For all the complaining about Millennials and their approach to the modern workplace, they are actually responsible for much of the change happening in the modern workforce. Their entry into the workforce, was accompanied by a slew of stereotypes, followed recently by a round of myth-busting, with statistics and all, aimed at debunking those stereotypes. As an “ancient Millennial” myself (a term I borrow from journalist Jessica Grose), I can attest that at least some of the stereotypes come from kernels of truth, but like most stereotypes , they must be taken with a grain of salt. More importantly, many of the changes Millennials bring to the workplace are actually good for everyone. Change is always hard, so it’s natural to initially oppose or question the forces of change. However, most of the changes that Millennials have brought about have actually made for a better workplace.
The influence of the Millennial generation is not to be underestimated, if for no other reason than its size. According to a recent report from SHRM, (“Millennials: Misunderstood in the workplace?”) as Baby Boomers exit the workforce, an even greater number of Millennials will continue to enter the workforce to take their place. In fact, it is estimated that Millennial workers (those born between 1980 and 2000) will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020. And, according to Pew, they already make up the largest overall share of workforce, having surpassed Gen X’ers in 2015. With those facts established, here are four reasons to welcome the Millennial influence:
Generalization #1: They need constant feedback: Millennials grew up in a feedback culture. Some say that Millennials are obsessed with getting positive feedback (you’ve likely heard of the “trophy generation”, but put simply, it is the belief that we are doing our youth a disservice by lauding them for mere participation rather than awarding success.). But even if that’s true, it likely contributed to an encouraging new trend – the phasing out of annual performance reviews. An annual performance review simply doesn’t tell us enough in today’s fast-paced business culture. If HR hears a complaint about an employee but their 8-month old performance review shows high marks, that documentation does little to advise any action. In 2017, we will likely see employers implement more regular feedback conversations along with frequent “pulse” surveys to help identify and address employee concerns in a more timely, actionable fashion.
When employers engage employees in regular, smaller-scale conversations, both management and employees are better equipped to deal with issues as they come up. This in turn helps employees to feel more engaged because they know their suggestions and concerns are being listened to. Furthermore, by combining these mini performance management conversations with real-time feedback tools for employees, management can help facilitate a culture of transparency in which both positive and negative business outcomes can be celebrated or addressed openly.
Generalization #2: They demand more work life balance: One of my favorite Millennial trends is that men are beginning to demand more time with their families. They ask for paternity leave more than their fathers did, for example. And because married Millennials overwhelmingly co-lead a dual-income household, they can’t buy into the 80-hour work week like their fathers did before them. As a recent article in The New York Times put it: “Millennial men—ages 18 to early 30s—have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles inside marriage than generations before them, according to a variety of research by social scientists. Yet… workplace policies have not caught up to changing expectations at home.”
Likewise, a Department of Labor report also highlighted the growing importance of paternity leave as men consider whether to accept a job, noting: “Paid paternity leave may be a key workplace benefit for retaining high-skilled workers. In a 2014 study of highly educated professional fathers in the U.S., nine of out ten reported that it would be important when looking for a new job that the employer offered paid parental leave, and six out of ten considered it very or extremely important. These numbers were even higher for millennial workers.”
Millennials came of age watching their parents work long hours and aren’t convinced it translates to a happier existence, or even a fatter nest-egg for themselves. With this in mind, employers would be wise to encourage work-life balance in the name of productivity and worker satisfaction. Even the U.S. Commissioner of Labor Statistics agrees that hours with your butt in a seat does not equate to more productivity, “Only if we increase our efficiency—by producing more goods and services without increasing the number of hours we work—can we be sure to increase our standard of living.”
Generalization #3: They need hand-holding. It’s true that most managers don’t have time for hand-holding. However, research published in the Journal of Workplace Learning shows that companies who have a “culture of learning” rely not just on managers to disseminate information. Not only does their training help them perform their job functions better, but employees who are able to embrace learning and growth opportunities also feel more valued and engaged, doubling the value for the company. Learning can happen anytime, often facilitated by a co-worker (“Contextual factors influencing the facilitation of others’ learning through everyday work experiences” by Andrea D. Ellinger Maria Cseh), so managers don’t have to feel the exclusive burden of teaching their staff everything.
Generalization #4: They feel entitled to career advancement: Climbing the corporate ladder just isn’t as important to Millennials as it was to their parents (see Generalization #2: they value more work-life balance.) When they see their managers put in long hours at the cost of their personal lives, it doesn’t look appealing. In addition, Millennials learned the difference between “management” and “leadership” before they even entered the workforce, and the 80 hour week management job that only serves to maintain the status quo is not their idea of having an impact. Millennials might feel entitled to advancement in a different sense. They want to keep learning and keep contributing. If other generations in the workplace adopted this sense of motivation, you might not see a scramble to fill the senior manager job, but you’d have leaders everywhere.