By Jane Sunley, best-selling business author and Chairman + Founder of Purple Cubed
Generation Y or the so called Millennial generation, (born between 1981 and 2001) are already widely making their presence felt at work. And that’s set to continue; within just four short years they will make up 50% of the global workforce. While it’s important not to get too pedantic about generation theory, it is clear that, due to their influencers, this new cohort of digital natives and free thinkers will shape the world of work significantly, perhaps more than any other.
As such, appealing to Millennials will need a different approach because they are, well, different from those who have gone before them; in effect they’re now replacing baby-boomer retirees.
What Millennials want
First, development and progression are key motivators for Millennials. Therefore, when it comes to attracting the best, make sure learning materials and formats are right and freely available. They also value feedback and knowledge; they therefore love coaching and mentoring and being treated as the individuals they are. Millennials have an inherent curiosity and the need to understand the reasoning behind things; they will ask questions. This is why some people describe Gen Y Millennials as ‘Generation Why’.
They also have better technical skills than anyone else; having grown up with all of the world’s knowledge base at their disposal within a click or two and know how to use it. They’re therefore able to learn what they need to know as and when they need it and so generally find the notion of sitting in a classroom being ‘told stuff’ bizarre. In a recent study by management consultants, Millennial Branding, they found nearly four in 10 Millennials see the future of education being virtual. As such, if you want to attract the best, businesses must consider moving from classroom teaching to interactive tools like podcasts, learning groups, webinars, internal ‘wikis’, distance learning, job swaps and secondments. E-learning on the whole is ‘out’, in favour of quick bites that are simple and clear. Gamified learning environments are popular though among this generation; where individuals are rewarded as they progress through the learning, so look to see how this may be incorporated in your development offering.
However, providing ample learning and development is not the only priority here. Millennials aspire to work in environments with meaning, where they can make a valid and impactful contribution. In fact, in a study by PWC 86% of Millennials stated they would consider leaving an employer who didn’t live up to this.
They need to be able to feel proud to work with (not for) you and will share this with their massive digital networks. So culture – ‘what we stand for’ and ‘how we do things around here’ must be clear, transparent and authentic, living in the business every day. If you’ve not set this out in your business, or if it’s long overdue a review, now is the time to make sure your values and culture are clear, communicated and comprehended by all.
A new era
Overall, these are vastly different times from those that have influenced the current majority of leaders. And businesses who fail to adapt do so at their peril. For some organisations, it may well require a vast change of mind-set – especially from those who are still puzzling about why this new generation are the way they are, harrumphing that ‘it wasn’t like that in my day’.
As a result, it’s easy to see why disparity can happen. This highlights the need to be mindful of all generations and points of view, to treat people as individuals and for leaders to understand that the people they manage may well be very different from themselves. It’s necessary to accept and embrace this rather than attempt to change what has been shaped from childhood by events, family and community.
There’s also much discussion about how previous generations can and should manage Millennials, yet let’s not forget the vital importance of how these Gen Ys manage their cross-generational peers; Gen Xs, Boomers and Zoomers*. This is a two-way street; it makes good business sense to help them with this; instilling leadership skills from day one regardless of whether they will be a leader or not.
With some care and consideration, Millennials are potentially the most successful generation in history and have much to offer you, your organisation, Team UK, the planet. So what’s your strategy for achieving healthy and productive cross-generational harmony in the workplace?
My top 10 tips:
- Accept that people are individuals with differing points of view – set out to understand and embrace them
- People also have differing standards – learn what these are and decide if you can work with them
- Agree the ground rules, making sure everyone’s very clear on what’s expected (and what this ‘looks like’)
- Find out people’s hot buttons – learn their preferences and conflict triggers
- Ask for feedback and take it on board (people need the tools and know-how to self-assess)
- Be prepared to compromise and adapt
- Communicate about how best to work together – be honest though learn when to hold back
- Ask for help – if you don’t understand, say so
- Avoid taking things personally – if people sound sceptical they’re probably seeking information, weighing up options
- Think about facts not perceptions – someone might just want to work independently – they’re not ignoring you.
* Zoomer: yet another buzzword – a Boomer who refuses to age – apparently currently the largest leadership demographic.