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Simon Sinek’s viral interview on millennials in the workplace has imposed the topic into the minds of a global audience. Well informed and balanced, Sinek discusses the challenges and pitfalls facing the generation. This morning, at a client meeting I was asked for my opinion on the subject; this is a tough one for me because A. I am a millennial and B. according to most sources, this seems to be a bad thing.
To some the mere definition of millennial or Gen Y seems to be a cause for debate. In 2016 Pew Research Center cited those born between the years of 1981 -1997 to define the generation but just two years prior, Neilson stated it as between 1977- 1995. Towards the end of last year, articles denoting the differences between older and younger millennials started popping up in a bid to appease those born in the early ‘80s and I have met many people who fiercely declare themselves to be Gen X regardless of their date of birth. But what does it matter?
Yes, unlike someone born in the mid-nineties, I remember life before the internet, I didn’t own a mobile phone during childhood and I remember recording songs onto cassette from the radio (I know, cassettes – remember those?) but given the twenty or so years between generations, differences such as these are to be expected. The difference in outlook of those born in 1946 to those born in 1965 must have felt equally extreme as they entered the workforce.
The main difference I can tell between my older millennial peers and more recent members of the club is that I had just landed my first grown-up, post university job when the GFC hit. This meant that the companies we had joined as wide eyed graduates had executives which may have worked thirty plus years in the same company (one of my first directors started out as a stockroom assistant). Starting your career in that environment taught loyalty, determination and gave mentors you could look up to. On the flip side, the GFC also demonstrated that external factors could massively impact your career which was a harsh reality check for a generation taught to believe that if you worked hard you could achieve anything.
In a world of start-up millionaires this ethic seems to be fading. Graduates entering the work force do not necessarily plan on spending the next thirty years within the same career let alone business and it is increasingly common for candidates to change employers year on year. But why? A report by Gallup last year mentions that growing up, millennials witnessed the stress and extended working hours of their parents which has meant that they are “far less willing to sacrifice their lives for work. They want to be judged on their results, not time spent on the clock.”
A generalised view of what Gen X and the Baby Boomers think of millennials is that they (we?) can’t take feedback, want to be paid more than deserved, are entitled and have no company loyalty. Ouch. But given that for the past year at least, millennials have been the largest living generation, it seems rash to dismiss them as valuable employees; companies need to find a way to keep them engaged.
When I’m meeting millennial candidates, the key requirements of their next role tend to be similar and in many ways speak to the views of other generations. They want a mentor, a collaborative environment, career development and a sense of ownership in their work. Should their role not satisfy these requirements they are open to other opportunities with a staggering 60% currently floating their CVs.
So how can you keep Gen Y employees engaged?
Be a mentor and give regular feedback. Most candidates are looking for progression and an annual review won’t cut it. To take the shock out of negative feedback it needs to be a standard part of the dialogue and put in the context of future goals. What does the employee want to achieve? What do they need to do to get there? What are the potential road blocks in the way? What do they need to do navigate these? These are all relevant and necessary questions to keep honest communication flowing.
Another key thing to remember is that millennials are not work shy. They are happy to put in the hours, effort and dedication necessary but they want to know their work has a purpose, will have an impact on the business as a whole and will be acknowledged. It is important for millennials to know that they are working towards a goal and acknowledgement of work well done is an easy way of doing this. This is not to say you need to be handing out compliments for someone merely doing their job but if they go above and beyond, adding value to your business it should be recognised. Through giving staff projects which they can own (with support) you will give them a sense of achievement and keeping them more engaged with the wider business and their place in it.
Finally, remember that few of us walked straight out of university into the career of our dreams and stayed there. We live in a society where it is acceptable to change your mind when it comes to your career journey and as on any journey, twists and turns are to be expected. How long any employee, regardless of generational profile, stays within a business is down to how valued and supported they feel. What employers need to be mindful of is that what it takes to make employees feel valued and supported is changing and they need to adapt in order to encourage retention.