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millennials in the workforce
Leadership Growth

The Secret to Successfully Leading Millennials

They’re accused of being overly ambitious, demanding, self-absorbed and high maintenance. Ask any 30 plus manager and they’ll tell you this and more. But are they?

Actually, many of the twenty-something employees – those born between 1980 and 2000—often referred to as Generation Y or the Millennials—are getting a bad rap. The reality is, they’re highly educated, talented, innovative, capable and loyal, but many of the older generation leaders have failed to learn how to deal with millennials in the workforce. Those who have will be the movers and shakers of the future. Those who don’t—won’t. It’s that simple. And if you think it’s not important to do a little changing yourself, think again.

According to the Conference Board, some 64 million skilled workers will be eligible for retirement by the end of this decade. A majority of those are Boomers. There are 78.5 million Boomers—many who have already fled the workforce, and there are 79.8 million Millennials according to Census Bureau figures. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where the future is—it’s “them.” So smart thinking says—get with it. Know them, understand them and adapt your old ways to accommodate the new.

Who Are They?

Millennials in the workforce are achievement-oriented, sociable, talented, confident, inclusive, optimistic, and if they don’t like your work environment, they’ll be gone with the click of a mouse. Why? For a number of reasons; here are a few:

  • They expect to be special and valued. For the most part, their parents often intervened on their behalf, ensuring they would be treated well. Parents challenged poor grades, visited college campuses, helped them make best-fit decisions and used their own connections to ease their way. As kids, they liked their parents negotiating on their behalf. As a matter of fact, they simply “like” their parents. A 2001 survey conducted by Lou Harris found that Mom and Dad were most often named as the ones most young people admired.
  • They are comfortable with multi-tasking and multiculturalism. This generation grew up with very little free time. Parents signed them up for baseball camp, swimming teams, ballet lessons, and more, shuttling them constantly from door to door. In school, they were loaded with homework and rewarded for extracurricular activities. They faced pressures generally held only by adults. They grew up with more ethnicities and cultures than any generation before and multicultural interactions became their norm.
  • They value friends, inclusiveness and doing what’s right. A world that connects people 24/7 around the globe made them interdependent on both family and friends. Many prefer online chats to talking on the phone. They have been taught to live life for the greater good and demonstrate a high rate of volunteerism. They’re used to being part of a team and think it’s important to leave no one behind. They like being friends with their coworkers and expect a work environment that’s fair to all and committed to creating a sustainable environment.
  • They are goal-oriented and want involvement now. This generation has been told they can have it all—by their parents as well as TV and the print media. It’s not uncommon for them to arrive at work with a planned set of goals for their expected future. They recognize they still have things to learn, but they also expect to be involved and respected for their thoughts and ideas.

What do Millennials in the workforce want?

Here are a few things Millennials in the workforce want from their job:

  • They want to be treated respectfully. Don’t presume their inexperience brings no valuable thinking to the table.
  • They want to work in a positive and friendly environment. Don’t play politics.
  • They want to be challenged and to continue to grow. Don’t put them in a box with limiting, routine tasks.
  • They want flexible schedules. To them, it’s results that count, not the fact they may want to leave early one day to attend their kid’s soccer game.
  • They want to learn new knowledge and skills. They’ve come from a fast-paced technological world and they don’t want to miss what’s new, what’s now.
  • They expect to be included; they thrive on collaboration. When their technical savvy and new-learned knowledge is accepted as equally as important as your experience and wisdom, the blended teamwork can accomplish many great things.

A survey conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison found that 60 percent of employers are already experiencing intergenerational tensions at work. The movers and shakers who recognize the impact of this tension will do their best to avoid it by giving serious attention to blending the best of each generation, adapting to meet the needs of all and in so doing, will soar beyond their competition for the future.

Bette Price is the author of True Leaders (Dearborn Trade Press) and along with colleague Mark Holmes conducted quantitative and qualitative GenBlending research from more than 500 Millennials.

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