Tips + Tricks: Millennials in the Workplace
I noted in the first part of this series that the Millennial population has recently surpassed Generation X as the majority of the American workforce. Although there are documented differences in the way these two generations approach their jobs, it’s worth attempting to understand these differences so that effective collaboration is possible.
Of course, broad characteristics of a generation are not universally applicable. They’re generalizations, and every individual member of a generation is unique. It’s worth noting that certain trends about Millennials in the workplace surfaced as I was conducting research and interviews.
My last column highlighted some of the positive characteristics of Millennials in the workplace, according to their Generation X colleagues. This installment broaches some of the challenges that Generation X professionals encounter while working with their Millennial colleagues.
Here is some feedback for Millennials in the workplace from their Generation X colleagues:
Practice Phone Skills
We’ve all done it before: engage in back-and-forth texting that goes on for hours. In the end, it probably would have been faster to pick up the phone and have a verbal conversation. Communicating orally, rather than through written language, can be more efficient. My Generation X peers that I spoke to felt like Millennials sometimes forget there are ways to communicate outside of text, email, and direct messaging. If you don’t hear back from someone, rather than waiting for days, missing deadlines or getting annoyed, pick up the phone and call them.
Because communication so easily happens via short-form messaging, Danita Delimont says that some Millennials need to practice their phone skills. Delimont is the owner of an online photography business, Danita Delimont Stock Photography. Delimont encourages her employees to sit in on teleconferences so she can mentor them on phone communication skills.
Remember Business Etiquette
Janis Machala, Managing Partner at Paladin Partners, coaches her executive clients on keeping correspondence with their Millennial colleagues highly professional. Paladin Partners is an executive coaching and business advisory firm. As workers have transitioned from communicating via handwritten note to electronic communication and now to texting and instant messaging, Machala has noticed a loss of business decorum. “When r u free for yr 1:1,” does not meet Machala’s standard of elevated professionalism that she expects in her work environment. Machala suggests that employees who are in the position of managing Millennials establish clear standards of communication.
Machala also notes that it’s important to follow up when you receive work correspondence. It’s not okay to drop communication without explanation or not to acknowledge job applications or inquiries when they are received. When you’ve agreed to take on a project, commit to really working on it. If something else important comes up, maintain open communication with your co-workers. A culture of anonymity and lack of accountability that is possible online is harmful in the workplace.
Stick with It
I know Millennials (and younger) who demonstrate perseverance in difficult situations, but every one of the Generation X professionals that I interviewed in managerial roles mentioned observing a lack of “grit” in the Millennial generation. Paul Hanken is the owner of NxNW, a Seattle-based property management firm. “Sometimes it seems as if people can’t solve a problem in 10 seconds, they give up,” says Hanken. Or they’ll say, “I didn’t see the email, or I was waiting for someone to tell me what to do.”
Employers value employees who stick with a challenge until the end. They are driven by solutions, and creatively attempt different solutiond until they find the best one. This kind of approach demonstrates a level of care and attention to your work. It also takes the pressure off your colleagues to continually give directions.
Delimont wonders if this trend emerges from the immediacy of smartphones. The younger generation is used to accessing information at the tap of a button (or more recently, a single voice query). Even a four-year old can find out what type of airplanes are flying overhead or what time the corner store opens its door every day. For a certain sector of the population, it is hard to imagine where information comes from if it cannot be summoned on your smartphone.
Expect to Work Hard
Perhaps it is the untempered confidence of youth in every generation, but the Generation X managers I spoke to cautioned new entrants into the workplace against assuming they can walk into any environment and understand it.
The Generation X population can feel frustrated by how quickly Millennials expect to advance in their careers. In Delimont’s opinion, “They don’t understand that you have to learn the ropes before you can move into senior roles.”
At one point or another, most people have felt like they can offer an unprecedented level of expertise to a company. And to be sure, some of us can. But it is important to recognize that people with more experience have something unique to offer. “Knowledge is not the same thing as having wisdom,” says Hanken. “Wisdom often requires the experience of making a lot of mistakes.”
We are all aware of the stereotype that Millennials require constant affirmation. According to Leah Klein, a process engineer at NanoString Technologies, Millennials offer as many compliments as they expect to receive from others. Klein’s first manager was a Millennial, and she appreciated his frequent affirmations of her work contributions. “It was very motivating,” says Klein. “Millennials learned to express gratitude in school, and we didn’t.”
Machala agrees. She encourages her coaching clients to provide more positive reinforcement than they think is appropriate. Some managers resent the expectation that they need to “coddle” their employees. Everybody likes to feel included, and like their work is valued. It pays off when you see your employees blossom. “I know a lot of people who stay in their place of work because they feel appreciated,” says Hanken.
Learn How to Disconnect
We can all listen to this advice now and again. How many times have you seen an entire table of people staring at their phones? Some Millennials are glued to their phones at the dinner table and during business meetings. “Whether they are scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, or instant messaging their friends, this is often an indication of multitasking in any person. “It is important to put down your phone and look people in the eye,” says Hanken. Hanken tells her coaching clients to create clear expectations about meeting decorum.
Delimont objects to all kinds of multitasking in the office. “It’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. If you get engrossed, it can be a time suck and can result in wasting time when you are getting paid,” says Delimont.
In my next column, I will provide a space for a select few Millennials to share their own experience of navigating the workplace.