A hiring manager tells the story of a college graduate who interviewed for an entry-level position at her small b-to-b publication. During the interview the candidate asked for a starting salary of $85,000— that is $50,000 above what the company had budgeted for the position.
More and more, HR professionals are coming face to face with a generation of gifted individuals with an over-abundant amount of self-worth and a propensity for voicing their opinions. They’re tech-savvy— many of them will have already built their own Web sites and have a personal media kit on Facebook and Twitter accessible via cell phones. They are impatient but always eager to learn and quick to do so. They are the Millennials, or Generation Y, and in another three years the work force will be flooded with 31 million of them.
“This is the generation that has lived a protected life. They were raised by work-obsessed parents who gave them everything to make up for the time away,” says Roberta Matuson president and founder of Human Resource Solutions, a management consulting firm based in Massachusetts. “They question the status quo… and expect to make an impact on day one.”
It is when companies are forced to contend with the young worker’s impatience to get ahead that often causes friction. “They seem to feel entitled to a raise and promotion in a week, that corner office in six. They want things now, now, now,” agrees Dr. Carolyn Martin, co-author of Managing the Generation Mix (HRD Press 2002) and a keynote speaker with RainmakerThinking, an organization that conducts research and training on the inter-generational work force. This is the number one complaint she receives from her clients and for many of these baby boomer managers, the generation gap in attitude and work ethics can be frustrating.
These high maintenance Millennials, like their predecessors Generation X, are great multi-taskers but with 10 times the speed of their older siblings. Born in an era of cyberspace, blogospheres and music downloads, they come into the work force with technological knowledge that didn’t exist even when Gen Xers were entering the work force. “This generation understands that there is no need to stay up all night to make an overseas phone call. They can simply text message the person with the information they need and continue the conversation the next day on their own time,” Matuson says. Armed with a hunger for new challenges and innovative ideas on fast-forward, this new crop is a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, most businesses are not utilizing their young employees to their fullest potential. “Companies have yet to recognize that they need to take the time to figure out where these people are coming from,” says Matuson. “They want them to be like they were, which isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Someone’s got to adjust and it certainly isn’t going to be the people from this generation.” With Millennials expected to outnumber Gen Xers by 2010 and over one million baby boomers steadily leaving the work force year after year, companies are going to have to re-think their strategy or else “there just won’t be anyone around to get the work done,” she points out.
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Understanding Who they Are
It’s a much different time than that of when the baby boomer generation went to work. Millennials grew up in an unstable world: There was terrorism, white-collar crimes, and an unsteady market. As a result, their attitude is reflective of the short-term goal as opposed to the long-term ones. It also explains their resistance to “pay their dues” when they witnessed first-hand how Gen Xers suffered in the technology boom and crash of the 90s. They do not see the point in working five years for a company to get ahead simply because there is no guarantee that the company will even be around that long. “It’s a world in which there is rapid change… Seniority is not priority anymore,” says Martin. It’s why the new work force is viewing their careers with the attitude— “I’ve gotta take care of myself.” Millennials are entering the work force when there is a large generational shift in value and work ethics. “The older generation just blame Gen Yers when actually, they are just being sensible,” Martin says.
According to the feedback that RainmakerThinking received from one Millennial, their idea of job security means, “I’ll learn all I can here and as soon as opportunities to keep learning here disappear, I’ll look for a better position. Of course, I’ll negotiate the best deals for my expanded skills, experiences and knowledge.” Because their doting baby boomer parents raised them to believe that education is the road to success, the Millennial generation also values learning and training opportunities in their career development. “These kids are learning how to do things faster, smarter and better… They have the potential to be the most productive work force in history,” says Martin. And the Millennials know their value. This gives them the easy ability to job hop and another reason that has employers so shaken up.
Tips for Managing the Unmanageables
Once companies start to see where and how the Millennial group get their perspective, it becomes easier to manage them with all their “I’m so worth it” attitudes. The best advice for a mutually beneficial working relationship is to provide good management that consistently adheres to company policy. “We have to be very clear about what our expectations are,” advises Martin, though in return, you should ask your employee what they are expecting to gain. Janis Rosheuvel, a Millennial employee at a nonprofit organization echoes that sentiment. “I think a lot of managers think they do not have to engage in a dialogue with you about what you want out of the job,” she says and that it’s frustrating when companies forget that “the employee-employer relationship is a two-way street.” In the event of poor performance, Martin says it’s absolutely crucial to hold young employees accountable, an area that she says many managers struggle with.
Similarly, company managers need to also make it clear what the assignments are, where Millennials can have more freedom to be creative, and where they should follow strict guidelines. Here are some additional tips that Martin’s RainmakerThinking offers to companies: Mentoring them, as opposed to managing them, is another way to approach the Millennial work force. They do not take well simply to “orders” and resent being treated like an intern with busywork handed down to them with no explanation as to its purpose. The best way to bring out the best in these workers is to teach them about the company and the big and little things that can help bring about the most productive results. Rosheuvel’s idea of a great manager would be one that is direct, honest, capable and accountable. “She or he would also be a mentor and guide through the field,” she says. Listening is also another key attribute for a manager facing a crop of young employees.
Millennials are full of ideas and they want to feel like they matter. Though they are independent-thinkers, they love working in teams so allowing them to contribute to the efforts of the organization increases the feeling that they are becoming an important part of the company. The trick here is to make them feel valued, not dismissed. Giving consistent feedback is also an important way to establish a good rapport with Milllennials. If you can hold them accountable for mistakes, you should also praise them accordingly. Of course that does not mean managers should transition into coddling parents but remember that this is the “now” generation and they are looking at you to guide them so if the performance is exceptional, let them know right away. It is a tremendous boon to managers to recognize the needs of Millennials so that they can be efficiently trained to meet the needs of the company.
Recruiting and Retaining Young Candidates
A big challenge for companies is luring this generation of workers and then retaining them. “In a small business world, the opportunity for immediate impact is very attractive,” says Martin. “In contrast to a corporation, there is greater visibility… [Millennials] can be working side-by-side with the president of the company, rubbing elbows with the decision-makers.” The intimacy available in a small company with much fewer employees could potentially turn out to be a very satisfying arrangement for the group with entrepreneurial instincts. The Millennial Generation wants to make a meaningful contribution and the opportunities for this is greater in the small-sized company. They are also the most socially conscious group and many opt to pursue non-profit humanitarian organizations as opposed to the usual lure of large, profit-making corporations. To help in the recruitment, make your company mission clear and emphasize all the ways that your business is serving its customers, its employees and if appropriate, contributing to society.
You can also offer recent graduates an attractive benefits package—tuition reimbursement and a company-vested retirement plan— and a relaxed working environment also helps. Ultimately, the successful working relationship between all generations is one where there is respect going both ways and a clear understanding of what is expected from all sides. Once established, perhaps the passing of the torch won’t be such a painful process after all.For more articles on the good, the bad and the truly ugly of office politics, please check out: The Politics Series: The Politics of Facebook Friending your Colleagues | The Politics of being a Woman on the Job: Why can’t we all just get along? | The Politics of Being Young on the Job: Managing the Kid Boss | The Politics of being Cute on the Job: Are you too Sexy for the Workplace? | The Politics of the bad boss | The Politics of Office Romance The Lists: Five Ways to Battle the Office Backstabber | Ten Signs that You Might be a Difficult Employee Everything in between: Tips for Managing the Millennial Generation | When You’re Smarter than the Boss | Knowing When to Speak Up and When Not to |Equal Work, Unequal Pay: What to do if You’re the Victim of Gender Discrimination Do you need advice dealing with awful coworkers, bosses and other workplace issues? Find the author on Twitter @JiHyun42 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell her all about it. You could be featured in an upcoming article!