Working with Millennials: A Miserable Experience or a Misunderstood Opportunity?

Written by: Tonya Bronleewe & Leslie Kimble
Tonya Bronleewe is a Project Manager at the Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center. Leslie Kimble is a Marketing Coordinator at the Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center.

Have you ever read an article about “millennials?” Some of the more common ways media likes to describe millennials is as “lazy,” “entitled,” “narcissistic” and “easily-bored” people, who are “unable to communicate in ways other than texting, emailing or social media.” Ouch. Such a millennial might exist, but certainly not all 75 million young adults that make up the U.S. millennial generation, can be classified by such labels.

Turns out, other generations were labeled similarly in their early 20’s.

Time, July 16, 1990: Cover: “Twentysomething. Laid back or just lost?” Inside: “Proceeding With Caution.” “They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder…”

New York, August 23, 1976: “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening.” “In her experience lies the explanation of certain grand puzzle of the 1970s, a period that will come to be known as the ‘Me’ decade.”

Are these prophetic articles about millennials?! Nope, they are real articles written about baby boomers and Gen X. Turns out, it may not be what generation you are from that translates to “self-interested,” but, instead, the naïve rite of passage we like to call “adolescence.”

When it comes to career paths, millennials were not dealt an easy hand. They were told to trust the system, find what they love to do and work hard at it. In order to succeed, they were told to take the AP classes so they can get into the best university. Then, they were advised to take out astronomical student loan debt to pay for the best universities. Finally, they were told they should work for free as an intern for a year in order to make themselves employable.

When reality came crashing down, they were left with a degree in hand, no money to be made, and no jobs to be had. Millennials were entering the workforce at a time considered by many economists to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Millennials felt duped. They felt they must have done something wrong, or they just weren’t good enough.

It’s been a bumpy road to adulthood for most millennials, and although things are looking up and mills are finally settling in to steady employment, myths still circulate about their workplace behavior. Here are a few of the more common workplace millennial myths.

Myth #1: Millennials are easily bored and do not like to work.

Millennials are just like cell phones. Throughout their lifetimes things have changed rapidly, and if things do not change regularly, they are basically out-of-date. For example, in 2017, a flip phone with no apps is seen as an ineffective and obsolete piece of technology.  A millennial feels like they are stagnant and unsuccessful if they are not changing and growing.

At work, millennials want to continue to develop and expand their skill-set on a regular, if not rapid, basis. Be on the lookout for different and challenging projects or professional development opportunities to motivate a millennial to keep them on the cutting edge, just like your cell phone. Show your young staff you are invested in their growth. They should look like new models of their old selves every few years. Demonstrate that job fulfillment and impact making – takes a long time.

 

Image courtesy of AscensionDigital at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Myth #2: Millennials need constant praise.

In an age where we get feedback instantaneously via social media, not hearing about how you are doing at work, especially at a new job, can be frustrating. In a 2015 survey by Wakefield Research, 90% of millennials would like ongoing check-ins with their bosses so that they are surer about their performance.

It is not so much that millennials need praise all the time, they would just like more frequent feedback than an annual performance review. And, why not? If we can address the concerns as soon as they come up, the sooner they can be corrected. And, don’t forget, we all like to hear that we are doing a good job, and that motivates us all to keep up the good work.

Hold smaller performance conversations frequently, once or twice a month, with staff. These do not have to be long. Just five to 10 minutes may be all you need to keep a young employee satisfied with their job.

During your conversations, be specific with feedback. Make sure the conversation is an open dialogue where the employee can share their thoughts and give suggestions about how they can do better or keep doing awesome in the future. Millennials like to express their thoughts and feel heard. You do not have to agree, but let them know you hear them before you contradict or say “no.”  If you listen first, then explain the “no,” they are more likely to have a good attitude when they leave your office.

Performance conversations may help you find out when to introduce a new challenge to the millennial, or any employee, to avoid work-boredom.

Myth #3: Millennials only want to work for high-tech companies and start-ups.

We all want a job where we can go home and night and feel good about the work that we’ve done. Millennials are no different. They want careers where they make positive impacts on the world. This is often more important than the paycheck. They may leave a job that pays more in order to work at an organization where they feel like they make a difference.

According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennials Survey, 65% of millennials said that “purpose” was part of the reason they chose to work for their company. In recruitment materials, interviews and even on the job – do you share the larger impact that working in the water industry has on the public’s health, the environment, the business community? Even a simple environmental ethic statement on an organization’s website increased job seeker’s willingness to pursue employment.

Messages about the “big picture” positive impacts that drinking water service provides will resonate with millennials and show them how their everyday tasks are important to the community. This promotes job satisfaction for all of us. Sometimes we all need a reminder about why we do what we do… especially on the difficult days.

Next time you hear about millennials being the “self-entitled and lazy generation with no clear career aspirations,” think of your own journey through your early-20s. Next, think of a millennial that you truly enjoy spending time or working with. Finally, show empathy to the millennial employees’ unique generational experiences that have impacted their career goals, and use your leadership skills to proactively teach, mentor and tap into a fantastic and motivated generation of talent.

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