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Stop Overthinking Your Millennial Employees

03/05/2016 13:07

Most days there will be a new article about millennials written by someone who is not a millennial. The point of the article will be that millennials are so different, scary and unknown that big companies need to perform a U-turn to make sure their millennial workers don't elope at the first opportunity.

In many ways 'millennial-talk' is hyperbole. Taken literally, if I believed everything that has been written about millennials - I shouldn't be writing this. My sense of entitlement would mean that I'd be resigning from my third job to launch a start-up that sells digital mindfulness from a semi-derelict storeroom, as I try to float my business within three months at 22,000 times the earnings of my company. Needless to say, this would all be done while I was living at home.

Evidently, this isn't the case.

Actually I am working in the City and, unlike the millennial legend, I am climbing the corporate ladder (knowing I still have a lot to learn). Day-in, day-out, I am building my skills; beginning to contribute something, and learning that people are at the heart of everything. Yes, I am sprinkling this with technology - but at work, it's not what makes a millennial tick.

Everyone knows that millennials are becoming a big chunk of the workplace, so it makes sense to talk about how professional firms can get the best out of this group. Companies understand they need to deal with millennials tactfully but this is easier-said-than-done. In reality, they are focusing too much on the 'what makes millennials different' and missing that the majority of what makes an employee (of any generation) engaged is whether they feel trusted, valued and treated like an individual.

Currently, firms are trying to adapt to this new type of worker. They are pinning their hopes, dreams (and investments) on:

  • Borrowing the "infinite" pools of digital knowledge millennials invariably have
  • Investing in lots of online training - but overlooking that you learn the most from people who mentor you day-to-day
  • Establishing social "collaboration" tools

In reality, I am not sure these investments are really paying off - and sadly, lots of time, effort and money is being used to pursue these ideas. Really, has any millennial ever said "I wish there was a broader set of online training"? I think I know the answer. Worse still, by missing the mark, this reinforces to my generation that others definitely don't get us.

Following this millennials-are-different-in-every-way saga, a few trailblazing firms have started seeing that those born in the late twentieth century are people too. Reassuringly, at a few places, the millennial corporate journey is beginning to get a little more personal as companies focus on:

  • Getting the work-life balance right
  • Reducing hierarchies and seeing employees as equals-with-different-roles
  • Helping middle management to mentor millennials

And, thankfully, those firms are on the right path; but they aren't quite there. Why? Well, all the talk about how to engage millennials is still built on this idea that millennials are "unknowns". But in reality, millennials really aren't unknown at all.

Parents know their children and what makes them tick. Teachers know their pupils and how to get the best out of them. Bosses know their teams and what winds them up. So, instead of separating millennials as a weird, technologically deformed generation; professional companies should look at millennials as known quantities. The answer is quite simple: what my generation needs to excel - and what professional companies should be looking for - is to have the basics right.

While I know there is no instant fix, I've found three things that these firms should adopt to get the happy, effective millennial workforce they desire:

  • Be Worthwhile: Give each employee a stake in the success of the business - for many millennials the sentiment is "working for someone", not "working to achieve something".
  • Be Receptive: Incorporate our perspectives on the business, company or team strategy, and provide an opportunity for us to nurture our own ideas. Even if it is small, seeing our idea come to life is incredibly fulfilling.
  • Be Honest: If things are tough, tell us. We understand that the commercial situation isn't always rosy - and actually we may be willing to chip in to help.

Both millennials and professional firms will succeed if companies value and nurture the millennial generation. Equally, if these companies don't support us in reaching our potential with them, then we'll simply reach it somewhere else.

The views in this article are the personal views of the author.

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