It's hard to generalize about an entire generation, but with Millennials there are some commonalities that might be wise to reference.
When I was 16, in 1991, the American media spent a lot of time generalizing about the traits of everyone born in the mid-60s and '70s and early '80s. First, there was Douglas Coupland's famous book Generation X. The next 10 years would produce a gaggle of glossy cover stories, all of which felt comfortable labeling those of us who happened to be born within a roughly 20-year window.
In an era priding itself on devotion to categorical sensitivities--an era when teachers openly discussed the dangers (with sociological and anthropological evidence) of generalizing about any large group, be it a gender or an ethnicity--suddenly the one thing it was acceptable to generalize about was everyone.
It made no sense then. It makes less sense now.
But with that rant off my chest, I want to introduce a helpful article on mentoring Millennials--also known as Generation Y--that recently appeared on Monster.com. Is it true that all (or even most) Millennials are purpose-driven technology lovers who crave an abundance of feedback and instruction? I doubt it, and that's certainly not what the article's author, Catherine Conlan, is suggesting. But to the extent that one can, indeed, generalize about the youngest members of today's work force, Conlan's tips for coaching and motivating are worth your time:
1. Help them connect. "Millennial employees grew up with social media and texting, but they can also be highly isolated in 'real life' because of overreliance on technology for communication," Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, told Conlan. "This has led to poor people skills, low emotional intelligence, and the inability to handle interpersonal challenges," he said.
The upshot? Millennials may crave one-on-one relationships, but they will need some help when it comes to making these relationships stick and resonate. You can help the process by being careful about mentor-mentee pairings. The Inc. article "How to Start a Mentoring Program" provides a template for doing this--specifically, a strategy that McGraw-Hill Education uses to match its mentors and mentees.
2. Make it fruitful for the mentor, too. "Pair up the rookies with company veterans to form mutually beneficial mentorships," Elmore continued. The mentor can dish the details about company culture and institutional knowledge. The mentee can teach the mentor about trendy technology.
My own Millennial mentee, Inc.'s Adam Vaccaro, wrote about this recently. One pointer: Though technology seems like the perfect topic for younger employees to teach, it is not the only topic. "For instance," Vaccaro writes, "this is a great way to expose your employees--both older and younger--to generational differences that will help them better think about your company and their jobs both now and in the future."
Put another way: Millennials can give older employees (including leadership team members) a fresh perspective on the ideas or sociocultural trends that have the potential to threaten or disrupt the existing business model. For example, an old hotel owner might not have seen Airbnb coming. His youngest employees probably would have.
3. Think long term. Ideally, your business will still be around for the next generation. By properly mentoring Millennial employees, you have a better chance of retaining them. They can then become the leaders in your organization when their predecessors retire or move on to other opportunities, notes Conlan.
"For businesses to thrive and grow, it is crucial to teach Millennials who will become the work force leaders of tomorrow not just the skills for the job but the nuances of conducting business," said Elmore.
In other words, the more you invest (fiscally and emotionally) in your young workers, the more likely it is they'll become engaged to your organization's mission. And the more likely it is they'll remain committed to it, in the long term--that is, of course, until the next generation comes along to take their place.