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Three Ways to Win With Millennial Employees

06/04/2013 09:29 am ET | Updated Aug 04, 2013
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Over the past few months I've traveled the country speaking about my book Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World. Everywhere I go I find that audiences have very strong opinions about Millennials, some positive, some negative. But whatever their opinion is, they are eager to understand how to deal with this generation. So, as you read this, I'd like to ask you put aside your opinions about Millennials and focus on some facts and ideas about this generation and how you can work with them.

Over the last century, employers have integrated new employees including returning veterans, women, and immigrants. Companies large and small figured out how to integrate these groups into the workforce. In the United States alone there are 80 million Millennials, and they are expected to account for 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Here are three things you can to do rethink the role of Millennials in your company, making them happier and more productive, while achieving wins for your company.

1. Address the Generational Divide Head On
In most workplaces there is a generational divide between older employees and Millennials. This divide stems largely from two factors: the Millennials' generally newer and superior understanding of new technology and differing attitudes between Millennial and older employees on workplace culture and communications. One way to address the technology gap is to have Millennials works alongside older employees on tech-based projects, instead of giving all those responsibilities solely to Millennials. Millennials should be empowered to use their tech-savvy -- a major asset -- not just to help the company, but all their fellow employees as well. To address the cultural challenges, think about revisiting your communication protocols and workplace rules. For instance, while texting may be uncomfortable for older employees, it can be much more efficient and it is rapidly becoming one the primary ways people all over the world are communicating. Similarly, Millennials should better understand why texting frustrates some older workers or why it can present legal or organizational challenges that other mediums do not. On these generational divide issues, employers need to directly speak to their entire team about them, acknowledge that both older and younger workers have an important perspective, and find a middle ground that makes the company productive and all employees more comfortable.

2. Don't Call Millennials "Entitled"
Millennials have long been stereotyped as an entitled generation, but much of what others see as entitlement is actually entrepreneurialism. As a generation who has had to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in a troubled economic landscape we are good at creating things. In fact, more than half of all Millennials have started a company or would like to someday. That means one out of every two people working in your office aspires to something more, and that is a good thing! That entrepreneurialism can be a huge asset to all companies who need to disrupt themselves in order to stay competitive. A company like Airbnb, founded and run largely by Millennials, is quickly gaining market share -- and disrupting -- the travel industry. Airbnb can continue to adapt and move quickly in a way that a big hotel chain can't. But the traditional hotel brand might be able to catch up if they empowered their entrepreneurial millennial employees. If you look closer Millennials' seeming entitlement -- meaning thinking they should be able to do more and have more responsibility in the workplace -- it is actually a big asset waiting to be activated.

3. Integrate your Consumer and Customer
This generation that is increasingly dominant in the workforce also accounts, for $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending, a number that will only rise. Since Millennials are expected to live longer than their parents while the population of Generation Z is decreasing, the unique confluence of Millennials as dominant consumers and employees may last for several decades. In short, every company needs to reach this generation. Since the culture of a company on the inside is directly reflected in the products and services it sells to consumers on the outside, the more power employers give to Millennial employees to shape the company, the better they will be positioned to reach Millennial consumers. (Cisco recently announced that they are committed to hiring Millennials for leadership positions. This is a great model that others should follow.) Companies like Google and Facebook are so popular with Millennial consumers in part because their average employee is a millennial and as a result, the user experience and the products they offer are much more appealing to this generation. Millennial consumers are increasingly demanding that companies demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility: 92 percent reject profit as the sole measure of a company's success. Similarly 85 percent of Millennials say they will work at a job that pays them less if they can have greater social impact. As a result, making your company more socially responsible makes you more attractive to Millennial employees and consumers.

The nature of work has changed markedly in the past decade. Few companies use timecards, few employees work standardized hours, and more people take work home with them than ever before. Modern employees want their work to be meaningful and fulfilling. We shouldn't just adjust our work culture for this generation, but for the new world we are all moving further into every day.

David D. Burstein is a millennial writer, filmmaker, and storyteller. He is the author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World.