Millennials have often been stereotyped as lazy, entitled and disloyal—and too many people have fallen for this mischaracterization. The reality is, Gen Y bashing has gotten out of hand. Instead of harnessing this generation's technical aptitude, creativity and intellectual abilities, we waste time criticizing problems that may not actually exist.
HR and talent consultant Shirley Engelmeier encourages organizational leaders to focus on millennials' core strengths. According to Engelmeier, Gen Y workers bring new skills to the table, including their agility with technology, the ability to multitask and their hyper-creativity.
"Their talents are best leveraged," Engelmeier says, "if the organizational leadership accepts the way they want to be managed: through collaboration and integration of their voices."
Finding Common Ground
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2030, millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce. To stay competitive and attract top talent, businesses need to engage—not scare away—prospective employees from Gen Y. They'll need to focus on on cultivating individual strengths, not squashing generational weaknesses.
Millennials and their boomer bosses actually have more in common than they may realize. Both generations were products of a tumultuous economic climate. Both experienced a time of war, a stagnant economy and an unsteady job market.
"Find and celebrate the common ground in an inter-generational workplace," suggests Bob LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff, a firm that helps organizations find top entry level talent. "A diverse staff roster can help create distinct business advantages and improve training and professional development across the organization."
Cross-generational workplaces can benefit from skill sharing and brainstorming sessions that involve business managers across the spectrum. "Collaborative work between boomers and millennials can be uniquely inspired considering the fact that each group has its own exceptional strengths and skills," Lombard recommends. "A baby boomer in charge of a sales strategy overhaul, for example, could benefit from bringing in a millennial colleague to create a digital overlay to the strategy."
Millennials are hungry for knowledge and self-improvement. When they stop learning or hit a glass ceiling, they'll move on to new career opportunities. Businesses who want to keep their millennials around should prioritize career development as a core recruiting and retention strategy.
"Once a Gen Y hire is on board, sign them up for necessary professional memberships and training sessions," says Nancy Ahlrichs, an HR consultant and strategic account manager at FlashPoint, a talent management firm. "Keep pushing them to learn, and praising them for putting their new skills to work."
While millennials aren't the entitled know-it-alls some companies stereotype them to be, they are, however, confident in their research skills and problem-solving abilities. "They're not willing to fall behind," Ahlrichs says, "so they seek different kinds of training, especially in the form of e-learning via educational mobile applications, gaming simulations and other nontraditional types of training."
Millennials want to work hard, but they want time to enjoy life, too. Instead of seeking out a work/life balance, they strive to achieve a work/life meld.
"As a young attorney, when I was new to a company, I worked 14 hours per day on salary with the goal of moving up," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, an LLC filing and business maintenance services company that employs 30 millennial employees. "That doesn't necessarily seem to be a motivator for millennials."
Sweeney recommends supporting millennials' need for flexibility in their careers. "We can embrace their curiosity and desire for flexibility by providing flexible work environments and open communication," she says.
The bottom line is, understanding and supporting your millennials' needs and desires is healthy for your bottom line.
"They're our employees, but they're also our customers," Sweeney says. "If we know and understand their desires, goals and drivers, we can more effectively respond to them. We can leverage our awareness of their habits and goals and thereby more effectively respond to an ever-growing customer population."
Ritika Puri is a writer specializing in business, entrepreneurship, marketing and quantitative analysis. She has written for Forbes, Investopedia, CrazyEgg, Unbounce, the Contently Blog, the SAP Innovation Blog and others.
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