There’s a new kid on the business block. Millennials have become hordes in the workplace and they’re presenting a new set of challenges for leaders everywhere. Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers are in tension as very different mindsets try to find a way to work together. What gets in the way are the perceptions we have of Millennials and if we can correct those misperceptions, we can lead them more effectively.
Boomers, like me, became known for our work ethic and drive to climb the proverbial ladder. Because of the large number of Boomers (78 million in the US), many of us had to wait, being developed and invested in, for the leadership positions that would later become available. Then along came Gen-X (38 million). Their demeanor was skeptical; they grew up independently, and had real issues with the hierarchy. And they wanted life balance while I was working twelve-hour days.
Millennials started to come of age after the Y2K farce. They are 80 million strong in the US. Raised by high-achieving Boomers that prospered in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many were given opportunities no one had seen before. Fine schools, lavish trips, soccer, ballet, horseback riding, annual X-box upgrades, cell phones at early ages. Their expectations were “I want it and I want it now” and they got it! Trophies for showing up and praise for going potty. It’s simply how they were raised.
Millennials are hard-wired this way. Of course they are entitled. The Boomer parents gave them everything, talked to them like friends, involved them in family decisions and encouraged their creativity.
Hundreds of leaders and workers across all generations, sectors and geographies told me for my Leading Millennials workshops, the themes are widespread and consistent. The Gen X managers, latchkey kids left to fend for themselves, are autonomous and resourceful with little patience for whining or tolerance for nurturing. Millennials were a part of the “self-esteem” movement in schools, and therefore raised and schooled hearing positive reinforcement about anything and everything. The conflict in the workforce based on our research lies here. Gen Xers are the “Just Do It” generation, and the Millennials are the “Help Me Do It, then let me own it.” Millennials seem to have no issues with going over their Gen X bosses head to get mentoring from the more compassionate Boomer one-up-boss. This is creating the most tension and frustration. What can leaders do to mitigate the perceived lack of respect?
Here are some tips we compiled from the Millennials themselves:
- Show me how what I do ties to a bigger purpose, don’t just tell me to do it without a reason.
- I want feedback. It’s what I am used to. “No news is good news” does not cut it.
- Technology upgrades are like breathing. It says a lot to me about what type of phone you use.
- Offer flexibility. Rigid schedules and long hours are not what we are looking for. We have lives outside of work that are more important to us.
- Blended Life, not Life Balance. I volunteer at the soup kitchen at 5 pm, but will get the report done at midnight.
- Offer incentives to perform well/ stay with your firm. We like rewards for our efforts like anyone else. We are not as loyal to firms and will not buy “at least you have a job.” If we are unhappy, we will leave.
The Perceptions Some Have of Millennials
Perception of Millennials
- Logged onto Facebook=not enough to do.
- Over-confident, do not ask questions until it is too late.
- Poor written professional communication skills.
- Leaders do not want to overwhelm with a lot of work in the beginning.
- Poor work ethic, no extra hours.
- Task is done = work is done. Time is their own.
- They are used to being able to figure things out through research on the Internet.
- No one has shown them what a professional correspondence looks like (lots of assumptions by leaders that these basics are taught in school).
- They are bored and can take on a lot more, not sure how to go about it.
- Many outside interests, one Millennial publishes an online newsletter for South Asian Americans twice a week, there are deadlines!
Gen X managers have asked us for ways to connect with what they perceive as a ‘needy’ group. The Ermi Group believes once you make a connection and create a trusting relationship, the rest is easier. And doesn’t that resonate with any generation?
We believe the Millennials can be the next great generation. They are smart, creative, passionate people wanting to find their place in this world. They will be asked to step up and lead much earlier in their career than earlier generations.
Now more than ever, we have an obligation to provide the foundation in order for them to thrive. A little patience and investment in getting to know each other is paramount.
- Lori Evans Ermi, SPHR, PCC is the Managing Director of The Ermi Group, LCC a leadership coaching and development firm. Much of her corporate career was at The Procter & Gamble Company as a global human resources leader. She has presented The Leading Millennials series of workshops and keynotes to a variety of clients and organizations and continues her research on the topic as it continually evolves. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.