The Gen Y/millennial generation has suffered a host of negative stereotypes from their older, more experienced peers in the workforce. Too often, they perceive this age group as entitled or socially awkward. But while managers have a sometimes negative impression of millennials, this population actually views managers positively, according to recent research from American Express. This disconnect must give way as millennials begin to dominate workforce.
Next year, millennials will make up 36% of the U.S. workforce, according to Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Millennial Branding, LLC. He believes this generation has plenty to offer employers, having grown up with the Internet and technology applications.
Moreover, millennials are tech-savvy and fast learners, and they work at a quicker tempo, which can add speed and efficiency to the business, explains talent expert Kevin C. Carlson.
"In general, Gen Y and millennial workers represent a whole set of opportunities for employers," explains Carlson, CEO of Brill Street + Company. "My father thought my generation was self-entitled," says Carlson, himself a baby boomer. To the contrary - according to the consultancy's recent survey - 73% of millenials participate in volunteer opportunities. And they seek employers who share their values.
"They want a company to stand for more than just profit. They want a company to make a societal difference," explained Schawbel, author of "Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success," during a recent EY event celebrating the book's launch.
And as the most educated generation, millennials are forward thinkers who have the potential to turn the economy around, said Schawbel, himself one of Forbes' 2012 "30 Under 30."
Gen Y needs to 'step up'
Born between 1983 and 1993, millennials are generally students and young professionals, set to take over the workplace when boomers begin retiring en masse in the coming years. Employers can take advantage of the generation's unique skills, but also need to develop the areas where they lag behind.
Carlson also argues that millennials need to step up. "They work at a faster tempo and have tech knowledge and ideas to make things better," he says, adding that they "need to deploy [that knowledge] and contribute in ways to make the company more successful." They must focus on how to effectively work with others to accomplish their objectives and get results.
And millennials can learn from their more experienced colleagues. As part of the EY book launch panel discussion, Johnson & Johnson executive and baby boomer Kendall O'Brien advised the younger generations to respect and seek advice from their elders, who understand the principal issues in that environment.
"Just because you're the future, doesn't mean we're already in the grave. Any new person coming into an organization needs to respect that history," she explained.
O'Brien added that misperceptions run rampant and both groups need to work to understand each other. In her experience, managers often believe millennials are rude and easily distracted because they don't make eye contact and stare at their phones. When confronted, however, millennial workers explain that they are simply taking notes. They digest information differently. Further, the smartphone is a great productivity tool, and if an employee is skilled with that technology, then they may have a leg up over others.
At American Express, where millennials make up one-third of the workforce and upward of 60% to 70% of their workforce in Latin America and India, the financial services company has hired and focused on developing that population group to reflect a growing customer base.
"We see millennials as a key part of our business strategy. We need to engage them, understand them and figure out how to support them," said Valerie Grillo, chief diversity officer at American Express.
Most management systems are based on older behaviors, says Carlson, who insists that employers adapt how they manage the workforce with the incoming employees.
For example, he recalls one company that used to hold traditional monthly sales meetings that didn't engage workers and which employees came to dread. The firm changed it up and began engaging employees in one-on-one conversations. These personalized meetings took the same time and energy, but within 60 days, the company's productivity and results increased by 30%.
Career development changing
Schawbel predicted that work structures will become more results-driven and the defined 9 to 5 workday will disappear; insisting employees be in their seats during that time will no longer be a requirement. Even career development will change as millennials generally leave their jobs after two years, whereas boomers leave after seven years on average.
"There's no linear career path anymore," said Schawbel. Millennials, who grew up during the Enron scandal and Great Recession, also no longer believe in guarantees like Social Security or hold trust in job security.
Schawbel advised employers to hold millennial employees accountable for work results, and once they follow through, give them flexibility in other areas. Employers also need to give this generation the resources to succeed, especially around soft skills, which this group must develop.
Those include the ability to prioritize work, having a positive attitude, good communication skills and being a team player.
"The soft skills set you apart," explained Schawbel. "If you can do the job, that's great, but other people can [too]. You need to be more than your job description."
Internal mentoring programs help build relationships with other generations, and through reverse mentoring, older generations can benefit from learning millennials' strengths as well. Tech-savvy millennials can teach boomers not only how to use technologies like Instagram or Pinterest, they can show them how the company can take advantage of new technologies to enhance a product or drive a marketing or communication campaign.
"It's about thinking how to advance myself and my company. It's a two-way street," said Schawbel. Instead of stereotyping millennials, he suggested employers give them an opportunity and support them to succeed.
Carlson of Brill Street suggests implementing facilitated workshops to improve understanding around generational points of difference and improve effectiveness in the workforce.
"With understanding, you will have better assimilation and collaboration," he said. "When employers look at these issues, they often are looking through Gen X or boomer lenses, which can be problematic. Employers can differentiate themselves competitively if they can understand these issues and turn them into positives."
This article has been corrected to reflect that Dan Schawbel is the managing partner at Millennial Branding, LLC.
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