Are “Millennials” Making You Crazy?

Mike Harden | | Building Relationships, Resolving Employee Problems

I’ve been told that I am “old school” and couldn’t be a CEO in today’s world because I would end up firing everyone. That’s because employees today don’t have the same work ethic I was used to dealing with when I ran a company. It’s those damn Millennials (often called Generation Y).

Well, of course I wouldn’t fire everyone…In fact, being a coach has taught me a lot about these younger employees. It seems that about 80% of the issues my CEOs bring to me for coaching deal with people. Not products, cashflow, or technology, but dealing with their own employees. I have often said that if I could come up with a business model that made money without having to hire anyone or deal with customers, I’d franchise it and make a billion dollars. But alas, we are doomed to always have to deal with human beings. And in today’s world, most of them are Millennials.

Who Are Millennials?

Millennials (Gen-Y’ers) have also been called “Generation Me,” due in part to their focus on their own needs and aspirations, and demonstrating a narcissism unlike anything the Baby Boomers ever had (I didn’t make this up…it came from actual personality tests given to this generation). This new workforce has caused many CEOs to have to change the culture and the way their companies operate to accommodate the more self-centered attitude of their employees.

Over an 18 year span (1981-1999) about 77 million American Millennials were born. They were raised on technology, and it’s in their blood. Many don’t even have a land line at home, exclusively relying on their cell phones for communications. They play video games, constantly surf the web, text rather than call, and use social networking to stay connected. Most believe that technology exists solely to enhance their lives. They are often seen in meetings checking their smart phones or iPads, and texting while someone is conducting a presentation or making a crucial point.

Millennials were brought up by their parents to think that they were special…and many still carry that belief with them…right into the workplace. They need constant reinforcement, and they expect work to be fun and rewarding. Old fashioned office constraints (like reporting times and work hours) don’t hold a lot of weight with them. And they love to express themselves in the way they dress. Not only that, but social etiquette and communication doesn’t seem to matter much either. They may be awkward at face-to-face interactions and have difficulty deciphering non-verbal clues. A millennial would rather text a customer than call him. It’s easy to see how they can create issues with fellow employees, customers, and the culture of the organization.

Millennials value personal relationships and want to work with people they like. They are less loyal to the company, and more loyal to their boss (if they like him/her).  Money means less to them than free time, vacations, and flexible hours. They are perhaps the most “connected” generation in history, and have a tendency to switch jobs frequently. They also struggle with ambiguity.

Because of all these issues, we tend to view Millennials as goof-offs or being detached. We try to manage them based on these perceptions. The reality is that Millennials are quite independent, entrepreneurial, resourceful, collaborative, and creative…all of which are pretty good traits for an employee. Harnessing these traits so that they benefit our organization is what we should really be striving to accomplish. If we use the right techniques, we can leverage their social networks, their understanding of technologies, and their ingenuity to increase our company’s performance and productivity.

Engaging Millennials

Here is a program to take advantage of the skills and capabilities of the Millennials while reducing the frustrations you may experience when dealing with them:

  • Provide them with challenges – Millennials will stay more engaged if they are focused on new challenges. They are always looking for their next great adventure.
  • Provide them with leadership – Millennials need frequent feedback, reinforcement, and reassurance. They will look to you for guidance and coaching.
  • Provide a fun place to work – Millennials must enjoy what they do. They need a workplace that is fun, energetic, and friendly. They need to be able to freely associate with their colleagues.
  • Provide a listening ear – Millennials had doting parents who gave them a lot of their time and attention. You don’t need to become a substitute parent, but you need to fill the void that now exists outside of their childhood. So be prepared to be a good listener and provide them with some attention when needed.
  • Provide flexibility – Millennials need work/life balance, so look to telecommuting, flexible hours, and activities that go beyond work to give them some balance (e.g., softball teams, charity walks, company parties, etc.).
  • Provide technology – Millennials live for technology. Give them up-to-date, cool technologies to use, and they will get things done. They will show you how to leverage technology to increase productivity and become more efficient. And since they are such social networkers, let them use their technology and social networking skills to market and grow the business.
  • Provide them with teams – Millennials love to collaborate, so put them into teams that can work on projects. You will get more results from a team approach than having them work on projects individually.

And most importantly, remove the ambiguity and provide them with some structure. They may not be used to a structured environment, but helping them learn to manage their time and follow some rules will pay off for both of you. Have scheduled meeting times (with agendas). Set up weekly and/or monthly reports (with formats). Make sure they have goals that are objective and easy to understand. Milestones and deadlines are key to providing them with some structure and accountability. A dress code would help too. And always tell them what is expected on any assignment and give them feedback to keep them on track.

Mike Harden

Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor, and coach. Today, as one of DC’s premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Find Mike on Google+

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