How to work with millennials

By: 
Jul. 15, 2016

I readily own up to being part of a cottage industry that's geared toward helping employers attract millennials to their workplaces and cater to their needs to maintain their loyalty. After seeing a blog written by a clearly self-centered millennial — focused on what employers must do to keep her and her cohorts happy — I was irritated and inspired to bring some badly needed clarity to this topic.

Let's start with the use of the word millennial. Many younger employees I have worked with express some resentment about the broad assumptions made by older co-workers and senior leaders concerning the behavior of those who fall into this peer group. Obviously, it's unfair to paint everyone who falls in this demographic with the same brush, but employers do face a challenge in differentiating between those who consider themselves entitled — and thus will be impatient for success and willing to change jobs at the first instance of unhappiness —and those who seek to be engaged employees and earn advancement (the traditional way).

It comes down to this: as a manager or the owner of a business, you shouldn't feel the need to cater to millennials; instead, you should identify individuals of that generation whose talent and values are compatible with your culture. That process begins in the interview, when you must be open and honest about what you're looking for in employees and disclose how far you're willing to go to keep them happy — and see if it's a match with the person sitting on the other side of the desk.

While it's true we're all shaped by our experiences and values — and there are differences between priorities and expectations in each generation — the question is who should be modifying their behavior and when can there be compromise on both parts? As an employer hoping to ensure employee engagement from this generation, you need to assess how flexible you can afford to be as an organization and remain true to your company's values, priorities and bottom-line goals.

An essential part of this process starts with clarifying the values of your organization. When defining your corporate culture, it's important to understand the three things needed for
something to be considered full value, according to Raths, Harmin and Simon (researchers studying values):

Choosing. Must be chosen freely after thoughtful consideration of consequences or alternatives.

Prizing. Must be cherished and made known to people — publicly affirming.

Acting. Must be translated into behaviors that are consistent with chosen value and integrated into lifestyle.

The value gap can cause a lot more problems than the generation gap, but don't forget that values can change, especially as younger people gain more business experience. For instance, a millennial I know announced that she was taking three weeks off right after receiving a promotion and a raise — something that raised eyebrows and taught her a lesson about the importance of timing. (She'll never do that again.)

An interesting exercise I've led when consulting on this topic is to see how people's work lives are aligned with their values. This can be particularly illuminating with younger employees, who might not “get it” yet about what's necessary to have long-term career success. Ironically enough, millennials who are “Star Performers” in a company have usually adopted some of the work ethic and values of the previous generation.

While it can be a challenge to work with some millennials, I've seen amazing transformations occur when leaders invest in young people they perceive as having something special. The bottom line: Focus on values rather than age and you'll end up with a team that works hard and supports company growth.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: dfederer@fpmg.info