As the owner of a shipping company in Puyallup, Washington, Pavel Vosk didn't realize how little he understood his demographic until he had to hire them. Some of the applicants his age--he started the company when he was 20--who sought administrative and driver positions arrived with an unappealing vibe.
"Their attitude was one of boredom, arrogance, that they were above the job," says Vosk. He learned to respond by focusing on something Millennials value: teamwork. To prod those who often showed up late and didn't respect authority, Vosk explained that their tardiness genuinely inconvenienced the rest of the team.
"I'd ask how they'd feel if the shoe were on the other foot and kept emphasizing how their actions hurt not me but their co-workers," he says. His strategy clicked. "As soon as they realized how their individual work mattered to the team's success, they thrived."
Certainly, not all Millennials adhere to these traits, and this generation continues to evolve even as Gen Z comes into the picture. Vosk, now 27, sold his company in 2015 and today works as a management consultant, specializing in employee engagement with a focus on--no surprise--Millennials.
How to relate to Millennials
First, listen. Millennials want to provide input and be heard, a tall order when the boss may be decades older with micromanagement tendencies.
"Companies that want to retain their best Millennial talent need to ensure they're not alienating them," says Bob Kulhan, founder and CEO of the consultancy Business Improv, whose roster of clients--including Google, American Express, and Hilton Worldwide--are seeking to address Millennial-centric issues.
The core of Kulhan's methodology, described in Getting to "Yes And": The Art of Business Improv, is losing the put-down response "Yes, but," which, he says, denies, negates, and restricts the offerings of younger workers who thrive on collaboration.
"It's a sure way to undermine morale and motivation," says Kulhan. In contrast, if you say "Yes, and," you signal an openness to sharing information and moving toward a jointly created solution.
Deliver what you promise
The seeds of miscommunication can be sowed even before a Millennial comes on board. "A promise made by an employer during the interview sets up expectations," says Bill Pelster, managing partner of Bersin by Deloitte, the Oakland, California-based research arm of Deloitte Consulting.
Pelster cites an incident at a Silicon Valley firm involving a new Millennial hire who was told, in passing, that she could take a specific software course within three months. When her manager suddenly canceled that class, she told her family she would quit. After a rethink, she calmly spoke to her manager, who, it turns out, had no idea how much the opportunity meant to her.
"A more mature strategy would have been for her to confirm the company's commitment on the spot, but Millennials aren't fans of long, drawn-out communication," says Pelster. Because of Millennials' preference for working in an abbreviated world with direct verbal and written exchanges, he says, older managers should push for these employees' greater participation in face-to-face meetings and longer conversations--where context and visual cues can foster better communication.
Get real or they'll get lost
The best way to address generational issues is to show there aren't any.
"A short, inexpensive, and energetically edited video, posted on the company's website and various social media, can zero in on the culture, dress code, layout--cubicles or open space--and personnel associated with the new position," says Skylar Werde, a consultant and trainer at BridgeWorks, a consultancy in Wayzata, Minnesota, whose focus is resolving generational friction in the workplace.
HR can't always convey in words how Millennial-friendly a business is, he says, which is why many of BridgeWorks' clients have used informal, inviting videos to capture the workplace essence. "Millennials who like what they see in the visual preview--sometimes no longer than a minute--and can also picture themselves there are every company's dream candidates," he says.
The Next Wave Is Already Here
Who are they?
Suffused with praise from their Boomer parents, many Millennials got used to having their voices heard early on. And there are a lot of voices: 80 million of them. Inclusiveness is a must, served up in a collaborative setting. "Their rallying cry is 'a win for one is a win for the team,' which explains all those open-floor plans," says David Stillman, a consultant and co-author of The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace. Their expectations to get promoted quickly have made them difficult to retain, says Stillman: "Employers typically crossed their fingers that these new hires were merely going through a phase and that they'd come around." That didn't quite happen. If you can't accommodate their sometimes contradictory demands, they have a habit of leaving.
The Gen Z or young Millennial factor
The cadre following the Millennials, Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2012, and the youngest Millennials, now 22, share some traits. Gen-Zers are also eager for authenticity. But they prefer cubicles, says Stillman, because their Gen X parents emphasized hard work and individual effort. Raised in tougher economic times, they possess a win-or-lose survival mentality. They are clever at streamlining and simplifying procedures, and often have entrepreneurial side gigs. That's energy you can harness.
Stillman says many owners assume their Millennial leaders will figure it all out, ignoring the fact that the best strategy is training them to recognize Gen Z traits and understand those workers' motivations. The job interview is a chance to attract both these cohorts by meeting applicants' values and being completely candid. Amy Thayer, research director at Achieve, a marketing agency in Indianapolis, cites a company that overhauled its philanthropy to allow employees to select charities. That's just one way Millennials and Gen-Zers can feel they have made a difference.
Deconstructing the Millennial generation
There are two kinds
- Early Millennials (born between 1980 and 1987) are collaborative and optimistic.
- Recessionist Millennials (1987 to 1995) are realistic, financially savvy, and ultra connected, according to BridgeWorks.
What they want
- Early Millennials want autonomy: "Choosing the hours I work," "Having input about my work," "Owning my own company."
- Recessionist Millennials want financial stability: "Spending freely without hesitation," "Making enough money to pay off debts," "Saving and investing."
Source: 2017 BridgeWorks 3G Report
Becoming less impatient
According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey, the number of Millennials seeking new employment within two years is decreasing. Over the past year, Millennials have become a little more loyal.
Source: 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey
Millennials who expect to leave within two years
- 2016: 44%
- 2017: 38%
Millennials who expect to stay beyond five years
- 2016: 27%
- 2017: 31%
Percentage of each generation who think it is appropriate to text and surf the net during work hours:
- Boomers: 12%
- Gen X: 14%
- Millennials: 18%
- Gen Z: 6%
Source: The Center for Generational Kinetics