If the title of this piece seems a little dramatic for a post on managing millennials, don’t worry; it’s mostly for SEO purposes. I thought I’d take advantage of the recent press about millennials killing various industries, as this helpful tweet shows:
If I had to guess, I’d say this isn’t the first article you’ve read on the subject of managing millennials. The body of research on this mystifying generation could probably fill its own library wing (and while we might be killing everything else, millennials love libraries).
Here’s the thing, though: millennials are more like other generations than the endless stream of articles might lead you to believe. Optimizing your workplace for managing millennials is less about responding to a certain age group and more about understanding the effects of new technology and changing social norms.
If you were to ask me if I am a millennial, you’d have to define your criteria. Gallup defines millennials as those born between 1980 and 1996. According to this definition, the oldest millennials fall right between the actual age of the Karate Kid (he’s 56) and today’s college kids.
Somehow, though, it’s just as hard to picture middle-aged millennials as it is to predict how 80s teen actors will look in a “where are they now” article. Kids don’t stay kids forever and things change as we age, even for millennials.
Managing millennials effectively means looking beyond broad stereotypes. You need to figure out who YOUR millennials really are. Their personalities, tendencies, wants, and needs are going to be specific to your nation, region, and location (one of my fellow writers calls herself a rurallennial, for example).
Understanding these factors is the first step toward creating a welcoming workplace for the millennials in your organization.
Millennials are Settling Down
For years, research pointed to a job-hopping pattern that was distinctly and emblematically “millennial”: spending one or two years at any given job, then switching out for something better. It both earned and symbolized millennials’ reputation for self-centered fickleness—always looking out for numero uno, even if that meant dropping everything and moving to the other side of the country for a better job offer.
But the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that this trend has tapered off in 2017 compared to 2016. The worldwide data shows that the percentage of respondents who said they’d leave their current job within two years dropped from 44 percent to 38 percent, while the percentage of respondents who said they’d stay increased from 27 percent to 31 percent.
In the US, millennials are now more likely to say they’ll stay with the same company for more than five years than that they’ll leave within two. Deloitte connects this phenomenon with a rise in global instability and posits that millennials are looking for stability in an uncertain world.
Why does stability matter more to millennials now?
According to the National Society of Realtors, millennials have been the biggest group of home buyers for the past four years in a row. Their report also shows that 49 percent of home buyers 36 years and younger (right in the millennial zone) now have children under the age of 18 in their home, 66 percent of home buyers are married couples, and 13 percent of home buyers are unmarried couples.
Millennials have waited longer to purchase homes, start families, and set down roots. But we haven’t abandoned these goals. And as more millennials advance through these life stages, we’re going to be looking for more than just a gig or a six-month contract.
Providing millennials with a stable income and a bright future will help entice the next generation of leaders to stay with your organization.
Millennials Value their Time
Millennials have trouble with face-to-face communication, or so several articles claim. Most of them quote statistics about smartphone use to prove the point. For example, a study released by device support company B2X found that 25 percent of millennials spend more than five hours on their smartphone each day and more than 50 percent spend at least three hours.
But don’t wring your hands just yet: the same study also found that 25 percent of Baby Boomers spend at least three hours on their smartphones every day.
So which is more important: face-to-face communication, or digital communication? The answer depends on the subject you need to communicate.
At a previous company, one that had been in business for several decades, I attended a creative brief meeting every week. Managers for different channels would go to the Intranet and print off copies of their creative briefs for the week, and we would spend the next hour to hour and a half listening to them read the briefs out loud, verbatim.
My personal favorite was when they’d say, “I’m still working on this one, so we’ll have to get an updated version of it later.”
Then I’d go back to my desk and open up the most current brief on the Intranet on my second monitor for reference, reading through the specifications for my work in a fraction of the time it took to read them out in the meeting. The printouts from the meeting ended up in an ever-increasing stack on my desk.
As younger millennials started taking on management positions, more creative briefs ended up summarized in the meetings so everyone could get back to work faster and get more done. Rather than spending hours going over paper handouts, younger managers realized we could use existing technology to save time, save trees, and still keep everyone informed.
The point is, instead of worrying about managing millennials who grew up as digital natives, you should embrace the challenge of creating effective communication processes for the information you need to communicate.
There are instances where face-to-face communication is important—in fact, we recommend it for performance management and many collaborative projects. But millennials’ understanding of digital collaboration can be a boon for your organization, while older workers’ expertise in office life can help millennials grow.
Millennials (and Everyone Else) Want Life to Progress
Thanks to growing up with the Internet, millennials like to track things. Whether it’s a package from Amazon or a daily step count, we want to know, compare, and plan with the most current information. We’ve spent our adult lives with technology promising us the best of everything if we can just analyze the most current data and make all the right hacks.
While the full effect of this worldview is an existential discussion for another day, this mindset does have an impact on how millennials view our careers.
The oldest millennials were in the early stages of their careers when the Great Recession hit, so we’ve absorbed a hard lesson about workplace guarantees. While we want stability, we don’t assume that our current positions are immune to layoffs if the market shifts. No news is no longer automatically good news.
This doesn’t mean millennials live up to the stereotype of self-esteem-junkie special snowflakes who want constant praise for performing our basic job descriptions. What we really want is an accurate picture of how our performance is meeting our organization’s needs and what we can expect in the future. We want context, and where it’s missing, we’ll go looking for it, seeing through fake praise and pasted-on values to the reality of our work situation.
As a millennial, the best advice I can offer on managing millennials (and anyone else, for that matter) is to keep it real. When we fail, tell us how it happened and how we can improve. When we succeed, recognize the effort. Show us how our skills and potential align with your organization’s goals.
Do this, and you’ll do more than just manage a new group of people; you’ll create a dedicated workforce that grows with your organization.