Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. Labor Force and that number will just keep growing. The stereotypes of being narcissists, fickle and poor communicators are mostly true, but there’s too much emphasis on the problem and not enough focus on solutions.
I’ve worked with Millennials both as a volunteer and paid basis for the past 20 years and here is what works:
1) Teach/Model Communication Skills: As technology increases, communication skills decrease. With texting, social media and various apps, verbal communication isn’t practiced much. Young professionals can multitask quickly, but are slow to respond to emails, lack professionalism and avoid conflict. In order to turn the tides give them opportunities to speak in public, network at events and define professionalism. Rarely is a new hire ready to do their job independently. That doesn’t mean they’re not capable, it means you need to teach them what they lack. The only way to improve skills is to practice. Stop complaining about their faults and show them how to do it.
2) Give Frequent Feedback: Millennials crave coaching. Since we’re stereotyping here for brevity purposes, Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers aren’t the greatest managers. Most supervisors move up in rank because of seniority, but the technical skills mastered are far from leadership skills that are needed to develop emerging candidates. Frequent means daily or at least weekly feedback. Yes, Millennials tend to dislike criticism, but that doesn’t mean you stop giving it. No, I’m not an advocate for micromanaging, but if someone isn’t performing to standards, they must be informed. This goes both ways too. Leaders should be secure enough to ask how they can serve their workers better. Praise is welcome, but make sure it’s specific, not general like “good job.” If you’re going to be generic in your feedback, do everyone a favor and don’t bother opening your mouth. Start at the end. Performance evaluations shouldn’t be a surprise to any worker if feedback is being given constantly.
3) Reward Intraprenuership: Millennials are the most innovative generation in history. If they don’t see the market fulfilling a need, they create it themselves. Corporate culture should welcome mistakes. We all learn best through trial and error and the most successful people in the world deal with failure better, not success. New projects are a great way for Millennials to take initiative, collaborate and test market products/services. If you ask most young professionals what matters to them most at work, you’ll usually get the response: make an impact in the world or opportunities for growth. Rewarding intrapreneurship satisfies both desires if planned well. Responsibility happens when ownership is taken. The quickest way to teach that is by delegating tasks, trusting people to get it done and holding them accountable for the results. Don’t worry about retention as much, instead foster an entrepreneurial culture and it becomes your most effective recruiting tool.
Generational differences cause a lot of problems at work, but if you choose to focus on the strengths of Millennials instead of their weaknesses, you’ll see positive results in your ROI much sooner than later.