Is it time for leaders to wake up and smell the coffee? Translated into the world of work, it means Wake UP and reconsider the millennials. Are they really a scary new narcissistic band of selfie-takers and obsessive texters with the attention span of a tweet and enormous expectations in terms of compensation and reward? Are they really so entirely different from the rest of us, as in, anyone over the age of 30?
Um, Not. To me, it feels like we are getting lazy. Maybe there is something called social, mobile, cloud adoption that is standing between us here.
Yes, “they” use language you barely recognize, and can conduct an entire conversation using cute little pictures. What If I said that the upshot of my observation is that millennials and non-millennials share some common motivations? Such as:
- making a difference in the world
- doing work that is meaningful
- earning an income that meets their goals
- striking a work-life sense of career
- being compensated appropriately
From my place on the front lines of HR and Culture, I can add that GenY shares another common denominator with the rest of us: the need for workplace engagement.
Just like Baby Boomers and GenX-ers, millennial employees tend to want to know there’s room for advancement and growth within the organization. They want to be recognized — acknowledged — by their boss. Being appreciated for a job well done is a big one. And perhaps that is the proverbial fork in the road.
What’s different has to do with the time and the nature of the feedback. Take heed, leaders trying to adapt and learn. This is not a group of stoic self-starters who quietly toil in their cubicles, hoping to absorb coaching by osmosis or somehow be noticed and praised. They don’t wait for advice, though they don’t necessarily ask for it the way an older employee might. [Millennials in the Workplace Training Video] (one useful takeaway here, as a sidebar: just like you and me, millennial’s are not all the same). In one scene, the millennial employee turns in her work and stands there, expecting to be praised for just doing a task that’s part of her job, and is then aghast that she’s not getting the praise she thinks she deserves. Older boss stares back, incredulous. It’s a classic generational standoff. But you don’t need an episode of Mad Men to get that the world of work has always been about the world of one generation warily eyeing the next.
So let’s look at it differently. In the history of modes of communication, time has shrunk with every innovation. Long ago, people communicated by snail mail (write back when you get a chance to sit down). Then came the telephone (I’m leaving you a message, call me back when you get to the office). In all honesty, I had to tell my amazing mom (and a few colleagues-AWKWARD) this past week not to leave me (LONG) voicemails any longer. Ugh. Not an easy conversation as I shared with a few friends of mine just today. Text and email is fine. Mom – Really – I know you are trying to reach me. Issue = it takes me 12 hours to delete all the others. People then try and call me and have no luck as my voicemail is full and it becomes a vicious cycle. Enough said.
And then the game changer, email (ding, you’ve got mail). In the mobile age, we, simply text (just continue to move your fingers). Voice mails? Tedious. The sense of the span of time covered in a conversation has shrunk down in scale from days to hours to minutes to moments. For a generation raised on texting, that’s the speed they assume communication works by. So: wait a week to recognize a job done last week? In a talent culture that communicates by texting, that waiting that long is tantamount to ignoring it completely. It’s downright rude.
But reconsidering the millennials is not just about making your “young workers” happy. Their mode is the mode we’re entering right now, a tidal, technologically-driven, inevitable shift in the scope and pace of not just work, but communication. To dismiss it as a young person’s fashion is a big mistake. Millennials have no fear of the immense scale of information available: to them the Cloud is a palpable resource that makes perfect sense; Big Data is just appropriately vast; globalism is a given; analytics are an action. Social simply means awake and connected. Globally, professionally, efficiently.
Therein lies a gap — oh gosh, that word. But let’s review, regroup and then, let’s inspire ourselves to embrace this great generation. They bring the skills to the table that we are all going to need for the future. Time to give up our millennial misunderstanding and reconsider that this may just be every single one of us. Right?
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.