Working with Millennials

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JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services

We had a terrific panel discussion at the September 2016 Best Practices conference on working with Millennials, moderated by our own millennial, Brianna Stevens. The discussion revolved around several myths that people attribute to millennials.

Myths that the panel members examined in the discussion claimed that millennials are

  • Narcissistic
  • Over confident
  • Lazy
  • Disloyal
  • Anti-authority

What we all quickly learned was that all these myths are just that—generalizations that don’t apply when we take genuine experience into account.

The November 2 issue of Quality Digest also included an article about millennials by a “successful Gen Y insider,” Matt Arnerich. Note that millennials are also referred to as Generation Y, a group that is now the largest portion of the working population in the US.

As our Best Practices panel clearly demonstrated, millennials are not that different from earlier generations of workers. They are looking for good jobs with job security, they want challenging roles, and they want to work for companies that they can be proud of. They may have done some initial job hopping, but that may have been because the job market was pretty bad when many started out.

Our panel had similar interesting discussions addressing the five claims.

Narcissism (not)

Millennials do make heavy use of social media, spending a great deal of time online. However, they are definitely not narcissists. They do want to feel important and want their work to matter. In fact, the move to agile development is well suited to millennials who want recognition for their work from their team members and their managers.

The online preferences of millennials may make face-to-face communication more challenging, however. They are more comfortable emailing, texting, and snap chatting than talking on the phone. Managers may need to strongly encourage more direct methods of communicating, even encouraging practice.

Arnerich recommends introducing two-way feedback systems so that millennials can get feedback that helps them grow, learn, and improve. But they also want their feedback to be welcomed, whether they are offering technical or creative solutions to problems or new ways of working. If managers and older workers pay attention to new ideas, they may discover new key elements for organizational success.

Over confidence (not)

Millennials definitely want to know that their views are recognized. They want feedback but they also want others, especially managers, to respect their contributions. They are less likely to find confrontations to be problems. And, they provide the online confidence that our organizations need to open up online dialogues with our customers.

Lazy (definitely not)

Like lots of others in the information-development workplace, millennials don’t want to be micro-managed. They want to work at different times, with flexibility on determining when and how to work. Arnerich agrees, believing that managers should try to be more flexible about where and how works gets done. With freedom and trust in place, the millennial workforce can become very productive. Firm and realistic deadlines are still important, of course, but providing millennials control over the process is equally so.

Disloyal (not)

Millennials, much like everyone else in the workplace, believe that loyalty has to be earned. They never intended, you may learn, to stay at one job for an entire career. But most older workers have learned that, although they may have been loyal to a job and a company, the companies have rarely been loyal to them. Information developers have experienced more layoffs than many other workers, often being viewed as dispensable. The prevailing attitudes of the high-tech companies toward writers may, unfortunately, keep millennials from viewing information development as a viable career choice.

If young workers are only given basic tasks without knowing why, they are unlikely to be motivated. Managers need to ensure that they put tasks in context. Learning about departmental or corporate strategies should also help. Managers may even get new ideas about achieving long term goals.

Anti-authority (not)

Millennials, like those of us who grew up in the 60s, question authority. They question how and why we do things the way we do. But that questioning leads to learning, developing, and growing independent and successful careers.

Some companies address the habit of questioning authority not by trying to squelch it, but by offering opportunities for personal development. Arnerich points out that Gmail and AdSense were developed by young workers at Google in their 20 percent free time.

Offering exposure to senior mentors, creating opportunities for innovation, taking on challenging new projects – each of these will help new employees grow. Millennials promise to be especially responsive.

Read Matt Arnerich’s article: How to Be a Mentor to Your Millennial Recruits