My last article was a piece called “Dear Millennials”, which was addressed to the ‘kids’ born in the 90s. It showed them glimpses of what growing up was like for the rest of us who were born in a less tech-savvy world.
Today, let’s reverse the equation and talk to the dinosaurs—all the Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, Traditionalists, and pretty much everyone born before the year 1990. I often encounter HR articles or even parent observations discussing how we can best manage a younger workforce and how to handle this ‘generation unlike any other’. I’ve also worked with enough of these millennials to have observed what makes them so different, and the support they seem to want/need from their leaders, parents, and other authority figures. Read on for tips:
- Stop living in the past. Yes, these millennials have heard enough about cassette tapes and CD players, how handwritten letters and thank you notes were the norm for good manners, how suitors had to use the landline to try to reach or get in touch with the objects of their affection. They’ve gotten the message, they’ve heard the stories, now lets move on and live in 2015. The world is high-tech and fast-paced, and millennials expect us to keep up. Don’t expect time to stand still for you…keep learning, keep reading, keep growing. If you need to enroll yourself in classes for advanced Excel, Powerpoint, etc, or view instructional videos as to how to sync and maximize your gadgets, by all means do so because it greatly impacts your work productivity and saves them the trouble of having to (exasperatingly) explain all of this to us. Sure, you can rely on the younger people in your team to give you a fresh perspective and more visually appealing presentation materials, but you’ve got to know your stuff too to be able to contribute and manage better.
- Give them meaningful work. Gone are the days when interns were only good for filing, photocopying, and making coffee for their bosses. Today’s interns and fresh graduates expect to be given work that stretches their boundaries and helps them learn while on the job. They will not be contented doing tasks that are too simple, tasks that do not make use of their intelligence and education, and tasks that they don’t know the significance of. Allow them to really add value, use their creativity, and watch them shine.
- Give them direction. Millennials have several things going on and several options for their future. What they need from their parent, boss or teacher is someone to ground them and give them direction. So take stock of their talents and abilities, and coach or mentor them to make full use of these. Give them a goal to focus on, but do not give them simple orders as though they are robots meant to carry things out exactly the way you want. The number of millionaire entrepreneurs under the age of 25 should give you an indication of just what these kids are capable of if they focus all their efforts into something.
- Give them options. When you say ‘no’ to millennials, they will not take it sitting down. They will ask you for reasons, they will challenge your opinions, and they will need alternatives or options. So don’t just say ‘no’, ‘it’s not possible’, ‘we’ve done that before, it’s not going to work’…tell them why, be ready to answer questions, and give them the flexibility and empowerment to work on alternatives or options.
- Respect their opinion. Yes, there is much to be said about experience being the best teacher. But this is not true 100% of the time, and it sometimes takes a brand new, fresh perspective to solve a problem or to get a big ticket item done. So give your millennials a voice, listen to what they have to say, and respect their opinion as much as everyone else’s. Otherwise, they will keep their mouths shut and just comply, and all those great ideas will never come into fruition.
- Allow for change. Acknowledge that what motivates a millennial is worlds apart from your own motivation. If Baby Boomers valued a stable and prestigious job they could stay in up to retirement, and Gen Xers want career development and flexibility, the Millennials could have a kaleidoscope of motivators that cannot be generalized. Some prefer flexible working hours or longer vacation days because it allows them to pursue other passions, from photography to makeup artistry. Some prefer learning and development opportunities so that they can accelerate moving along their career path. Some prefer being coached and mentored. So how are we to know? It’s very simple—just ask. They are open and upfront enough to tell you if they feel you also have and open mind.
- Let them be. Remember how it felt to be categorized in a box back then, when the choice of your college course would determine your entire future employment and career? It was stifling and limiting. Today, there are a lot of hybrid careers taking off, and the world is becoming limitless in terms of possibilities. So let your millennial be. Give them the freedom to express themselves, whether it means they want to have ombre green hair for a while or ask for a ‘gap year’ to travel, or want to dabble into all kinds of hobbies and interests. It’s going to be ok, they will eventually figure things out.
- Enter the digital age. Similar to #1, you’ve got to make the effort to learn and understand. Learning is becoming more and more digital, so the more you can convert things like homework, employee portals, learning tools etc into a digital format that can be accessed thru apps, the more effective they will likely be. The sooner you understand the workings of social media and hashtags, the better you can relate to this younger, more dynamic market. I know it sounds a bit freaky, but remember, in the movie ‘Back to the Future’, Marty Mc Fly went to 2015—that’s today. We are living in the ‘future’ that our 80s and 90s selves dreamed up. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
- Let them make mistakes. Yes, it is so tempting to jump in and stop an impending trainwreck from occurring, but if you did it everytime, no one will learn anything. Part of being a good mentor, parent, teacher, boss, or even friend, is to allow people to make their own mistakes but be able to help them clean up afterwards without blame or an “I told you so” look on your face. And lastly…
- Relax. Look, your own parents were freaking out as well, but you turned out fine somehow. These kids will, too. In fact they are poised to be better than any or all of us combined if we do our job and guide them well.
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