Understanding the Millennial Mindset
I Can't Work with These People!
By Cara Silletto, Founder, Crescendo Strategies
Ever wonder what planet your new hires are from? For most, it is called Millennialland. It is my homeland, and it is a whole different world than where Boomers and GenXers were born. So why are your younger workers from this strange land so hard to understand, manage and retain? Why is it that they lack the loyalty of those who came before them? Why do they need so much handholding in the workplace? And where does this tremendous sense of entitlement come from? Allow me to explain.
Feeding the Stereotypes
Now before you get mad about seeing another article that feeds the generational stereotypes, let me assure you that you are right. Generalizing people based on their birth years is crazy! We should stop doing that. Instead, we should get to know each person to determine his/her own individual personality, perspective, and motivators. But, there are reasons we put people into initial buckets by birthyear, and the research does not lie.
There is an undeniable evolution of our society over time. Based on economic shifts, major events, and societal changes, we adjust our perspectives and priorities. Remember when pantyhose were required in the workplace? (Come on…aren't you glad that time has passed, ladies?) Things change. And that means each group born at a different time is likely to hold varying opinions about things such as "professionalism," which is subjective and tends to evolve over time.
Being born in a certain generation does not give everyone in that cohort the same personality. It is more about the fundamental similarities they hold due to the time in which they grew up, and the way their parents raised them. Think about the Traditionalist workers (born pre-1945). For those who grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression, it is no wonder most of that generation identified stability, safety and security as their top priorities. We have evolved through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to want other things now that those basic needs have been met for most families in the United States.
Skipping forward a few generations, Millennials were raised in a time drastically different than any previous generation, so it is no wonder we tend to have dramatically different views and priorities in life, and in the workplace.
Before you read any further, please know that when I mention Millennials, it is not specifically about those born between 1980 and 2000; it is about those who have a Millennial mindset, which was most likely derived from the way they were raised. An "old soul," for example, could be a Millennial by birthyear, but if that person was raised in a military family, on a farm, by grandparents, or in a conservative town, it is very likely she does not have a typical Millennial mindset.
So today, I'm going to address some specific issues we see organizations dealing with as the gaps between different workers seem to widen every day.
Why do They Need so Much Handholding?
The biggest difference I can find between GenXers (born 1965-1979) and my Millennial peers is our overall level of self-reliance. Many managers, GenX ones in particular, have no trouble sharing their frustrations about new hires having an inability to figure out problems on their own. They feel the newbies need way more handholding than they themselves ever received in their 20s. I believe this huge difference derives from the GenX pre-teen experience called the latchkey years!
Many GenXers were at some point latchkey kids, getting themselves home safely after school, making a snack to eat, and finishing their homework (without help from Google). They learned at a very early age how to be resourceful, figure things out on their own and solve most problems they faced alone. This became an incredibly valuable skill set in the workplace later.
According to US Census data, the number of latchkey kids plunged 40% from 1997 to 2013. This was largely in part due to an increase in federal aid for after-school programs during that time, and the growing fear of "stranger danger" among parents.
When CNN launched in 1980 as the first 24-hour news channel in the US, it changed our country. Before this expansion of coverage, most criminal incidents were only covered by local media. But with a full day of CNN programming to fill, people from Denver would now become aware of small-town Maryland news, such as the kidnapping of 6-year-old Michelle Dorr from her own front yard. The 1980s also brought a tremendous rise in "true crime" news shows such as "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1986 and "America's Most Wanted" in 1988, both playing a part in scaring parents to death about leaving their children unsupervised.
Since most Millennial kids did not have that latchkey kid learning environment during their early years, we must learn it elsewhere - often at work. Today, managers should not expect most new hires to hit the ground running or be able to handle the "sink or swim" on-boarding method once used for GenX newbies. Many do not have the tools to be successful in that situation or environment. That means a "throw-them-to-the-wolves" training strategy will not be as effective for new hires as it once was. You will lose several great workers within a year because you "didn't have their back" or they felt you "set them up to fail." Today, it is more important than ever to provide more effective resources and mentorship to gain trust and build your staff's confidence in their skills.
Why do They Constantly Need a Pat on the Back?
Because they are used to getting it. You know those crazy participation ribbons you gave us? (That's right. We did not give them to ourselves!) They set a precedent of "show up and we will recognize your effort." It is no wonder that we now show up to work and are disheartened when no one says, "thanks for being here today."
Traditional managers often explain to me how showing up has always been in direct correlation with receiving a paycheck. I get that, but again, things have changed. There is an evolution here that has shifted from giving recognition to only those who go "above and beyond" to showing appreciation for all who have completed a "job well done" - even if it is their job. And there is a big difference between the two, for your Millennial workers anyway. Because they received a pat on the back for just playing the game as a child, they are likely to feel slighted when they show up to every shift and do their job, and no one even notices.
Even though I get the most pushback from older managers about this issue, it truly is the simplest one on which to find common ground and improve relationships. Aren't you glad she met the deadline and got that report done? Just tell her she did a nice job. Aren't you relieved he showed up on time? Just say thanks. Greater appreciation goes a very long way!
And I assure you, if you implement this new approach of gratitude across the board, your team members of ALL ages will be thrilled to get the extra recognition for a job well done.
If They Aren't Going to Stay, Are Millennials Really Worth Hiring?
Yes! Even if you have seen the Deloitte stats showing two-thirds of Millennial workers do not plan to be at their current employer in 2020, you should not avoid hiring Millennials.
First, avoidance is not a sustainable methodology, because at 80 million strong, we will outnumber all other workers combined by 2020. You will quickly run out of applicants with that approach.
Second, new hires of ALL ages are now considered a flight risk within the first 24 months because they do not have deep roots within the organization, which is the primary factor in determining levels of commitment. If they left their last company to come to you, they will likely leave your organization to go elsewhere sooner than you want.
And do not forget that our society has changed drastically in the last three decades. Record levels of corporate layoffs since the 1980s have diminished loyalty across our entire workforce, as many workers have been a victim of downsizing or watched their hardworking parents fall prey to it. My mom has been laid off five times as an accountant when her companies were acquired, her job was outsourced or her entire department was offshored to improve the bottom line. I honestly do not even know what company loyalty looks like.
Even though I have never been loyal in the way previous generations were raised to be, my Millennial peers and I bring many other treasured characteristics to the workplace. We offer tremendous value in our adaptability as organizations remain in constant modes of change today. We are extremely collaborative and seek strategic win-win partnerships as we get to know various aspects of our businesses and fields. We are drawn to efficiency and will often provide ideas for streamlining outdated processes and procedures to get to the result faster. Most Millennials have a thorough knowledge of current technology and can provide reverse mentoring for those who are not used to learning new hardware and software used in the workplace.
Instead of focusing on the reduced length of tenure and frustrations today's generational differences cause, consider taking a more holistic approach. If every organization invests in young professionals today, it will be for the greater good tomorrow. Even if Millennials do not stay at your organization longer than a year or two, don't you hope other organizations you are getting talent from are also investing in professional development for their young professionals, so you do not have to start from scratch?
How Can We Bridge the Widening Gap Causing so Much Frustration?
Good old training and team building is essential! Most companies cut training and development for staff, managers, and leaders many years ago; and that decision has come back to haunt organizations who have promoted people without giving them the tools to successfully retain the talent they need.
So the best place to start is with more effective management training. As the mindset and expectations of employees evolve, be sure leaders and supervisors across the organization understand the differences in your specific workforce - generational, cultural, socio-economic, etc.
Knowing that your staff come from completely different perspectives, of which there are no right or wrong views, it is critical that you help teams get to know one another better. Do your older staff and managers understand that today's young workers have trouble separating personal from professional time because they only know a world where everyone has a smart phone in their pocket? And do your younger workers know why older workers are often more cautious to adapt to change as they did not grow up during the technology boom when Millennials learned to adapt quickly?
Encouraging team members to get to know one another builds trust over time, and colleague relationships play a large role in improving retention. Insist on holding quick team huddles at the beginning of all shifts to ensure everyone is on the same page and to provide a place where people can confidently ask questions. Then end each huddle with a team-building question where each person shares some insight into their own world. Examples could be, "What's your favorite part of your job?" "Tell us something interesting about your family." or "Do you have a cool hobby?" Topics such as music, travel, and pets are always easy starters to get folks talking.
Then, if you are a supervisor, get to know your staff on an individual basis. The "one-size-fits-all" management approach no longer works with today's diverse workforce. A great way to build a strong relationship is by simply asking, "what's on your mind?" Then be prepared to listen, as the response may be professional in nature, but they could also be stressed about something at home or a personal relationship. The more you get to know each staff member, the stronger the bond and the more likely they are to want to continue working for the organization because they know you care. Finally, ensure all new hires have a clear understanding of company expectations. Now that you are more aware of the diverse mindsets in today's workplace, putting a higher priority on communicating your expectations should make sense. If you say things like, "that's just common sense," or "she should know better," that's a trigger that you are not being as clear as you think. Your new hires cannot read your mind, and they probably were not raised like you, so be sure to get on the same page by bulking up your on-boarding education and mentoring throughout the first year.
Ms. Silletto founded Crescendo Strategies in 2012, and now provides HR and retention services for clients nationwide. With her own unique Millennial voice, Ms. Silletto is a leading consultant on understanding trending causes for turnover and successful strategies for retaining the talent companies can’t afford to lose. She works with organizations of all sizes to reduce employee turnover by bridging generational gaps and making managers more effective. Ms. Silletto’s perspective is that she shares her own Millennial experiences, yet also has more than 14 years of professional background learning managers’ expectations, plus an MBA to help her quantify the business impact of turnover issues on corporations. Ms. Silletto can be contacted at 812-207-0739 or firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit http://www.crescendostrategies.com for more information. Extended Bio...
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