Despite the perception of falling skies and an economic apocalypse, 30 percent of employers actually feel their workforce has been more productive recently than it was in 2007, according to a CareerBuilder.com survey. The primary reason for this sudden spark in worker productivity is thought to be fear...fear of losing one’s job, fear of losing one’s house, fear of having to live off of the dollar menu. Fear, plain and simple.
But fear is a lot like gasoline—highly explosive and combustible, but not sustainable in long-term. You can only rely on your employees being afraid for so long until they completely burn out. This problem is especially applicable to the millennial worker. They are fresh(er) from college and closer to their parents. Since they demand a very different work environment, millennials can be tricky.
They bring a lot of new ideas to the table and are well trained in new practices, but quitting is always an option for them. Career advancement is no longer the top priority; instead, happiness is their primary focus. If they cannot get that with one company, they typically have no problem seeking it out from another. High employee turnover is really harmful in a tattered economy. It means more training and less actual work done. Millennials are expected to compose 47 percent of the workforce by 2014, so you can’t choose to just ignore them.
The trick is to try to prevent this group from throwing up their arms and leaving. Here are three ways to keep your millennial workers from burning out.
1. Provide short-term projects and instant gratification
Whether it is directly because of the Internet or just a byproduct of the digital age in general, this particular work group does not have much of a long-term attention span. This is a bit of a generalization, but for the most part, long-term thinking is more difficult for a millennial than it was for any other work group. A short attention span is closely related to procrastination, so it is important to break up long-term projects into shorter ones. That provides quicker gratification and keeps your workers feeling as though they are accomplishing a larger volume of work rather than just one big job. Gratification fuels millennial productivity, and like any other group of people, millennials like a bit of honest praise. A quick e-mail or a stop by the cubicle to say "good job" and "thanks" can help stave off emotional burnout.
2. Allow multi-tasking
This goes hand-in-hand with our last bit of advice. Multi-tasking has become the norm for many millennials because of how easy technology makes it. Younger millennial workers have grown up being able to read a blog, surf the Web and play Scrabble on Facebook, all while researching obscure Pokémon on Wikipedia. Multi-tasking used to be seen as harmful, but with attention spans at an all-time low, trying to prevent multi-tasking typically results in blank stares and deadened eyes as workers get bored with the job at hand. Multi-tasking helps to keep the millennial mind sharp and focused. In the long run, that will increase productivity when fears of a bad economy fade.
3. Don’t hide anything
There is an inherent distrust of authority in youth. Authority never seems to be on your side when you are a kid. That feeling of it being you versus the establishment does wane, but leaves little bits of itself in your personality. Most millennials are still pretty close to their youth, and while they aren’t going to try to lead the office in a mutiny, they do tend to distrust the higher-ups. It's up to management to lay out everything and clear up as much confusion as possible. The millennial worker has spent their entire life in a rigid educational establishment with defined boundaries, syllabi and a clear understanding of what was expected. Remember to play on that wiring and remain concise and detailed. List out exactly what you expect, and don’t hide details that can creep up as rumors in the break room. Do this, and you will be able establish trust and reduce stress.
Millennial workers are here to stay, and they are bringing their mindsets and culture with them to the office. The rapid pace of technological evolution combined with the very particular brand of training most received means that millennials have different expectations and needs. By adapting your own management style, you can decrease turnover and help sustain high productivity without having to rely on fear. Before you know it, 47 percent of your staff will be comprised of young, happy, knowledgeable workers.
OPEN Cardmember Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation, a company that specializes in helping to form an LLC or corporation.