I'm a card-carrying member of Generation X, but some of my best work colleagues are Millennials. They take a lot of heat as a generation, and I sympathize, because I remember that back in the 1990s, we GenXers heard a lot of the same crap.
We weren't willing to work hard, supposedly, and we were all self-centered "slackers." (Then we went out and built Netscape and Amazon and Google and thousands of other companies, and created art and won championships, and led troops in war, and pretty much put that silly talk to rest.)
My colleague J.T. O'Donnell wrote a great article recently about some of the work pitfalls Millennials run into that can even wind up getting them fired. However, whether as a result of fortune or fortitude, Millennials bring a different approach to work--maybe sometimes a better one.
So I asked hundreds of entrepreneurs and leaders: "What's the single best thing you've learned about success at work from your colleagues who were born after 1980?" I also asked Millennials what they wished their older colleagues would recognize about them. Here are some of the best and most surprising replies. (Let me know if you have other examples to add.)
1. From a GenXer: "Get to the point!"
"The single best thing I've learned from Millennials: Get to the point. … They are direct and bold, sometimes even outright fearless. Shocked me at first, but they're getting things done and not letting things stand in their way. Companies run leaner and results are expected more quickly."
--Barb Agostini, partner at Recruiting Social
2. From a Boomer: "Sharing is more important than owning."
"I recruit, teach, and connect with Millennials all the time. The most important thing I've learned is that relationships and connectedness is more important than individual knowledge and skills, and sharing is more important than owning."
--Dr. Diane Gayeski, dean, Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College
3. From a GenXer: "Be fearless."
"I lead a team that's almost exclusively comprised of Millennials. The most evident trait among this group--and the one that inspires me the most--is their fearlessness in everything they do. … They're not bogged down by conventions or rules, and have the courage to take a stand and approach things their own way. Their bold approach to getting things done is a constant energizer and competitive advantage in terms of Crowdtap's ability to adapt and innovate quickly and with passion."
--Mindy Davis, senior vice president, professional services, at Crowdtap
4. From a Millennial: "Don't choose money first."
"I'm a Millennial born in 1990 .. in the Philippines, [and] I grew up in suburban New Jersey watching GenXers slave away at work, hate their jobs, and fear financial insecurity. As a Millennial, I believe GenXers can learn from me that earning money at the cost of your well-being is not worth it. Instead, I believe purpose is the key to success in our social, tech-driven, rapidly changing world."
--Sabrina Atienza, CEO and founder of Qurious
5. From a GenXer: "Recognize your bad habits."
"I believe the generational gap between these groups is overblown, at least in the workplace. I think the biggest gain in working with younger workers is that our own bad habits (such as poor communication) that we older workers have formed over a long career become more apparent to us. Working with younger people can be the slap in the face that we need."
--Michael Ortner, CEO of Capttera
6. From a Millennial: "Make more mistakes."
"One thing we Millennials can impart to GenXers is how we view failure. Our generation would rather have dared than not attempted at all. We not only embrace mistakes, but look forward to making more mistakes faster. With the influx of information available at our disposal, we are past hoping for the best in every endeavor and instead prepare ourselves for the worst. Older colleagues tend to view failure as one step forward, two steps back."
--Lysa Marie Angeli P. Britanico, social media coordinator, Azeus Systems Limited
7. From a Millennial: "Be self-centered--but in a good way."
"We've been labeled as self-centered, and instant-gratification obsessed. I'm not saying this isn't true, but it can have its benefits. Instant gratification turns into the need for constant progress, being self-centered turns into the ability to relate to people on a very basic, human level--because we want their attention. Stagnation is our biggest enemy, and when we feel it rearing its ugly head, we will do anything to push it back."
--Reza Jafrey, co-founder and marketing director, Casual Solutions, LLC
8. From a Millennial: "Learn to multitask."
"The Millennial workforce can multitask like no other. I think it's a result of the fact that [we] are balancing full time jobs and parenting more than any previous generation, especially the females. In addition, we were exposed to the social media technology boom at a young enough age [and] we quickly adopted the custom of engaging in multiple conversations at once. All of this has created a generation of people who can do 10 things at once, and usually fairly effectively."
--Carrie Wiley, public relations manager, GoodCall.com
9. From a Boomer: "Don't be afraid of change."
"One of the most important things I've learned from working with Millennials is the importance of agility. I can't be afraid of change, and it's important for me to constantly look toward the future and own the trends--versus simply react to them."
--Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate
10. From a GenXer: "Give prompt feedback."
"One surprising note I've learned from my younger colleagues is developing a preference for receiving (and giving) on-the-spot feedback. It's a change from the traditional corporate coaching model, but a shift that I've found refreshing and efficient."
--Anna Ettin, co-founder of Bank of America's Inter-Generational Employee Network (IGEN)
11. From a Millennial: "Accept that sometimes we're just more efficient."
"I'm going to go ahead and declare my generation one of the most efficient and productive generations. … [T]echnology alone has always throttled efficiently launching startups without massive amounts of capital--today, they're launching left and right."
--Jason Fisher, owner of BestLifeRates.org
12. From a Millennial: "Also, we're more mobile."
"As a generation, we have much more of an entrepreneurial spirit, which emanates from both a generation that grew up online and from our values. Unlike previous generations, statistically we're more likely to find a new job or start our own if we're not being treated fairly by an employer."
--Jessica Steele, Steele Social Media
13. From a Boomer: "They're harder workers than we give them credit for."
"Millennials are often given a bad rap. … I find them to be hardworking especially when the work is meaningful. Millennials are definitely connected with technology but also appreciate the power of personal connection. … Do I think they have a lot to learn? Sure, but don't we all?"
--Dr. Chester Goad, Tennessee Technological University
14. From a Millennial: "Learn from our social consciousness."
"GenXers can learn from [our] social consciousness. We are a generation that embraces companies that care. Millennials have high expectations when it comes to corporate social responsibility. It could be the determining factor whether a Millennial makes a purchase or works for a company."
--Sarah Pendley, media director, StatusLabs.com
15. From a Boomer: "Get off the phone!"
"I grew up communicating in person and via the telephone. … Millennials that work with me have demonstrated that emails and texts can provide a much more rapid vehicle for moving through our basic communications. … We mutually agree that if the subject is more complex or has the potential to be misinterpreted, we will talk live."
--Jill Johnson, Johnson Consulting Services
16. From a Millennial: "Set high expectations."
"What have I learned from Millennials at work? [We] need high expectations. … I can tell you we're incredibly emotional creatures. Not in a cry-at-work kind of way but a what-does-it-all-mean kind of way. We are looking to make a real impact and for careers and experiences that feed the soul."
--Ursula Lauriston, founder of CapitolStandard.com
17. From a Millennial: "Separate your business from your personal life."
"If a Millennial abruptly quits working for you, expect to be blocked on all social media. … Try not to take it personally. [Also], job satisfaction is extremely important to Millennials (over salary) and if they feel you are impacting their overall state of happiness, they have no problem leaving and would prefer to be unemployed then do a job they hate."
--Kris Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group
18. From a GenXer: "Take vacations and long weekends."
"I'm 40, and my generation tends to be driven and goal-oriented. We like to work hard and play hard. … As I came into contact with Millennials, and had some working for me, I learned to slow down a bit, and appreciate (and expect!) more balance in my life. Rather than working until I'm nearly burned out before letting myself take a vacation, I schedule vacations, extended weekends, and downtime throughout the year--and I'm happier for it."
--Nina B. Ries, principal of Ries Law Group
19. From a Millennial: "Build a culture around a purpose."
"I'm a Millennial, and I'm the CEO of a company that employs quite a few Millennials. The biggest thing I've learned is how important it is to build a company culture that is centered around a collective sense of purpose. Millennials are sometimes criticized for expecting fancy perks to motivate them in the workplace, but … they're much more motivated by the feeling that they're a part of something meaningful, building something that makes a positive impact on the world around us."
--Josh Reeves, CEO of ZenPayroll
20. From a Millennial: "Question everything."
"I'm technically considered a Millennial (I was born in '83), but … earlier in my career, I did not relate to most Millennial ideals. Today, most of my employees are Millennial, and I’ve learned so many things from them. The most important … is to question all basic assumptions. Millennials seem to only do things when they understand why and they value that reason. For example, older generations 'know' you need to stay at a job for at least two years. Millennials ask why they would waste two years if they're not happy?"
--Drew Thomas, founder and CTO, Brolik
21. From a GenXer: "Information wants to be free."
"Millennials are exceptionally experienced in sharing and being transparent: what they are thinking, what they want, how they feel. They've also grown up in an environment where information is fast, easily accessible, frequently free, and virtually limitless. This mindset is very liberating. From a business standpoint, it can foster a culture that is open, exciting and that can drive exceptional results."
--Jim Minnick, co-founder and CEO, eVestment.
22. From a GenXer: "Embrace work-life balance."
"This generation gets a bad rap; some say they don't work as hard, they bounce around from job to job, they don't buy houses, cars, etc. Some of this may be true, but hey, that's a product of the economic climate they grew up in. I've personally learned that Millennials have a lot to offer when it comes to stress and work-life balance. They know what's important and what isn't. They know how to live and enjoy the small moments in life. And you know what? They are happier for it. And that means I have happier employees. Happy employees work harder and are more productive. They might not stick around for 10 years, but that doesn't bother me."
--Leon Rbibo, founder and CEO of The Pearl Source
23. From a Boomer: "Focus on social media."
"I'm a Boomer, and Millennials have shown me over the past few years how important it is to have great social media skills. … I've stopped hiring people who don't have social media skills and started hiring people with social, data analytic, multimedia, and video skills. And I'm now rethinking how our team is structured and organized so we can drive social engagement like never before."
--Pat Stortz, VP of corporate communications at AT&T