Integrating Millennials in the Workplace: 4 Things to Consider
Suddenly ‘millennials in the workplace’ is a buzzworthy topic for managers everywhere. For many of us, the word ‘millennial’ brings to mind skinny jeans, MacBooks, and an insatiable appetite for kale smoothies and avocado toast. There might even be some negative associations, too. Are they unrealistic, self-absorbed and lazy? We’ll leave that up to you to decide…
According to NBC News, the majority of older workers surveyed in a recent study said that millennials don’t have the same work ethic as prior generations and aren’t willing enough to “pay their dues.”
CBS News similarly reports that 46% of CFOs polled by Duke University and CFO Magazine believe that millennials exhibit “an attitude of entitlement.”
Millennials earned this reputation in part because they want work to be fun, social, and flexible. An MTV-sponsored study found that 88% want to be friends with their coworkers, 81% want to make their own hours, and 79% want to wear jeans to work.
New research from IBM shows, however, that although Millennials prefer a more social and casual work environment, they closely line up with baby boomers and generation-Xers when it comes to “things like career goals, employee engagement, preferred leadership styles and recognition.”
While millennials may not be as different from other employees as some might have thought, harmoniously integrating them into the workplace can still pose a challenge. As more employers are integrating millennials into the workforce each year, it’s important to understand who these young workers are and what they value, and for millennials themselves to disprove the widespread misconceptions about their work ethic.
Who are millennials?
Born between the early 1980s and 1996, millennials have a population of about 83 million, they outnumber baby boomers and are more diverse.
As of 2015, there were roughly 53 million working millennials, making them the largest sector of the US workforce.
Faced with high unemployment rates and low wages, over 36% of millennial women and 42% of millennial men live with their parents.
4 things to consider about millennials in the workplace
What do they value and how should employers work with them?
- Millennials value innovation and want their ideas, and suggestions for company improvement, to be heard. Ray Gillenwater – a Millennial CEO of a tech startup – writes that companies need to “create a culture that makes people feel safe to speak up” and implement a system that allows employees to participate in broader discussions.
- Millennials aim to quickly complete projects, not clock hours. They don’t want to waste time guessing their superiors’ expectations and therefore value clear directions and regular feedback.
- Tech aficionados, millennials dislike slow, outdated software. As Gillenwater suggests, companies should take advantage of improvements in business software when possible and choose user-friendly options.
- Millennials hope to advance professionally and intellectually. Of the millennials surveyed by MTV, 89% agreed that “it is important to be constantly learning” at work. Employers can capitalize on this desire to learn by letting millennials take on new tasks and responsibilities when they’re ready.
- They value the insights of more experienced professionals. Three quarters of millennials want a mentor, and two thirds would be willing to help older colleagues hone their technology skills. Proactively connecting young workers with more senior employees could benefit everyone.
- Millennials want to know how their work supports their company’s overarching goals. As Gillenwater explains, 60% of millennials say “a sense of purpose” attracted them to their current employers. It’s important for an organization to define its mission, culture, and why each employee’s contribution matters.
How can millennials earn a better reputation in the workplace?
1. Play by the rules
- Millennials might seem self-centered if they expect employers to overhaul policies to suit them. Instead, they should demonstrate that they are adaptive team-players by understanding and working within a company’s system. As CEO David Goldin suggests, “show you can focus on playing by the rules instead of fighting them.”
2. Be self-sufficient
- Busy bosses and coworkers won’t always give feedback or check in on a worker’s progress. Millennials can enhance their independence – and avoid seeming needy – by taking notes while receiving directions, asking questions at the start of a project, and learning to perform tasks themselves instead of handing them off to more experienced colleagues.
- Effective communication requires cooperation. Although millennials may favor digital communication, they need to recognize that their older colleagues may prefer phone calls or face-to-face interactions. Millennials should identify their coworkers’ norms for communicating and adapt accordingly.
4. Prove themselves
- The best way for millennials to show that they’re ready to take on new responsibilities is to excel at their current ones. They should set achievement goals for themselves and work hard to accomplish them. While a company might have a clear mission, it’s ultimately up to millennials to prove that they valuably support it.
Since millennials actually have much in common with their older colleagues – avocado toast aside – understanding who they are and what they value in a workplace offers several benefits for companies. It helps them attract, integrate, and retain these techy, social media-savvy workers, and also provides insight into how companies can improve their organizations to benefit employees of all ages.
Up against an unfortunate professional reputation, millennials must actively prove themselves to their employers and older coworkers. It’s important for them to remain flexible, hardworking, and patient. While many hope to find a fast track to career advancement, adjusting to a new workplace and building a career takes time.
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