Understanding and Working With Millennials

The millennial generation has been given many labels. This group has been called "entitled" and “spoiled", but at the same time, millennials have also been praised for their collective innovation and desire to work for something other than money.

And that's admirable. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, millennials hope to be the next great generation that wants to right all the “wrongs” they see in the world today. For every five millennials, three have a desire for a purposeful life, contributing to the good of the community, be it in the form of environmental conservation or food sustainability efforts (Cone Communications Study, 2016).

As managers are seeking ways to best lead and engage this generation of employees, let’s see what we can learn from other managers for our next performance conversation with our millennials! 

1. They Have Unrealistic Expectations

What's the Deal?

The two key areas that millennials tend to have higher-than-average expectations are in the areas of compensation matters and meaningful work. They expect to be making more money than they currently do, but they also value having a life out of work to bond with friends and family, to explore the world and even to participate in charity work. This need and a different approach to work could create some friction in the workplace.

What Do We Do?

For compensation matters, one can address their concerns by helping them understand industry compensation and benefits practices so that they understand how the market is remunerating for the positions they hold. Educating them on this might release thoughts that they are “underpaid" for their work.

Millennials are driven to perform once the “recipe” is right. What does that mean? Well, they want to see how their contribution impacts the organisation as a whole, not just at a personal level; since they can be society-minded. Visualising and aligning their aspirations to the organisation would provide better clarity.

Here are some questions you can ask them, for a start:

  • What makes your heart beat faster? What’s a cause that you care about enough to give up sleep for?
  • Now close your eyes and imagine that you have reached that point - the place where it is all ‘done’, what you’ve achieved that what you’ve imagined.
  • How does this place look like? What do you experience (see, smell, feel, hear or taste) as you interact with this place? What do you get (and how does that feel like) at the end?
  • Start describing this outcome as if it's happening right before your eyes.

2. The Grass is Always Greener Mentality

What's the Deal?

Another source of frustration for managers is that millennials often want to be anywhere they’re not, i.e. in a place where they expect the grass will be greener. Whatever role they’re in, they believe there’s another position within the organisation that’s sure to be better, or that working in a different organisation will be less stressful and will yield them higher pay. 

What Should We Do?

Well, this is a crucial coaching moment. This is the time you help them value the position that they’re in, and also the understanding that having resilience in their roles will reward them as they spend time to learn the competencies needed, to be able to create value. This is also a time to help them see the alignment of their role and the shared vision that you have as a team.

One important thing to note: when you inspire a shared vision, hearts are going to be pumping faster with ignited passion. You need to then watch out and make sure it's healthy enough to take the pressure involved in navigating the obstacle courses (e.g. psychological stresses, fears, doubts and so on) that are sure to appear.

Just like how one would strengthen their heart muscles to match the rigorous exercise regime they started, make sure you’re feeding and exercising the psychological heart muscles right. Feed the hearts of your employees with loads of encouragement to build up the courage they'll need for the journey. Exercise right - put in place right-sized challenges at the right pace, to condition and build strong muscles that will carry them through.

3. Attachment to Technology

What's the Deal?

Over the last few years, the use of social media has increased exponentially. As a result, millennials are constantly checking their smart devices to avoid missing a beat. Unfortunately, they do this in the workplace as well as at home, which is extremely frustrating to managers who require undivided focus at work.

What Should We Do?

This is an opportunity to coach your millennial to help them reframe their minds, from a state of FOMO (“fear of missing out”) to a more productive state. Help them to find apps that would benefit them in their professional development. There are many apps such as Blinklist (reading), Udacity (free online courses) and Brainscape (mobile learning using flashcards). Help them understand that the healthy habit of constantly developing themselves would be something that’s both enjoyable and reap benefits for them, both now and later in their career.

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