right, which also applies in the workplace. This means that they may not follow protocol because it’s been the practice for a decade, but may challenge it in the pursuit of the best idea.
This pushiness is often attributed to entitlement or brashness. But what if we assumed it was optimism and positivity – two traits we desperately need in the workplace?
As Dr. Steven Hunt of Success Factors aptly puts it, “Millennials have always lived in the modern world and are less likely to be constrained by ineffective traditions and false assumptions around what work ‘should be.’ They’re focused on what work could be.”
If we all want better places to work and thrive, the more we can leverage our collective and individual strengths, the better off we’ll be.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
Image by adamr.
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