I looked down at my seriously seasoned sneakers and knew it was time. Entering the footwear department at a nearby store I felt as if I were scuba diving for sunken treasure — the boxes of athletic shoes were stacked that deep. Mired in an unending sea of right color, wrong size, my patience was running low. Out of nowhere, a store associate in his late 20s approached. I think his teeth sparkled as he smiled and said, “What can I help you find?” Polite, accommodating, he even knew a thing or two about athletic footwear. He helped me locate the correct size and the prize was mine, a new pair of shoes that looked and fit great!
What stood out about the employee who helped me, and why should you care? I’ll tell you. He was a millennial — a friendly species — and one of millions descending on the job market requiring you, as a manager, to know all about them. But wait … I’m getting ahead of myself. To start, Wikipedia tells us that millennials, also known as echo boomers or Generation Y, were born between 1980 and the early 2000s. As of 2012, there were an estimated 80 million U.S. millennials. This represents a boatload of new water recreation customers (“Letter from the Editor,” Soundings Trade Only, by William Sisson, August 2014) as well as future employees you’ll be hiring and managing. With this demographic surging into the work force, you’ll need to know what makes millennials tick.
In an article at About.com, Human Resources, Susan M. Heathfield provides “11 Tips for Managing Millennials.” I’ve taken Heathfield’s tips and streamlined them into three areas important to millennial employees: environment, interactions and work/life balance.
Environment — Millennials desire a structured work environment that comes with regular work hours, meetings with agendas and clearly stated goals. Yes … and no. My two grown sons qualify as millennials and both value a mix of structure and freedom. They work in different jobs — one in aviation sales, the other in technology — and to a certain extent they enjoy flexible hours and working from home. They cherish their work-at-home autonomy while valuing company structure, which enables productivity. What else? Millennials want to look up to their managers and leaders, learn from them and receive ongoing feedback. They want to be in on strategy and want you to invest your time in their success. There are managers who balk at this — ”I’m too busy to burn my time training the new kid; throw him in the deep end, where he can learn to sink or swim.” Bad attitude. There’s much more to be mutually gained when you mentor their development.
Millennials also manifest a strong comfort level with teams. Take advantage of this. Nearly all millennials grew up playing sports (organized soccer hit its stride during their childhood), familiarizing them with working in groups and embracing team achievement. Enhancing their team mindset is a self-assured, “can-do” attitude and a positive self-image. After all, their parents told them they can take on the world. Encourage their enthusiasm, provide coaching and guidance as they engage new knowledge and collectively contribute.
Interactions — Millennials are used to interactions moving quickly — boring is bad, what’s happening next is good and multitasking their way through numerous weekly goals is a mainstay for bolstering brain aerobics. Did you catch the term, multitasking? Millennials have been simultaneously talking on cellphones, emailing and texting since they could say “iPhone.” As managers, acknowledge that “fast-moving” is a millennial mantra and that instant gratification and recognition are part of their expectations. They want to understand how to pursue career advancement and what rewards will be provided along the way. Hey, who doesn’t? This may sound a bit entitled, but it’s also a way to make managers and leaders accountable to all of their employees.
Beyond their eagerness to grow and take on challenge and cerebral stretch, there’s an obvious reason that quickly paced work is important to millennials — technology. Millennials are socially tech-savvy and never without computers, cellphones and other electronics. Maintaining digital connection to others is part of their daily existence — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, to name a few. Encourage millennials to apply their technology skills to engage co-workers. When it comes to networking, capitalize on their ability in this area and have them help with your social media strategy, as well. Also recognize that their networking prowess means the most highly skilled millennials are loyal, but will always keep their options open.
Work/life balance — In addition to a favorable work environment and having engaging interactions with their employers, millennials need to know that your company promotes work/life balance. This includes evidence of company-sponsored events outside the workplace — benefits, charity and volunteer work, and fitness- or health-related programs. Let them know that as long as they are meeting deadlines and goals and attending meetings, the time they put into their work is up to them. This coincides with the flexible work environment and the option to work from home where it’s viable.
Also take into account that your millennials are used to their lives being packed with activities. As kids, they likely played several sports, volunteered and spent lots of time with family and friends. They work hard but aren’t baby boomers who put in 60-hour weeks. Home and time with children and families are priorities. As a manager, keep this in mind. Balance and multiple pursuits are important to this generation and can’t be ignored. Millennials want to enjoy work and socialize at work, too. You should be hearing your millennials laughing and planning lunch with co-workers while you’re encouraging longtime employees to make room for the newcomers to join the gang. Building a superb work force includes providing all employees with a fun, yet structured setting.
When hiring and managing millennial employees (or those from any age group) the outcome is like wading through deep stacks of boxes while searching for new athletic shoes — some will fit and some won’t. According to a Forbes.com article by Craig Malloy, co-founder and CEO of Lifesize Communications (“Managing Millennials and Boomers in the Workplace,” June 12, 2014), when it comes to millennials, managers need to “strike a balance between what your company expects and can give to employees (beyond traditional benefits), and what employees can contribute to the company and its culture. Nurture both technical enthusiasm and business savvy; don’t let one run roughshod over the other.” This means managers must consciously promote a blended, mutually respectful culture of workers who are fresh recruits and seasoned experts. As you welcome them into the ranks, millennials must understand that technology is not a substitute for the experience that boomers provide. When you offer a favorable work environment, a positive platform for interaction and a balanced work/life experience, you’re setting the stage for millennials and all employees to work well together and jointly produce the treasure that benefits everyone — the ongoing and future prosperity of your business.
Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.