I’m tired of the headlines cluttering my inbox proclaiming the special, unique challenges Millennials pose and the “right” or “best” way to manage them. They are not special or unique. Sure, they bring a perspective and an array of habits shaped by their interconnected upbringing that is different than mine. But then, my perspective — shaped by rock and roll, suspicion of authority, and appointment TV in (gasp!) color — was different than my first bosses and mentors. Millennials are simply the next generation entering the workforce as I (a tail-end boomer) once was, and as every generation to come will be.
For example, are Millennials itinerant job hoppers, disloyal and self-absorbed, the product of helicopter parenting and an “everyone gets a trophy” upbringing? Nope. In fact, they actually don’t change jobs as often as their previous cohorts.
Have they cultivated the annoying habit of privileging electronic communication over the interpersonal, incessantly focusing on their smart phones, texting, tweeting and snapchatting? Perhaps. But then, look around at your older colleagues, your management team — look in the mirror! Don’t we all spend just a little too much time doing the very same thing? Technology has, and will continue to, impact how all of us maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships even as we establish more varied and intricate electronic connections.
In the work we do helping organizations create intentional cultures, we consistently find four factors that support engaged workforces:
- Pride in the company, nurtured in part by a shared vision that excites the imagination. People rally around shared beliefs and derive meaning and purpose from the beliefs they share.
- A supportive environment, full of teaching and learning opportunities pushing them to become the best versions of themselves.
- Fair treatment, not only economically but interpersonally, by managers and supervisors who truly care about the well-being of their direct reports.
- An understanding of how the work of the individual contributes to the broader goals of the organization, creating a sense of worth and contribution to the larger endeavor.
Is there any reason to think Millennials want something different from their workplace? Of course not. They are people too! My claim is this: Create a culture that supports these factors, and every generation in your organization, including Millennials, will thrive. If you are struggling with high turnover among your younger cohort, if they seem disconnected or disinterested, it’s not them. It’s not because they, for some mysterious reason, need to be treated differently. It’s your broader culture. Improve it and improve the engagement for everyone.
You can’t swing a dead cat around our organization without hitting a Millennial. I work with them every day. They are whip-smart and eager to learn. They are good listeners, conscientious and definitely open to new ideas. We are a better organization for their presence. But then, we’ve worked really hard to create an environment in which people like me can stop and teach so that others can stop and learn (and where I can learn from our younger employees). We’ve created an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and in which responsibility and authority is pushed throughout the company. And while we’re far (very far) from perfect, we don’t think of Millennials as a group to be managed. They are just a part of our workforce.
Be skeptical of the next article about the secret to managing Millennials that hits your inbox. If you’re having challenges, don’t be fooled into treating the symptom. Your real challenge is in your broader organizational culture. Unlock it’s potential by focusing on the fundamentals above. The problems you think you have with your younger employees will go away.