Millennials: What Are They Good For?

Much has been written about the negatives of the latest generation to enter the workplace, commonly known as Millennials –or those born between 1980 and 2000. Descriptors often include entitled, lazy, and unfocused.

In my view, there are two fundamental problems with this outlook. First, it is difficult to effectively group the characteristics of individuals along generational lines, as there are too many variances. Second, the typical ‘kids these days’ attitude is a lazy response to individuals within a generation who have different values regarding their professional goals.

Broadly speaking, different generations bring different expectations to the workplace, and to get the most out of those people, leaders and managers must identify and understand key motivators, and adapt accordingly.

Here are some examples:

1. Work/Life Balance

We keep hearing that Millennial employees will not sacrifice lifestyle for career. Interpreted as laziness, it actually comes down to the fact that the new generations value outcomes rather than time spent on projects. As a result, leaders must be mindful of the fact that to get the most out of these individuals, they must drive productivity during working hours, while avoiding impacting their home-time without good cause.

2. Workplace Flexibility

This is connected to many elements of employee motivation and productivity. The 40 hour work-week no longer exists. According to a recent Gallup poll, the average American works 47 hours per week, with nearly four out of 10 people reporting 50 hour weeks. In result, tolerance for commuting and face-time has significantly reduced, especially among Millennials. Flexibility policies have a significant impact on employee productivity, motivation and retention.

3. Technology

Most Millennials are ‘digital natives’, meaning they grew up with technology in a way previous generations did not. They deliver a high degree of computer literacy, but also expect instant access to information. If this isn’t taken into account, it will likely lead to frustration and demotivation. Information is now so readily available, the innate capability-set required will likely focus more on EQ than IQ.

4. Loyalty

This generation has seen that loyalty doesn’t necessarily bring rewards or job-security. Following the 2008 crash, many Millennials said they compromised on their preferred job role. In result, employers must work harder to retain talent, and plan for a certain amount of inevitable attrition.

5. Development

Surveys conducted on behalf of PWC show that Millennials expect continuous learning and development opportunities throughout their careers. Furthermore, they often expect significant career progression opportunities. Often, working with a strong mentor is a key motivator. A generation of people willing to keep learning and developing can be a real asset, and should be nurtured accordingly.

The key takeaway from this is ‘understanding’ is that most inter-generational tensions can be explained by a lack of mutual understanding. All leaders and managers have to make the effort to understand the people they are managing in order to bring the best from them. However, Millennial employees also have to make the effort to understand previous generations as well, especially as it is likely that they will find themselves managing those employees in the near future.

By getting to the heart of what actually motivates individuals of any generation, employers can adapt their approach to maximise productivity, and plan effectively for the future.

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