In the modern workplace Millennials can be stereotyped as lazy, entitled, or just an overall headache for managers, most of whom, are Baby Boomers. What exactly is causing the disconnect between generations? Are the majority of Millennials really that awful? How do we fix it? Being a Millennial myself, I want to help share the Millennial’s perspective on some of these harsh titles we’ve earned. I served four years on active duty for the U.S. Army and within two years found myself in a Team Leader position. I was responsible for four other soldiers (also Millennials) of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and these were soldiers who were previously my peers, prior to my promotion into a leadership role. This gave me the ability to look at the stereotypes associated with Millennials from both the perspective of the employee and the perspective of the leader.
I came to the conclusion that many of the negative stigmas attached to Millennials is just turbulence in the inevitable change of many outdated work processes that the Baby Boomers don’t want to let go of because– “that’s the way it’s always been.” For example, Millennials have grown up in a tech- savvy world where an infinite amount of information can be accessed anywhere–instantly–in the palm of our hands. Social Media has also had an effect by allowing everyone to express opinions and ideas, regardless of rank within the organization. Therefore, in the workplace Millennials desire some level of instant feedback regarding what we’re doing–and we want to know that we aren’t just another cog in the machine. We want to feel like we can actually share ideas and be involved with the decision making process in the workplace. Many leaders will make decisions in the workplace that affect everyone but don’t give their subordinates the opportunity to make suggestions or offer ideas because “they’re the boss”. That doesn’t sit well with most Millennials. Millennials are a very well educated and are very much a problem-solving generation. Even the lowest member on the totem pole may have a great idea that the management team never even thought about.
This also ties into the stereotype of Millennials being a lazy generation. When Millennials can’t clearly see their role in the big picture, receive steady feedback on their work performance, and be included in some decision making processes, we can start to think what we’re doing is insignificant or just a paycheck. This results in employees that don’t really see the importance in going the extra mile at work. The mindset is that “if the boss doesn’t seem interested in coaching me on ways to progress as an employee then why should I put in any extra effort for him/her?” Aside from that, Millennials are a generation of “Shortcut-takers”. We want to find the fastest most efficient way there is to get something done. Most of us Millennials grew up with smartphones, giving us instant streams of information and a constant connection of communication that the Baby Boomers didn’t have. Because of this many Boomers misinterpret this desire to “Work smart, not hard” as laziness rather than a generation geared toward making life more efficient.
Common comment about Millennials:
“Millennials want instant feedback yet they can’t take constructive criticism without getting offended.”
Millennials want a leader, someone who is going mentor us on ways to improve our work performance–not just tell us we’re doing a bad job. This is typically more of a problem with first line supervisors that get overwhelmed with just getting the job done. They often neglect to develop their individual team members in the process. When I was a Team Leader in the Army, every month I had to conduct a formal written and verbal counseling session for each soldier assigned to me. I was responsible for reviewing the soldier’s monthly performance as well as promotion potential. Although we had been taught how to fill out the forms correctly, there really wasn’t a lot of guidance on what to actually say to your soldiers in your counseling sessions. This resulted in many first line leaders using these evaluation type reports to tell their soldier everything they screwed up that month, but not highlighting them for the things they did well. First-line leaders would also make up nonsense to put in the counseling statements, just to get them over with because they were too overwhelmed with other tasks. The upper levels of leadership think everything is going great because the first line supervisors are sending up reports that are formatted to the way HR wants them… When in reality, many first line leaders aren’t providing the proper mentorship that the workforce needs and are just “going through the motions” to complete a paperwork exercise.
The “Old School” style of management where there’s a strict gap between manager and employee is outdated. Millennials want a leader or mentor, not a boss, so a more team-based work environment where there’s a stronger level of camaraderie between the management and employees is what’s going to make the Millennial generation work force excel. According to Forbes, “Millennials will be roughly 50% of the USA workforce in 2020 and 75% of the global workforce by 2030.” Now is the time to adopt the Millennial mindset before you find yourself behind the power curve.
1. Review your current supervision training program
2. Ask yourself, “Does our training program provide our supervisors with the ‘how-to’ skills they need to manage employees? How-to set goals and objectives, how-to provide meaningful feedback, how-to facilitate a development planning session, how-to issue a disciplinary warning (if necessary)?
3. Conduct some focus group meetings with employees to actually discuss the generational friction issue. What are the root causes? It may be that perception is different from the reality… Boomers may just perceive the younger employees as lazy…and the younger employees may just perceive the older ones as stuck-in-rut and unwilling to adapt to change. By talking about it, it gets the issues out on the table, so action plans can be put in place to reduce the friction and improve productivity.
4. Are your supervisors equipped with the knowledge of how to actually investigate allegations in the workplace? In other words, do they understand when “generational friction” has crossed the line–and becomes a form of harassment? If the answer to that question is, “Wow…I don’t think our managers know how to determine that…” Then, there is your answer. Get some table-top learning going on in staff meetings or team huddles with leaders, to help them understand the difference between snarky, innocuous remarks–and actual harassment.
I wish you all the best!
Until next time…
Chief Millennial Consultant
Results Performance Consulting, Inc.