Editor’s note: We’ve invited Crystal Nguyen, a Millennial and change management consultant, and Stephen Zaruba, a Gen X and one of our Managing partners, to weigh in on generations in the workplace.
How can Millennials strengthen our organizations?
In my last blog about Millennials, I asked the question, “Why are Millennials So Interesting?” My response was that we are only as interesting as the social environment in which our generation was raised. In short, growing up in a diverse, capitalistic, and technologically-driven society enabled us to be the “entitled” and “indecisive” generation that we’re known to be. So now, given that the Millennial generation is here to stay, how do organizations retain Millennials and move forward in a way that builds on our strengths?
Millennials are notorious for jumping from job to job, which means that organizations are constantly having to find and onboard new employees. Ultimately, this is time, effort, and money lost for everyone involved—the recruiter, the team, and the new employee. To progress forward, organizations need to be able to retain their Millennial workforce. How? Let’s start by simply listening to our Millennials. Here are some of the things our generation will tell you:
- “Give us some flexibility.” Millennials see the nine-to-five workday as a guideline rather than a mandate. With so much technology enabling us to work from remote locations, it’s no longer necessary to be in the office for eight hours a day. As long as we set the right expectations with our team members and do our jobs as stated, a flexible work schedule could improve both productivity and morale.
- “Replace performance reviews with performance conversations.” Real-time feedback provides opportunities for us to improve as we go, rather than once or twice a year during a formal review. It’s important for us to know how we’re doing so that we can leverage continuous opportunities to learn. In the end, continuous conversations build the trust and engagement required for effective team collaboration.
- “Throw out the traditional hierarchy and invite us into your community.” We’re not asking for a completely flat organization, we’re just asking for inclusion and visibility. Instead of “earning” our seat at the table after multiple years climbing the ladder of meritocracy, let us sit in to observe your meetings or take charge on a deliverable you need help with. Help us become better employees by being transparent about the goals and direction of your organization.
- “Trust us to do the work you’ve given us.” Provide us some direction and let us run with our ideas. A sense of purpose and leadership (even in the smallest areas) gives us positive reinforcement to exceed your expectations and continue asking for more.
- “Diversify the work and the workforce.” Both are important for keeping us engaged. In times where we have access to so much information, it’s hard not to keep our career options open. Keep the work challenging and provide options for us to move within the company when it makes sense to do so. Acquire talent with various backgrounds that can provide unique perspectives and push organizations to take calculated risks.
After reading this, many people may ask, “Well, why do I have to adapt to Millennials? Why can’t they adapt to us?” Simply answered, “Because this is what the world looks like today”.
Today, we see a strong focus on large-scale data analytics, digitalization, and agile methodologies. As organizations continue to adjust their strategies to adapt to the changing world, they also need to adjust the way their organizations collaborate internally to keep up with the times. Millennials are at the forefront of this movement, not because we’re highly advanced, but simply because it’s in our nature.
By listening to Millennials and breaking out from traditional work ethics, you can enable your organization to become more resilient to the constant (and often unexpected) changes we currently face today. But let’s not stop with Millennials, because Generation Z is growing up fast. Our generation is only a reminder that in order to stay relevant, you must stay present.
How a Boomer/Gen X executive thinks:
I was born at the threshold of Gen X. From my perspective as a managing partner at Expressworks and in working with our clients, I am confronted daily by generational “opportunities” as we work to attract, staff, retain and inspire our people. We are enriched by the diversity of talent, generation and skills of our consultants. Each generation has strengths and at times exhibits a generational blindness. Let me share how I view them through my “generational” lens.
Millennials are better prepared for today’s technology-enabled business environment. Their enthusiasm and agility add a lot of energy to team environments. When teaming to build solutions, I’ve seen the following:
- They dive in happily.
- They bail out if they become impatient with the pace of solution-making.
- They dismiss those not moving at their pace.
Sometimes I feel Millennials almost have an expectation of being dismissed by older generations. We are better off when all the generations in a working group take time to value the best balance of pace and thought.
Performance feedback is a very important aspect of working. Many Millennials don’t know what they don’t know. And, extensive remote working can hinder the ability for other generations to provide good feedback. While we will not move away from formal feedback sessions, it is right to want more frequent performance conversations. However, Millennials must share equally the responsibility for seeking out that conversation and hearing it.
Gen Xers have years of solid work experience behind them when they join Expressworks, with 15 or more years to work before retirement. We find that our Gen X consultants reliably provide stability to projects and are known for their experience.
Some Gen Xers can get quite frustrated by the level of client focus given to Millennials, sometimes to their own detriment, especially if they find themselves with a Millennial as a client. Gen Xers and Boomers probably value traditional hierarchy more than Millennials as these generations have been socialized to “wait their turn.”
We are grateful for the boomers who are often extending their careers by joining Expressworks as consultants. They are a resilient and resourceful generation who have decades of experience and wisdom to share. They are also more sanguine in their approach to work, having replaced competition and ambition with love of the work. They are more highly suited to poorly defined work – as their experience helps them navigate the increasingly volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex problems found in today’s workplace.
Boomers can sometimes be patronizing to Millennials as they witness the angst and insecurities that they have long left behind. I like to pair these two generations together as they represent complementary strengths – work experience, agility and technological savvy.
I think organizations that are serious about performing well will need to figure out how to leverage generational strengths. In order to get the benefits of generational diversity companies will need to create environments where all can share their ideas in a safe and respectful environment. We’ve found that diverse teams – and by this, I mean the fullest extent that this can be realized, racial, ethnic, age, experience, gender – demonstrate more potential to come up with creative, innovative, and sustainable solutions to address even the most challenging problems.
By listening to all generations, you can help enable your organizations to become more resilient to the constant (and often unexpected) changes we face today.
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