You’ve heard about millennials, that problematic generation of young people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. And if you’re working with any of them, you might think of them as the “misfits” of the professional world.
That may be too kind by half.
Millennials are routinely degraded by just about everyone. They bring their moms to job interviews. They live in their parents’ basement. They’re out-of-touch hipsters who spend too much on coffee and too little on facial hair care. Many are spoiled, entitled, or both.
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The fault, for plenty of them, lies at home, where “parents stunted their children’s growth by proactively removing all obstacles and potentially negative experiences,” said Randall S. Hansen, who founded Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest career development websites. He also runs EmpoweringSites.com and studies millennials and workplace trends from his home base in Washington state.
Millennials are the children of helicopter parents — the hovering moms and dads who still drive their kids around to carefully structured life experiences and have been since little Jack and Jill played pre-k soccer.
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Make no mistake. These millennials are coming to an office near you. At more than 70 million workers strong, millennials just recently became the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. A big chunk of them in their late teens is also poised to start flexing their workplace muscles.
Be afraid. Be very afraid!
If you’re a manager and get sideways glances at the water cooler when you make a “Caddyshack” reference, chances are millennials are working for you. What’s a boss to do? Here are tips for dealing with these young people when they come to their “second home” at work.
First, the pros.
Give Them a Vision and Watch Them Grow. These kids were the first to get a trophy just for showing up. Don’t take your own empty trophy case out on them. These kids believe that “doing their best” is what counts and that anything is possible. That’s a good attitude waiting to be exploited.
Contrary to popular opinion, they’re not afraid of hard work. Chances are they’ve done more community service and traveled more widely than you have. And they’re smart (if not street smart). A recent American University study found that over 33 percent of them have at least a bachelor’s degree. Give them a vision, show them how their contributions make the team stronger — and watch them take off.
Your ‘Lazy’ is Their ‘Shortcut.’ Yes, asking Siri a question qualifies to them as “looking it up.” These kids have never seen a collection of printed and embossed encyclopedias. They get their information, news, thoughts, ideas, comedy, and sometimes even friends and dates from the web.
Don’t judge. If their face is in their phone, it doesn’t mean they’re Crushing Candy. They may just be crowd-sourcing the idea that launches your company to superstardom. Millennials say their primary motivation as they enter the workforce is a good job, with a good salary. So give them one. Chances are they’ll meet you more than halfway.
They Are the World: They’re the most diverse workforce in U.S. history. An American University study points out that 44 percent of them are non-white, and they want to make a difference. Think of every millennial in your office as an integral link in a chain of millennials bouncing ideas and opinions off each other. Use that. If you are a good manager and have created an environment in which a clear vision rules, no ideas are bad, and hard work has rewards, sit back and watch your company get a shot of free viral marketing from the best grassroots PR team ever — your own workers.
Now, the cons:
‘What’s Constructive Criticism?’ Here’s where the “everyone-gets-a-trophy-just-for-showing-up ethic” can kill you. When the presentation was a failure or when the news release was written in crayon, teaching an employee that ‘I did my best’ is a really bad excuse is something you should never have to do. But at some point, your workers will use this popular crutch. It helps if you have kids of your own. You may have already taught them that failures have consequences and that sometimes “sorry” doesn’t get the job done. Good luck with this one.
‘What’s in It for Me?’ Make clear you’re not Santa Claus, nor are you there to fulfill anyone’s definition of “benefits.” That means it is OK to start every interview with the age-old question that defines capitalism: “How can YOU make ME money?” If the kid doesn’t have a decent answer, don’t hire him.
That doesn’t mean you don’t provide for your employees. Times are changing, and millennials are demanding things we should have demanded years ago: parental and sick leave, a decent vacation package, bonuses, ample time off. These kids are looking for a new home, so don’t be afraid to create a sense of family and loyalty. But don’t back off from basic business principles either, or your company will suffer.
What ‘Showing Up’ Really Means. Cubicles are so 2000. Fact is, your millennial workforce is not interested in working in a cubicle farm. “They feel advances in technology should let them be able to choose to work from home, Starbucks, or anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection,” explained Randall Hansen.
It’s not an unreasonable expectation these days, but to those of us who need or demand “face time,” it can be a perplexing thing to manage someone who’s not there. As a boss, it’s your job to set clear goals, hold to deadlines, insist on consistent productivity and check in routinely, just as you would with any employees.
What Work-Life Balance? Maybe you never had one, but they’re going to demand one. Workout breaks, maternity-paternity leave, free coffee, telework — they will ask for it all. Hansen said millennials are the first generation to “see work as a means to enjoy life — and life comes first. They have a strong work ethic, just not in a 9-5 sort of way.” If you’re an old schooler, expect to hear about how Google and Amazon have turned their workplaces into a KinderCare facility. Public opinion says people are more productive when they work in a bean bag chair and can pick up a sprout salad from the juice bar. Is it true? (Does it matter?)
Millennials will question you. They’ll question everything. “Because I said so” doesn’t work any better on them than it does on your kids. However, millennials “want a relationship with their boss like the ones they have with their parents,” said Hansen. “It’s not that they have little respect for authority; on the contrary, they feel employers do not respect them.”
Treat them like adults, be tough but fair, listen, make yourself available — and you can turn these precious little snowflakes into productive workers. What’s so special, anyway, about a new generation of young people who think the world owes them? Bring it on!