When you look at the everyday workplace, it is hard to see that there is a constant transitioning from one generation of workers to another. The older people retire and are replaced by younger folks. This change is undetectable to most of us because it does not happen rapidly. Companies don’t wake up one day and ship out everyone over 45 years old and replace them with 23-year-olds.
And because some organizations do not see that they are slowly changing in terms of the average age of their employees, some do not understand that their current cultures may be in conflict with the thinking of their newest cadre of workers. The organization continues to act in the way it always has until the difference between organizational attitudes and individuals’ mindsets deteriorates into a crisis. When the two sides can no longer have meaningful conversations, they are forced to renegotiate the terms of their association and redesign the new rules of the game.
This is the situation many companies find themselves in with regards to how they should relate to the Millennials in their workforce. Organizations think that dealing with Millennials is hard. But is this perception correct, and how can they solve the problems?
First of all, the Millennial generation is not the problem. Millennials grew up in a digital age that was built for them by a previous generation, but that older generation has not adapted itself to the world it created. Rather, it expects Millennials to adopt organizational cultures that are better suited to pre-information age companies.
Forty years ago, it made sense for employees to report to work every day, clock in, and stay at work until closing. All the tools, equipment, information and people they needed to do the work were only located within the office. It was not possible to expect everyone to have fax machines, photocopiers, printers, filing cabinets, etc. in their homes. That has dramatically changed, and this generation can do all that and more without ever leaving home. This, and other realities, are the reasons organizations struggle with this younger generation.
However, there are ways to integrate generational differences more successfully. This advice is gleaned from actual practices in companies like education startup, General Assembly, with over 80% of its employees as Millennials. It also contains insights from PWC’s report on the Workforce of the future: The competing forces shaping 2030. Finally, it is based on the experiences of two companies in Westchester County, N.Y.; Lockard & Wechsler Direct and Mindspark.
Millennials rebel at the idea of spending their lives chained to a desk in an office cubicle, in hopes of retiring to happiness. They see how that worked out for their parents. They want to live now. By offering the flexibility of telecommuting and a less structured work environment, you can still get work done, while they get freedom.
Millennials value a leader’s social proof above their positions or credentials. Additionally, they live in a world of decentralized leadership without visible command and control structures (think social media). So they believe they can always walk away. To get them to listen to you, be willing to first listen to and understand them. Aurélien Rothstein, Essilor Chief Procurement Officer, has paired senior and Millennials on transversal projects to give them both an opportunity to learn from each other while co-delivering projects.
Empowerment Through Engagement
Millennials do not trust authority because, through their lives, they have seen the breaking down of social contracts. They want to be part of the decision-making. However, that is not to say that they hate the leadership who makes the decisions. Millennials understand that there has to be leaders, but they want to know that they can make inputs into the thinking of leadership. One way to do this, according to Michael, a VP of global communications, is to engage them in the “why.”
“Millennials prefer to ask ‘why’ they are asked to do something, rather than just doing what they are told. Though difficult at times because it can be seen as ‘challenging leadership,’ it is a positive development in the workplace. Answering the ‘why’ forces managers to examine their decisions — ultimately a good thing for everyone.”
Show that you Care
Many organizations are designed to favor efficiency over effectiveness. They attempt to make people into human machines. If you fail to treat Millennials as human beings, they will leave your organization. Also, this is not about being manipulative but actually caring for people.
Millennials feel a deep need to know that they matter and that they are making a difference. That is why work that does some good is highly attractive to them. Sometimes all this means is that they need to see the impact of their efforts and hear their leaders say, “Thank you.”
Finally, as this study by Hubspot summarizes, “the Millennial workforce is redefining the value of a position based on its meaning and purpose above the income it provides.” The difficulties that organizations encounter in relating to the population of Millennials in their workforce stem primarily from the differences in the culture of the organization and the mindset of the young people. When leaders understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with Millennials and make the shift to start listening to them to understand what they are saying, these problems more or less resolve themselves.
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