Managers and senior leaders in companies across the world – Generation Xers and Baby Boomers – scratch their heads over what Millennials want.
The difficulty of engaging with this group was raised at a dinner held recently for EI Fellows and Young Professionals from the Aberdeen, Highlands & Islands branch.
Here are my five pointers for any leaders asking that question.
I promise it isn’t another repetition about how tech-savvy, arrogant 20-somethings just want sleeping pods, gender-balanced coding classes and free caramel macchiatos at work.
This is my own take, based on being a Millennial who knows some very smart and career-focused Millennials (looking at you, Aberdeen YPN committee!).
1.What do your Millennial employees want? Ask them.
Set up spaces, physical or digital, collective or individual, for your Millennials to give views about how the workplace could be improved.
It could be a monthly meeting for graduates, an online survey, an ideas competition, or simply a question from the manager at our next one-to-one. Keep your ears and mind open to the ideas that have bigger potential.
Is Anna passionate about the environment, and disappointed that not enough is recycled in the office? Encourage her to do a report on how to implement the system she suggested to improve waste management, and to explain what the costs/benefits would be. Promise that she will have a chance to pitch it to more senior people and potentially to implement it.
2. Trust and enable
Personally, I think at least one of the stereotypes may be true – Millennials are a little needy.
We crave validation. It’s not entirely our fault – getting likes is addictive!
The internet isn’t just a repository of all human knowledge, it’s also full of reminders that everyone is apparently more beautiful, popular and successful than us. We live in a globally competitive and judgmental world and we’re very aware of it.
If there have been engagement issues in the past, let us know now that you see the value in our skillsets and viewpoints and that you care about creating a fulfilling work environment for us (within the company’s ethos of course).
But don’t just say “Right, crack on”. Show your support by providing some basic resources: give us access to the nice boardroom for meetings, set aside an hour a week when we can work on our project, or prompt another team/expert in the company to talk us through the data we need.
If you invest a little, we’ll invest too.
3. Set a high bar
The flip side of trust is expectation. Your message should be: I know you have the smarts and I believe you can deliver – therefore I expect you to do a good job.
Chances are, the young people in your company are bright, educated and keen to improve. They’ve done the unpaid internships and spent time learning new skills outside school and university. Some may have had the extra struggle (or advantage!) of coming from a different culture.
We don’t want everything handed to us. I would argue that, even if some young people have experienced low-effort-high-reward patterns in their early life, the workplace doesn’t have to be a continuation of that.
Make it clear at the start of the project which company standards should be met, and what success will look like for you in terms of outcomes or the bottom line. Put the onus on your Millennials to make a clear business case for their proposal.
4. We are social animals
Not social as in media, it’s more basic than that. If you as a senior professional have ever felt irritated by a Millennial flicking through their phone looking completely disinterested in the people around them, consider this: we just want to make friends (aww…).
Yes, just like every generation of humans that came before us, Millennials keenly want to have happy, fulfilling social lives. “Social” apps don’t make it any easier, they have only given us convenient ways to detach from the arduous, awkward process of developing relationships in real life.
So, if possible, make it a group project. Give us an excuse to meet with our peers and approach our more senior colleagues. We’re really just hoping that those chats over coffee will turn into chats over a pint.
5. Deliver on the promise
Millennials like a challenge if it means we get to stand out from the crowd a little. I should know – our YPN committee is made up of young professionals who volunteer between 8 and 16 hours a month of our free time to deliver valuable events for other young professionals to learn, network and grow.
We are willing to give added energy to projects we are passionate about, but it’s only in your power as a leader to promise that pot of gold at the end of all the extra hours. When the work is done, acknowledge it and provide timely feedback. Make it a learning opportunity.
But most importantly, if you were persuaded, please deliver on your promise and implement the idea. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t curing cancer every day, but Millennials want to feel a little less like a cog in the corporate machine.
We want our work to matter somehow and to make a tangible, positive impact. Seeing those new recycling bins and being able to say: “That was important to me. I was given agency and I achieved that” – that’s something Millennials want.