“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” – Jack Kerouac
Generational gaps do exist. This isn’t breaking news. But maybe this is: As the leader of a company in today’s ever-changing workplace, your ability to attract, develop and retain young leaders will make or break your company. Did that grab your attention? Let’s face it – the new generation of workers is fast approaching. Millennials – Generation Y or whatever label you’ve given them – have significantly different values, beliefs and lifestyles from the baby boomer generation. And they continue to enter our workplace – your workspace – in swarms.
Fact: By 2020, nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will consist of Millennials, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another study predicts that nearly 75 percent of Millennials will dominate the scene by 2025.
“They do not have a felt need to initiate a relationship with authority. In most cases, authority figures are the last place a Millennial will go for information.” – Chip Espinoza, Director of Organizational Psychology program, Concordia University Irvine
So, what are their likes? Their dislikes? What drives them? What are their turnoffs? A recent Millennial Branding study reported that 45 percent of Millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay; 72 percent want a job where they can have an impact; and due to the recent recession and high unemployment rate among young people, most seek economic security. And there’s more – an MTV survey showed that Millennials want more flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. They want to set their own hours and dress how they want. And, get this, they believe they can teach you a thing or two.
Chip Espinoza, Ph.D., has traveled the world helping companies create an environment where managers and Millennials can survive and thrive. The director of the Organizational Psychology program at Concordia University Irvine also co-wrote the book, “Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce.” As one of the world’s foremost experts on generational diversity in the workplace, his client list includes the likes of The Boeing Company, Microsoft, Schneider Electric and the Special Olympics.
Espinoza believes that the generational gap is a sociological phenomenon. He says the tension between successive generations is what professor emeritus of sociology at Princeton University Norman Ryder refers to as demographic metabolism. Every new generation provides its own set of threats to previous generations – with those threats differing from generation to generation. For example, the way the baby boomers handle money is very different from the Builder generation before them. How and when money was spent created discord between the two sides.
The plain truth, Espinoza explains, is that GenXers are distinctively different from baby boomers, but they simply did not have the numbers when they entered the workforce to threaten the status quo with their ideas. That’s why they immediately were put into their place by baby boomers.
You want differences – GenX is less concerned about titles and belonging to associations, country clubs and the like. They are incredibly independent and have learned to manage up for what they want out of work.
You want similarities – GenXers and baby boomers are alike in that they are both very large cohorts. They are both optimistic as compared to the Builders and GenX. They both have received a tremendous amount of attention and will continue to.
“They (Millennials) are, in essence, what the baby boomers wanted for themselves growing up,” says Espinoza, who also is a content expert for CNN, and has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and others discussing the topic. “Baby boomers, for the most part, have shaped the Millennial generation due to their parenting style – high involvement, great expectations, democratic decision-making, praise-based activity, etc.”
The biggest difference may be that Millennials are the first generation that has not needed an authority figure to access information. “They do not have a felt need to initiate a relationship with authority,” says Espinoza, whose next book, “Millennials@Work: 7 Skills Every Twenty-Something Needs to Overcome Roadblocks and Achieve Greatness at Work,” will be released this year. “In most cases, authority figures are the last place a Millennial will go for information. Baby boomers and GenXers had to ingratiate themselves to authority figures to have upward mobility and access to information. The change has caused a monumental shift in how the younger generation relates to authority and how authority relates to Millennials.”
“Since you never know if the best solution will come from an old school or new school experience, in the end, it is best that everyone is open to as many ideas/experiences as possible.” – Thomas Somodi, President & CEO, Change Science Institute
What Millennials want
If you’re looking to connect the dots between that old school and new school way of thinking, the solution is simple, kind of. Thomas Somodi, president and CEO of Change Science Institute, says the key centers on your ability to find some common ground.
Who is today’s Millennial?
- Believe everything is negotiable
- Seek guarantees when it comes to commitment to work
- Want to blend work and life (access their personal lives from work and don’t mind accessing work on their personal time)
- Ethnically diverse
- Socially tolerant (inclusive)
- Socially aware (green, global, etc.)
- Desire meaning in their work
- Pride themselves on being problem solvers (creative)
- Approach work through a relationship lens (want to be in good standing with their managers/older workers)
- What are they seeking?
- Fairness (reward, recognition)
- High direction from managers/leaders
- Managers/leaders who will be committed to their career development
- Freedom to do their job the way they feel they can best contribute
Source: “Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce” by Chip Espinoza, Ph.D.
Somodi says one of the main strategies any manager can employ is to take advantage of the Millennials’ energy and desire to learn and grow. Make sure they learn the basics, while allowing for opportunities to display their creativity and make mistakes.
“This is an age-old challenge that requires the old school to openly share in their experiences in a way that the new generation views as a learning experience,” says Somodi, who also wrote the book, “The Science Of Change: Basics Behind Why Change Succeeds and Fails.”
Somodi says that it requires everyone, including the old school group, to recognize that change is going to occur, no matter what, and it is better to attempt to manage that change for the benefit of all. “The ability to obtain a successful change greatly increases as the overall knowledge and experience base increases. Since you never know if the best solution will come from an old school or new school experience, in the end, it is best that everyone is open to as many ideas/experiences as possible if you want to maximize your chances for successful results/change.”
In his book, Chip Espinoza writes that it is important for Millennials to understand how their boss wants it done before they try to change the process. One of the main strategies he recommends for today’s managers is to provide frequent and timely feedback. “Annual reviews will not work with this generation. They need frequent and timely feedback. They are often frustrated by a lack of feedback. You also must be clear about your expectations. You cannot assume that Millennials always understand you. Ambiguity is their Kryptonite.”
Overall, the key is to train your managers to better understand the Millennial generation. “People leave managers, not companies,” Espinoza says. “Work will probably be the first place they encounter an adult that is not ‘for’ them. Their experience with adults up until work has been one of the adult cheering them on and encouraging them to great things.”
5 strategies for managing Millennials
While the strategies to effectively managing people can be applied to all employees, Thomas Somodi, president and CEO of Change Science Institute, offers five ways you can connect with your Millennials:
- Hire individuals who have a context for learning that’s consistent with the actual environment they’ll be operating in. For example, don’t try to fit individuals who learn and operate best in a structured context into an environment that tends to be less structured or vice versa. Individuals who have a successful track record elsewhere struggle when they’re introduced into a new environment. This situation often is caused by the disconnect between the basic nature of how those individuals learn and operate, and the actual operational nature of the environment/organization they’ve been introduced into.
- Create an environment where your employees can learn and be exposed to new things. This generation is believed by many to be better educated, so the desire for continuous learning is important.
- Create an environment where they can experiment and learn from their mistakes. The more process-to-environment relationships they can develop, either through learning from the existing experience base within the organization or through self experimentation, the better decision makers and contributors they will become.
- Keep in mind that this generation is believed to be more flexible/adaptable to the unexpected and open to new ideas. Therefore, explaining the “whys” behind the ways things operate or the decisions that have been made often can help in their development, and ability to understand and function within the organization.
- Given the economic downturn this generation has lived through, the opportunity to learn and be productive can be more important than other considerations held by previous generations. But as their experience grows and the economy improves, being treated fairly might be the only thing standing between keeping the individuals and their desire to look for better opportunities.