I should probably begin with the level set that I am firmly in the middle of what is referred to as Generation X. Like most Gen Xer's I often catch myself taking a critical view of things, particularly working with the generational cohort behind us which is usually identified as Gen Y or Millennials. For better or worse, Millennials tend to get a lot of press. It is hard to pick up a copy of any popular business publication or HR Magazine without seeing at least one article about this generation and how they are changing the way business works. Some articles praise them for demanding a workplace that is more democratic and inclusive; others deride them as pampered whiners who can't adapt to the real world. The question of course is, are they really that different than the groups that preceded them, or are we all just believing the press?
Much of the negative press on Millennials paints them as self-centered, needy and spending too much time posting to stuff to social media sites on their phones. Some social scientists claim this is the result of getting participation ribbons all the way through school, and being raised by helicopter parents who make them feel like the center of the universe. There are even horror stories of these kids demanding ridiculous salaries for entry level jobs, and parents inserting themselves into the workplace when they feel their children have been short changed. To be honest, however, over the past 10 years or so (when Millennials first entered the workplace) I have hired and managed quite a few members of this cohort and those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Yes many misjudge what they are worth to the marketplace, but when push comes to shove they usually adapt.
Most of the time, Millennials are tech savvy workers who are eager to learn and interested in contributing to the organization. Yes they tend to overestimate the value of their contributions and underestimate the value of experience, but to be honest, I'm pretty sure we all did that at their age. The difference for Millennials is they grew up with technology and aren't always taught the importance of direct human interaction. Many have also not been taught the importance of paying dues, and learning to follow before you learn to lead. They have also been told their whole life how great they are and in many cases not taught how to take corrective feedback. But that's not their fault that is their parents fault. Regardless of whose fault it is, however, it is our job to teach them how to properly function in the workplace. Why do we have to do this? Because if we don't no one will. How do we do this? We do this by being very patient, very honest and very clear. As I said earlier, we were all young once.
So are there challenges in working with Millennials? Sure there are, but they are not many more challenging than any cohort at that age. When working with them focus on what they can add, teach them how the business world really works, and give them the opportunity to make mistakes in a controlled environment so that they can learn what they should and should not do without do any permanent damage. They'll come around eventually, we just have to be a bit more patient with them than we remember others being with us.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.