Two years ago, Millennials became the largest segment of America’s workforce. It will be that way for a long time. You’ve likely heard the complaints: Millennials are lazy, entitled, demanding, impatient and need to be coddled. I find the complaints annoying.
I attended a workshop about how to deal with different generations in the workforce. The presenter was really condescending toward Millennials. The crowd was eating it up. At least most of them. Not me. And not the Millennials. At one point the presenter said, “Millennials do not trust our institutions.” I thought to myself, “Who does?”
Then one of the Millennials in the audience said, “Yes! And we’re going to dismantle those institutions and rebuild them to be better than before.” I did a fist pump in my mind.
The Millennials are the next Great Generation.
According to the methodology developed by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, there are four generational types that cycle through history in order. Howe and Strauss are often given credit for coining the term Millennials to describe those born between 1982 and 2004. In their book, they identify Millennials as a “Civic Generation,” the same as the GI Generation that grew up in the depression, came of age in World War II and put a man on the moon.
I believe the Millennial generation will have a similar impact.
Simon Sinek’s interview on “Insight Today,” has gotten over six million views on various platforms. He details the forces that have shaped Millennials, including parenting, technology, social media and the fact that they came of age in the worst economy since the great depression.
Where I agree with him most is he says a lack of leadership is failing Millennials in the workforce. But he doesn’t share what to do about it. Here is what I’ve learned and why I think it’s great to work with Millennials.
Millennials need their work to have purpose.
It’s ironic that Simon Sinek wrote the book, Start with Why. He says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It’s the same in the workplace. When you are able to articulate vision, where you are headed and why you are doing it, Millennials respond with passion and commitment.
Actually, I’ve found this to be true for most people. It’s just many in previous generations would put their heads down and grind without complaining. That may be admirable, but as a leader that doesn’t get you off the hook. Just because somebody will work without purpose doesn’t mean you don’t need to articulate it. Regardless of the generational make up of your team, you will get better results if you can explain why you want them to do what you are asking.
Millennials need to make a difference.
Everybody wants to have an impact. This goes beyond explaining why you want them to do something. It also includes providing feedback to show the difference their work is making. Are people better off? Are you solving a problem, avoiding a disaster or perhaps just doing things a bit more efficiently? Whatever it is, say it. Connect the work to the difference it makes.
Again, I don’t think Millennials are any different than other generations in this respect. We all get more satisfaction out of our work when we are making a difference. Bu tor Millennials, it’s essential. They are less likely to respond if they don’t think it makes a difference. Regardless, you should be helping everyone you work with to see their impact. It’s good leadership.
Millennials need to see continual improvement.
The knock on Millennials is they are impatient. They want it now. Actually, we all want it now. If I can’t order something online and get it in two days, WITH free shipping, I don’t want it. We are an instant gratification society, so don’t put this on Millennials.
My experience is that Millennials don’t expect to be made CEO right away, as some suggest. They are willing to work and willing to wait. But they need to see continual improvement, especially with their own skill set.
Sinek maintains that we need to be teaching patience to Millennials. I would say we need to be teaching Millennials. If you invest your time to help someone else improve their abilities, no matter their age, they will be more engaged and more capable. It’s no different for Millennials.
They are doing it on their own anyway. They are constantly learning new things, trying to get better. This is the positive side of the internet, in general, and Google, in particular. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had a boss who helped them along the way?
So, if you’re a Boomer or an X’er, there’s no need to complain about Millennials. Just be a leader. Everybody you work with will appreciate it.
If you’re a Millennial, go change the world, with or without us.
Questions for Reflection:
How often do you articulate purpose to those you work with? How can you do it better?
How can you show your team the difference their work makes?
Are you investing in making someone else better? If not, how can you start?