(This is Part 1 in a 3-part series about Millennials in the workplace.)
If you look around your office, you’ll probably start to notice the number of young faces populating the desks and cubicles. All those recent college grads — the ones born from 1980-2001 — are “Millennials.” We’re an eclectic bunch. Unlike previous generations, we’ve grown up with ease of domestic and international travel, widespread use of telecommunications, and unlimited access to the Internet. While the youth of Generation X can all recall Kurt Cobain’s hoarse tones in Smells Like Teen Spirit, I can bet you that every Millennial recognizes K’naan’s Wave Your Flag from the 2010 World Cup. We’re a global, interconnected, tolerant, diverse, abstract, and passionate bunch.
In our short time on the planet, we’ve accomplished quite a lot. We’ve incited social change across the world, driving the election of the first African-American president. We’ve shown a dedication to those around us, with 75% of us making a financial donation in 2011 and 42% of us saying that we give to what inspires us in the moment. We’ve shown college admissions departments how to value our essays and personalities over misleading SAT scores. And, for better and for worse, we’ve shown a (reckless) commitment to truth and justice via hacktivist/vigilante groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks. We’re not just children of the Age of Information. We are the ones choosing to utilize such information to incite positive, progressive change in our communities, countries, and companies.
We’ve had a dramatic effect on the corporate world too. Just last month, 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio sold his app, Summly, to Yahoo! for $30 million. According to Geekosystem.com, Millennials have also made millions by self-publishing vampire romance lit and by toppling Angry Birds as the bestselling free app. I can’t claim that we are all such business phenoms, but I can say that we’ve already started making impressions and that more are sure to come.
That being said, we are far from perfect. We constantly check our phones and text during meals and meetings, much to the chagrin of our teachers, employers, and parents. While the kids of the 80s loved the “Brat Pack” and the emotionally uplifting themes of John Hughes’ films, we tend towards Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell’s “Frat Pack” and its crude, oftentimes demeaning, humor. Unfortunately, we’re also the ones who started speaking in less than 140 characters and the ones who made Nickelback famous. Clearly we have our flaws.
Those flaws, and especially their ensuing stereotypes, extend into today’s corporate environment as well. Millennials often appear as entitled kids who want to see what a company can offer them rather than what they can offer a company. Or as arrogant kids who think they’re more capable than their résumés indicate. Or as kids who selfishly believe that furthering their personal and professional growth is just as important as increasing the growth of their company. We seem like a bunch of recent college grads who refuse fall in line or assimilate quietly.
I certainly can’t/won’t deny that any of those previous statements are wrong (because each and every one correctly applies to me), but I will say that I believe it’s time to look at this relationship another way: from the perspective of the Millennial, the soon-to-be majority in the business world. That’s not because I’m trying to foster greater acceptance of Millennials in general, but rather because I think that embracing Millennials — flaws and quirks and all — can and will reinvigorate your business.
Here’s how to get the best from us:
1) Pass judgment based on our experiences, thoughts, and potential rather than our traditional skills
There is nothing more depressing to us than seeing an entry-level job that requires “2+ years of experience.” We have no idea how get two years of experience straight out of college. If every job requires experience, and no job will hire us without any experience, then how do we get that necessary experience in the first place?
This is a picture of the “Scumbag Boss” from the popular Internet meme site, QuickMeme. (The Scumbag Boss meme is itself a variation of the “Scumbag Steve” meme about a friend who always seems to take advantage of you). This picture shows a boss who, in the first line, seems like a pretty good person. He’s offering the reader a job, right? The second line then reverses our perspective on him, showing that maybe he’s not so benevolent after all.
So, instead, think about us in terms of the experiences that we do have. For example, many of us have extensive foreign travel and language skills. I, for one, speak German and Arabic and have traveled throughout North Africa. My colleague Stephen traveled to 26 countries in 9 months last year. Don’t view these adventures and excursions as a bunch of time wasted on a beach throwing Frisbees in Egypt or Portugal or Thailand. View them as time spent interacting and interfacing with other cultures, crossing the language barriers, and uncovering new means to foster diversity of thought. Such an unteachable skill set can offer your company a more global employee, one capable of dealing with your partner studios in Asia or your clients in Brazil.
Our cultural sensitivity gives you the ability to add a fresh perspective to your company rather than finding yourself caught hiring yet another mid-level MBA student with the same rote-style thinking as the last one. With a young Millennial, you have the chance to build and mold them into your ideal employee from the ground up. If you take a risk and invest in them in the short term, then you’ll find yourself with a role-model employee in the long term.
2) Demonstrate transparency and honesty
In our lifetimes, we’ve always had access to unlimited information. At some point or another, we will inevitably discover the truth. It’s just part of our collective history. We will find out about the government’s warrantless wiretapping, corporate cover-up, and our coworkers’ unfavorable opinions of us in the workplace. Between social media and our constant connectivity, it seems like the truth will always find a way into the light for us.
Instead of viewing this craving for honesty as a trait that undermines corporate leadership, try to get out in front of it. Be brutally honest. Most of us have been in school so long that we’re used to being graded on everything we do. That means we’re practically begging for feedback. Chat with me about my performance and show (rather than tell) me where I can improve. Feel free to do it every day, not just in a yearly performance review. I’ll be grateful for the guidance and the validation, and you’ll find yourself with an employee constantly making an effort to improve.
This idea of honesty should permeate the entire employment process, from hiring to firing. For example, many firms out there that assure that they’ll “respond to every applicant within two weeks” but they often don’t. Ubisoft and Bungie haven’t returned my emails in two years and I’m pretty sure I won’t be hearing them for at least another two (hundred). When we’re interviewing, tell us what parts of our résumés you like and how we can improve the less-than-stellar parts. We will listen. We might not get a job from you, but you can bet that your transparency and your generous advice will help us have a better chance at the next one. (And, on a more specific note, it’s always better to get let down via a personal call or email than a form letter. Something impersonal will burn bridges. Something personal gives us the incentive to come back later down the line. Which leads me to my next point…)
3) Real human interaction
People often confuse our ceaseless text messaging with being incapable of traditional human interaction. In my opinion, though, it shows how we desire it more than ever. We need constant connection to one another. We need that contact. When we email, tweet, or Facebook you, we’re taking the time to offer you a piece of our thoughts and, usually, a piece of ourselves. We hope that you’ll offer the same to us. Follow up with us within 24 hours, even if it’s just a two-line response. We are insecure that no one is one the other end of the line, and you’ll build a very trusting, loyal relationship if you’re able to reassure us with your communication.
I also recommend using a real human recruiter when hiring us. The anxiety of sending your cover letter to an anonymous inbox and praying we get a response is overwhelming. We want some to call, someone to contact, someone who will evaluate us as more than just a few sheets of paper. We are dynamic individuals and we want to believe you’ll judge us as such rather than by our superficial traits alone. We want you to see our personalities and our vibrancies and not just our SAT scores and formal cover letters. If you give us that chance, I promise you we’ll shine.
4) Personal development and professional growth possibilities
A study by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School last year showed that 52% of Millennials believe that “opportunities for career progression” make differentiate employers attractive choices; 65% said “personal development was the most influential factor in their current job. The big takeaway: We want to help you grow if you want to help us grow!
This flips the antiquated model of the employee/employer relationship. New workers are no longer motivated by a salary and a few vacations days every year. They want something else entirely: fulfillment. Another article in Forbes describes that, in terms of Millennials and their desire to pursue happiness over wealth, “[I]t’s possible that our generation will be the first in a long while that’s, on aggregate, poorer and happier than its parents’.” We want passion, not pay. Offer us a chance to work on something sweet like Star Wars and we’ll do it on the cheap. Offer us a chance to change the world of green energy and we’ll do it for peanuts. We afraid of becoming cogs in the larger machine. One of our worst traits is our ego and our desire for individuality. But you can use that to your advantage! Show us that we are an integral part of a new and exciting solution and we’ll reward you with our passion, work ethic, and collaboration.
We want to work. We want to change the world. But, as hopeful as we are, we’ve seen too much disappointment and difficulty — re: the economic crises — to be blinded by Faustian offers of corner offices and a company car when we’re 50. We’ll commit our hearts and souls to your cause if you simply believe in us. Embrace us, flaws and all, and together we’ll do great things.
What do you think? Please repost this article and help foster a larger discussion. Also feel free to comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on LinkedIn.