BY ROBYN GOLDENBERG COHENThere’s a lot of talk about Millennials, who often get a bad rap as a generation always looking for the next best thing, unwilling to work hard, and being perceived as lazy and/or entitled. However, this is a tale as old as time: Older generations complaining about the up-and-comers is simply a pattern that has been repeated over and over again. Throw in the internet and you have an echo chamber of stereotypes.
Regardless of contemporary labels, most younger employees of any generation start their jobs with energy and excitement. At one time or another, all generations felt like they could conquer the world, that they were the best educated and full of great ideas—which sometimes made up for their lack of experience. For Millennials, this can also come off as impatience and a need to have an impact, which can be interpreted as a lack of respect for older management. For some Gen Xers and Boomers, it can manifest as resentment, whether it’s their own lack of fresh skills, exhaustion from dealing with the pressures of the job combined with younger children and aging parents, or a feeling of being stuck. Employers need to figure out how to support and manage that enthusiasm and funnel the ambition toward company goals.
Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000, and are generally the children of Baby Boomers. As a generalization, their parents doted on and threw praise at them in an effort to build their sense of self-worth. Millennials had a childhood of structured activities and technological advancement. They grew up with almost limitless access to data and information, which connected them with each other and the world around them—regardless of actual proximity. Millennials came into the workplace with high expectations and limited patience for doing things a certain way just because it’s how it’s always been done, and they want to express those ideas freely and openly while being taken seriously. For as much structure as they had, they were also told that there was a better way to do anything—and that they were the ones to do it. Armed with technology, disrupting is just what they’re doing. In an industry that is changing so rapidly and needs fresh ideas to stay competitive, isn’t that a good thing?
Attracting Millennial Customers
Because this is such a large generation of current and future spenders, not offering services to meet their needs would be foolish. Here are some ideas to think like a Millennial.
Each generation tends to be a bit more tolerant than the last. A decade ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in a handful of states; Caitlyn Jenner was Bruce just a few years ago. Glass ceilings and societal roadblocks are quickly being smashed, and Millennials want to know that you are an inclusive company. Trust me, they’re sick of your opinion of their generation, so check your bias.
Thanks to college debt and salaries that aren’t necessarily competitive, Millennials have been forced to be thrifty and crave experiences over things. Use this to your advantage by creating a special tour for LGBTQ interests or showcasing local restaurants that offer locally sourced cuisine and give 10 percent of each check to the community food bank. Expect to change these offerings as quickly as demand wanes and tastes shift.
Speaking of community, be sure to share your philanthropic endeavors so that they know you are a responsible business. This is also where you want to flaunt your status as a “small” business: They are happy to know that you offer service in 500 cities worldwide but they really want to know that you treat your employees well, hire locally, and care about your town.
Make It Easy to Find You
Face-to-face interaction is still important, but when looking for your service, they are going online. This generation prefers texting over phone calls and using apps over email. Just having a “contact us” form that requires a follow-up call from one of your salespeople is akin to asking them to use a VCR. If they can’t get a quote or book online, you could be losing some potential customers. Think Expedia and not Yellow Pages. Oh, and make it simple to pay: If you don’t know what Google Wallet or Apple Pay is, it’s time to do some homework.
The truth is, Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce in a decade. Instead of batting around the same old stereotypes and using “Millennial” like a four-letter word, look at the benefits that this generation brings. Millennials want buy-in, to work toward the greater good, and to feel like they are making an impact. If you’re looking to attract them to your company—and you should—state clearly why you do what you do, and what your mission is. Appeal to people who are just as passionate about the business as you are. Be willing to recruit raw talent and offer skill development and growth opportunities to get the right long-term fit for your company. Millennials want to feel like they have control over their own destiny, so harness that entrepreneurial spirit. Show Millennials that there is a path to leadership and decision-making capabilities if they work for it, but chaining them to humdrum routines or the traditional stepping stones of previous generations will only drive them to a place that offers more freedom and trail-blazing. They prefer collaborative workplaces, and believe it or not, they want to inspire you to think beyond the routine.
Millennials have a desire to lead, but it doesn’t mean that they expect a leadership role as soon as they walk through the door. Alternatively, a leader is seen as someone who can make an impact in the office, regardless of whether that person holds a formal leadership title. Help your Millennial candidates and new hires see that there’s a growth track for them for five years from when they start. This isn’t just about upward mobility; there’s value in lateral movement like project involvement and cross-training. Having exposure to a diverse pool of managers, supervisors, and leadership is important. And just because they have an idea, it doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Your established team has the experience and knowledge to know when it’s a bad idea.
What Millennials desire most over other generations is the flexibility to work when/where they want to work. The world no longer shuts down at 5 p.m. as it did in previous generations, and Millennials are already used to that 24/7/365 global connectivity thanks to growing up with technology. A job with flexible schedule, work from home options, and extra vacation time are more important than frequent raises or a higher salary for most. While this may make Millennials sound lazy or needy, it actually makes them more productive. Despite valuing flexible work hours, Millennials frequently check and respond to their work email outside of the office and after hours, including nights and weekends.
According to a Business Insider study, Millennials earn 20 percent less on average than Baby Boomers did at that age. Millennials today with a college degree are earning the same as workers without degrees in 1989, and often with a lot more student loan debt. Despite this, Millennials would rather make a difference versus make a lot of money; that’s not to say that you shouldn’t pay a competitive wage, but know that they are willing to compromise for the right trade-off. There’s a reason the popularity of startups has grown significantly over the past 10 years. There’s a shift from wanting to work for a Fortune 500 company to applying to jobs with privately held companies. Researchers believe this is because a small business can have a more tangible impact on making the world better, even if it’s just within the metro area.
While skills and experience help when hiring new employees, oftentimes Millennials won’t have as much experience or skills as their older counterparts, but the only way for them to get it is through an actual job. This is where your established and seasoned workforce can help. Hire people who are ambitious but coachable, and let them learn on the job. This will help build loyalty and buy-in. To attract the right talent for your company, adjust your hiring process: make it shorter, put more emphasis on your company purpose and culture, and let your job ads reflect your passion. But you have to be authentic and genuine, because superficial bells and whistles won’t get Millennials through the door, and if they do, they most likely won’t stay long term if they don’t believe in what you do.
When it comes to managing Millennials, embrace their positive traits and manage the negative ones because no one is perfect. Millennials are purpose-driven and adaptive, and are also early adopters. They are quick to embrace new concepts, direction, and technology rather than resist it. They also place a higher priority on spending time with family and friends rather than burning the candle at both ends. For the most part, Millennials may not have experienced real failure, and they may overestimate their abilities and get in over their heads. The ability to adapt and find a new way to accomplish goals outside of the status quo can really come in handy in these situations. This is where “hands-off guidance” will win: Schedule the playdate, but let them decide how to play.
Millennials are often idealistic, passionate, and forward thinking, with a burning desire to make an impact. Managers and employers need to harness that energy. Encourage new employees to question things, and show them why things are presently set up the way they are. Teach them to stick with it when things don’t go well right away.
Managers should encourage collaboration between peers, provide clear, realistic growth paths for personal and professional goals, and put an importance on flexibility. Millennials will get the work finished from anywhere, which means that they’d like to leave at 4 p.m. on a Friday but will answer email and texts all through the weekend. If it doesn’t compromise the quality of their work, why not entertain the idea? The needs of the team, however, should always be taken into consideration. Provide development opportunities and growth for the role they play and the work they do. Like with the rest of your team, focus on building and measuring effectiveness. Millennials value feedback and are driven by metrics and goals, so don’t be afraid to be straight with them if your suggestions can lead to growth.
Every generation drives change in the workplace, and Millennials are no different. Think of all the businesses that have changed their hours or services since you first started working: Banks are often open later hours, you can book your car service online, and you can order and pay for food delivery on your phone. Millennials bring a lot of talent with them, and someday, they will be the ones leading your company into the future. [CD1017]
Robyn Goldenberg Cohen is Director of Operations and Marketing for Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.