If you are like most business leaders, you've no doubt noticed a trend in the way employees behave in recent years. Most likely you consider it a negative trend—too much entitlement, not enough loyalty, no work ethic, only interested in themselves, and so on.
You should consider that perhaps these are not negative trends, just different ones. Things aren't always what they seem with Millennial employees.
To better understand who your Millennial employees are and what drives them to succeed, perhaps it's easiest to understand who they are not. You. That's right. They may even be your offspring but in the workplace, they bear little resemblance to you from yesteryear.
Xers and Millennials
Gen Xers (Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979) and Millennials (born after 1980) are operating in this world with a completely different perspective. Their definitions of loyalty, time, and success are often quite different from yours. Rest assured they do recognize all of these concepts—they value them in very important and different ways.
The key to your organization's future success is understanding how the Millennials view the world and using that knowledge to motivate them in a way that works. Here's a hint: meet them where they are and they will achieve your underlying goals; try to force them to fit your definitions and they will run for the door every time.
There are some pervasive myths about our youngest working generation. This is what they are—myths. You can tailor your workplace to meet you and your employees' needs. When you find a way to create an environment conducive to both parties, your company will thrive.
Myth: Younger Generations of Millennials Have No Work Ethic
This is untrue. Millennials have a self-centered work ethic. This is not necessarily as negative as it seems. Millennial employees are dedicated to completing their task well. They have not been raised in a way that demands them to look around and see what should be done next.
Instead, they ask "what is my job" and go about figuring the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done. This is a key differentiator between your employees and yourself.
Your younger employees tend to view their jobs as something to do in between weekends (this is not specific to Millennials, as many different aged employees are guilty of this). For most, early employment has nothing to do with a career path; it is a way to earn money to have fun in their free time.
When you understand what motivates your employees you are better able to set mutual expectations for success. Instead of being frustrated that your youngest employees are not interested in climbing your corporate ladder, embrace their true motivation—reliable spending money—and use it to your advantage.
When you tell an employee, "I understand this is not your lifelong career, but I expect you to earn your paycheck every week here," they are much more likely to respond than if you try to motivate with promises of promotions and titles down the road.
Understanding that being at the job isn't as important to Millennials as completing the assigned task also opens up new opportunities for motivation and reward. Younger employees are very likely to respond to offers of paid time off.
Myth: Millennials Don't Want to Put in the Hours to Get Ahead
Millennial employees are willing to put in the time to do the job, however, they are uninterested in "face time." Gen Xers and Millennials view time as a currency.
While Baby Boomers tend to see time as something to invest, the younger generations view it as a valuable currency not to be wasted. These are the generations that demand work-life balance and paid time off. They want to get the job done, then put it behind them and enjoy life.
Boomer managers have a tendency to lose the interest of their Millenial employees by looking too far into the future. Millennials live in a time frame based on right now. Their world has proven that nothing is a guarantee—they've seen nationwide layoffs, war, endless scandals across all aspects of life and soaring divorce rates.
They have learned that there's not a lot you can rely on. Many of the older people touted as heroes, leaders, sages, and entrepreneurs are not as worthy of their respect as they were taught.
As a result, they are not interested in promotion plans for five years from now. They don't even want to know what will happen at the end of the summer. Life is uncertain. To reach the Millennial employee and reduce turnover, make it certain.
Tell your employee that you have a plan. Take pains to ensure it is in a timeframe short enough for them to envision. Be prepared to fulfill your promise. Once fooled, the Millennial employees will file you away with the rest of the unreliable older people they see in the news.
This approach feeds into their reality while simultaneously building trust and buying you more time. Reward small successes along the way, string these milestones together, and you will soon realize longer tenures among your staff.
Myth: Millennial Employees Have No Respect for Authority
Millennial and GenX employees have great respect for leaders and loyalty. However, as a rule, they don't respect authority just because. For the younger generations, every ounce of loyalty and respect must be earned. But when it is earned, it is given fiercely.
In fact, loyalty to the individual's leaders or a boss is the number one reason Gen Xers and Millennial employees stay in a job, especially during the first three, tenuous years. Dissatisfaction with the boss is the number one reason they quit.
So in order to increase retention, managers must take a flipped view on leadership—it is no longer enough to hire the right people and show them the way, now you must be the right person to win their affection. Sounds a little touchy-feely for the workforce? Yes, but the more quickly leaders understand this new relationship, the faster you will see the reward: retention of Millennial employees.
There is one big caveat to the "be the person they want you to be" approach to leadership, however. Millennials have a tendency to seek tight bonds; they want a boss who is close, caring, and aware. You can be all that as when you manage Millennials. However, be careful to define with them the line you don't want to cross—the boss as an advocate to the boss as a friend. That is a slippery slope.
Friendship can be especially tempting in situations where managers and employees are close in age, or work very close together. When activities outside of the office become too regular, too casual, or largely social in nature, it is time to examine how this will affect your role as a boss and leader.
Myth: They Don't Want to Grow Up
Many people do not want to grow up. Millennial employees may not know how to grow up the way previous generations did. The youngest generations in today's workforce are facing delayed adulthood. They are getting married later, having children later and just generally facing the "real world" later.
This isn't the result of a mutated maturity gene, it just is. And, to be honest, Boomers may have had a lot to do with why it's this way. As parents, Boomers had a tendency to coddle their children and use their own good fortune to make sure their children didn't experience adversity.
As career models, Boomers demonstrated the toll of working long hours and paying their dues in a way that made their children less likely to follow in their footsteps. Many parents worked very hard without receiving much in the way of advancement. Millennials today look at the corporate ladder and think, "there must be another way."
Advice For Managing Millennials
Don't waste time wishing your Millennial employees were different. You'd do better to spend your time changing your own way of regarding your workforce.
Your task is to work to understand the newer generations, then use that knowledge to reposition how you interact with, motivate, and reward your staff.
Take attire for instance. Your 18-year-old self would have gladly donned whatever uniform was necessary to fit the company mold. You did what was necessary to fit in. Today's youth want to stand out.
They want their individuality to shine through even when required to provide a consistent standard of service and performance. Balancing corporate needs with individual desires will take some creative thinking.
Home Depot is one company that has addressed this dilemma at a very basic level—company uniforms. They simply require that all employees wear a standard Home Depot apron. Be yourself underneath (within reason) and show the customer that you are on the Home Depot team with this bright orange apron.
There may be a standard you can modify to accommodate individual preferences. A valuable employee in a suit is just as valuable in a t-shirt (or at least a collared shirt).
The myths surrounding today's young employees are not always what they seem. Attitudes toward work, life, loyalty, and respect have all changed, but each is still considered valuable. In fact, some of the demands made by today's youth are creating positive benefits for employees in every generation.
Flexibility and respect for the individual, as well as the organization, are good for everyone. The adjustments you make to accommodate the changing attitudes of today's youth will be returned to you with decreased turnover, improved morale, and measurable business results.
And when frustration mounts, just remember things aren't always what they seem. Open your mind to the possibility that there is a benign, generational reason for the disconnect between what you want and what your Millennial employees are providing, and you may just find room to create a shared vision of success.