I've read countless articles on the alien invasion taking over the workforce. The "Millennials," as these creatures are affectionately or despairingly called, are unlike anything previously encountered. Companies around the globe are scrambling to figure out these Millennials, and are struggling to attract, engage, develop, and retain these novel specimens.
Lost in the hubbub, though, is the fact that Millennials are people. Regardless of generation, human tendencies and desires are actually quite similar. Some time ago, I led an alignment session with a senior executive team and I was struck by something: At the core, this group of accomplished leaders had the same basic needs as entry-level workers. They wanted to be heard; they wanted more face time; they wanted to make a difference.
Though the approach to meet the needs of different groups may vary, the desires across generations overlap to a striking degree. Sure, Millennials like to receive positive feedback, but doesn't everyone? The difference is that they might prefer to have it sent to them via "badges" they can collect online. While this is certainly different from a handwritten thank-you note, the purpose and outcome are the same. Baby Boomers may feel that nothing could ever take the place of a face-to-face meeting to build relationships, but Millennials might be equally comfortable doing so via Web chats and video conversations. Different approaches but, again, a shared goal: networking and building relationships.
Every generation is unique. Each one grew up in a world that was different from that of the the preceding generations. Millennials grew up with what is now our present reality--it is the prior generations who are trying to catch up. It's unfair to say that Millennials in the workplace are a problem that needs to be solved. Just as Baby Boomers and Generation X must continue to find ways to adapt, Millennials must be patient and learn to navigate through existing norms that will not change overnight.
Millennials bring many admirable characteristics to the table. They tend to embrace collaboration and recognize the importance of harnessing input from multiple sources. They are open to new ideas and change. They are the most accepting generation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The real question is not how do companies cater to the whims and needs of Millennials. It is what do we need to do to get everyone to adapt more quickly to the changing world. Here are three steps to moving toward a positive and productive multi-generational workplace.
- Consider your company culture and mission. Identify the aspects of these that are core to what you do. These transcend generations and should remain largely unchanged. Common areas here are attributes such as personal responsibility, inclusiveness, and customer service.
- Identify areas where generational differences should be embraced. People are not completely homogenous, and attempts to converge everything can be disastrous. Some people really want to be in the office all of the time. Others prefer working remotely or in the office, depending on the situation. In most instances, a one-size-fits-all policy will not be effective.
- Identify ways to make all comfortable with change. And do what it takes to usher your company into new realms. Years ago, there was a program called "Meet the Mouse" to help people who were uncomfortable with computers. While seemingly elementary, such moves are sometimes necessary to help people adapt and move forward-- and embrace the change instead of resisting it.
By embracing such moves, you can deepen understanding of how to foster a great workplace across generations--and shift the focus away from viewing Millennials as a problem to be solved. Because the real challenge is to create a workforce in which the needs of different generations can be met uniquely, while still adhering to foundational principles your business needs to succeed.
Share your thoughts below. What should be the same across generations? What should be different?