These Kids Today! Addressing Challenges and Embracing Differences of the Millennial Generation

Evan Abbott, Director, Organizational Learning and Development

“Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households!  They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents and tyrannize their teachers.” 

While many of us might think these words were just uttered 20 minutes ago by a frustrated parent or supervisor. In fact, they date back to Socrates, 5th Century B.C. Each generation seems to struggle with the next generation’s work ethic, communication, and relationship with authority. Today’s work environment is no different. Ask any Baby Boomer (born 1945 to 1963) or Generation X (born 1963 to 1980) manager about their Millennial employees (born 1980 to 2000) and you might hear:
 “I love how easily they work with technology, but do they have to act so superior around it?”
 “Does EVERY waking moment have to revolve around friends, texting, or Facebook?”
 “What is it with these kids today? They want their hand held around everything! When I was their age I had to figure it out myself!”
 “They scare me. If I go on vacation they will have taken over my job by the time I get back.”
Who are Millennials?
Based on data collected by the Pew Research Center, here are a few things we know about them:
• They are 11 – 31 years old
• There are over 80 million in the U.S.
• They are more ethnically and racially diverse than any previous generation
• They will likely go down as “The Most Educated Generation in History”
• They describe themselves as hopeful, optimistic, civic-minded, achievement-focused, and cooperative
• Two out of five have a tattoo
• And, in case you were wondering, one out of four have a piercing . . . other than an earlobe.
How much do YOU know about today’s Millennial Generation? Can you separate Fact from Fiction?
Fact or Fiction: They are the Generation X-squared generation. Fiction. Millennials often report the most conflict with their “figure it out yourself” colleagues. They report the most connection to their Baby Boomer and Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) family and coworkers.
Fact or Fiction: They are disrespectful. Fiction. Ninety percent of Millenials report being close to their family and elders, while 50 percent report trusting government/authority.
Fact or Fiction: They are selfish and self-centered. Fiction. There is currently an all-time high in volunteering amongst teens. And, colleges and universities report a significant increase in students seeking “non-profit” degrees.
Fact or Fiction: They are more likely to switch jobs and careers. Fact. Nearly 60 percent have already switched jobs twice. They are estimated to change jobs anywhere from 7 to 10 times in their lifetime.
Managing Millennials
As with every generation before them, they bring their own unique talents and expectations to the workplace. Supervisors and managers would be well served to know the following when managing this newest group of employees.
• Technology ≠ Toy. While many of us remember getting our first computer, phone, and other technological gadgets, this generation is being raised on them from birth. Very soon entry level employees will think we have always had smart phones, iPads, and remote technology. When your Millennial employees make requests for these items in the workplace, resist the temptation to think of them as toys and embrace them as critical tools for this newest generation of workers.
• Don’t Confuse their Desire to Learn for a Lack of Focus. Millennials have been raised on the philosophy that it is not about your degree, or what you knew yesterday.It IS about what you know for tomorrow. This generation is looking to constantly grow and develop. Their desire to learn is a direct expression of wanting to contribute more to your organization.
• What Older Generations Call “Hand holding,” they Call “Mentoring.” Millennials have always had a parent, coach, or teacher working with them to learn through success. Why should the workplace be any different? This becomes a fantastic opportunity to leverage your Baby Boomer employees who might be looking to pass along knowledge as well as responsibilities to newer employees.
• The World is about Options and Flexibility. As with technology, school assignments, and most of the direction of the modern world, this is a generation who has been raised on the idea of customizing and flexing your world to fit your needs. When they ask to customize their job description and trade work assignments, this is not because they are looking to slack-off. They are trying to play to their skill sets OR take on new tasks to stay challenged. Be sure to explore all the options before saying “no.”
By understanding the unique needs and gifts of the Millennial Generation you will be setting your organization up to make full use of this engaging and energetic new wave of the workforce.