Entitled and lazy or innovative and adaptive? Here’s how to embrace Millennials in your organization’s workforce.

MillennialsImageThe newest label for the current generation entering the workforce is “millennial” or “Gen Y.” They’re labeled as lazy, entitled and probably-living-with-mom-and-dad. As a Gen X, I remember similar criticism toward my generation from the Baby Boomers. So rather than focusing on the negative characteristics of millennials (slackers who are digitally obsessed), I want to highlight the positive aspects of millennials (innovators who are tech-savvy) and emphasize how important it is to change and adapt in order to have a successful working relationship with them. Like it or not, the talent pool of millennials is growing, and personally, I am excited for them. They are ready to learn, excited to contribute, connected and responsive, but often misunderstood due to their different motivations.

When I think back to my own fresh face as a new college grad beginning my first “real” job, I recognize how much has changed. My first office had abacuses (not really… Gen X isn’t that old), land-lines, paper ledgers, and fax machines, items nearly extinct in today’s technologically advanced world. With smart phones and tablets in today’s world, information is now available and communication is possible anytime, anywhere. As the more tech savvy generation, millennials enjoy being connected and the potential technology provides them. Moreover, these millennials tackled Microsoft Office early in life (high school and college group projects), type faster than 85 WPM (online chatting) and have the skillset to multitask and prioritize even as a newly hired staff. Take advantage of this by arming them with the latest gadgets to optimize their work product and provide flexibility. This would include opportunities for e-learning, webinar meetings, and telecommuting options, because millennials want to continually learn and be challenged, but not at the expense of a personal life.

Millennials also enjoy opportunities to continually collaborate and participate. In fact, they thrive from contributing, being challenged, and constantly learning. Utilize this passion by abandoning the archaic “pay your dues” mentality of assigning copying and meal ordering to newly hired Millennials, and assign them work that will challenge them to learn, grow, and feel valuable. Then, leverage their social media knowledge, expand your own network (LinkedIn and Facebook) and enable involvement by continually seeking their feedback. Times, they are a changing, and gone are the seniority barriers for good ideas. Millennials have peers who have launched multimillion-dollar companies or become successful entrepreneurs all before graduating college, and they themselves have been pitted into competitive environments from the age of five. As a result, they are full of good ideas or at a minimum, feedback that may help you drive change to address weaknesses and make the working environment more suitable for millennial success. While experience still provides valuable insight, inexperience no longer suggests an inability to contribute. Millennials want to make a difference, so create a channel for them to do exactly this.

This new generation thinks differently than my Gen X cronies. They make different sacrifices than us but don’t be too quick to stereotype them as lazy sloths living at home with mom and dad. It’s my belief that this is a result of some millennials witnessing their own parents begrudging work their entire lives thereby encouraging their own search for happiness with a job they truly love, even if that means living at home longer than desired. More and more, it is becoming the norm for a millennial to give up the big salary in exchange for something meaningful or flexible. Something that inspires them to create change, be a part of something spectacular, and make a difference. To me, that’s commendable and tremendously exciting that I could have a millennial employee motivated for true purpose and balance unheard of in my own generation.

Millennials. Don’t doubt their intentions, dismiss their notions, or dwell on the differences of this new millennial generation… instead engage them and highlight their strengths to help your organization.

When I told my BlueSky Operations and Finance team I wanted to focus on highlighting methods for enhancing working relationships with these so called Gen Y Millennials, they seemed doubtful and immediately told me they couldn’t provide insight as they were outliers themselves. “Sorry Jeff, we’re definitely NOT Millennials.” They considered themselves unfortunate mislabels born in the span of years that wrongfully stereotyped them. They reminded me they were hard working, determined, and focused unlike their peers and I reminded them that they were also tech savvy, creative, and motivated, multitasking working moms who had left their prior Big 4 jobs in order to obtain some flexibility with work while raising their kids. Their response was silence, which I took to mean they concurred. I guess you can learn something from a Gen X… even in this millennial world.

For further insight into the world of working with millennials, read these great articles about how Millennials think and what to do about it and embracing the Millennials’ mind-set.