Much is written about the unique qualities that millennials bring to the workforce. Older generations appear to be baffled. Previous generations believe millennials have expectations and demands of their employer that are not in line with hard-driving ambition.
To me this is so wrong and a very misaligned perception. I work with millennials and see close at hand their goals and aspirations. Are they willing to work hard, pay their dues and put in the necessary sweat equity? Of course they are. Oh sure, there are those who expect to somehow land in the executive suite overnight or automatically parade around with all the trappings of success. But if I recall correctly, those entitled and yet to be enlightened have always represented a small portion of every generation. The entitled are not in anyway a true or fair representation of millennials.
In working with millennials who may be interns or early entry employees, they do express a desire to make a difference and demonstrate that they have the right stuff. They worry and carry anxiety about having a future with their employer. They have dreams and goals just like you and me.
I do believe millennials have either been misrepresented or misunderstood. As far as achievement drive, many are the brilliant minds behind our most innovative companies and products. They are true change agents able to flex and take risks in ways that the majority of our workforce has no courage.
I will attest that there is a fundamental difference for millennials. This difference though has not been articulated accurately or clearly. There is uniqueness. Millennials want to be regarded as consumers of an organization. So what do we mean by that? Values matter to them. Values represent 3 things. Millennials want to be aligned with organizations that matter in central ways. Firstly, organizations must be proactive in the community in charitable ways. Firms must actively demonstrate how they are giving back to the community to help conserve the environment and engage as well in charitable activities for those less fortunate.
This current workforce must also see the value in the products they are producing or selling. If all they see is capital gain then a millennial's loyalty and long-term investment will most certainly be compromised. These values are equated with a millennial's need to feel relevant. When organizations treat millennials as relevant they start to poll them for their advice and counsel.
This is of course counter-intuitive. What do millennials know about business and profitability? Sure, they do not have the experience and horizon that represents the tenure of the average employee. What they do have, though, is a finger on the pulse. They know exactly what is going on in the marketplace.
Here's a case in point. An intern I know very well was asked to provide market intelligence. His organization wanted to know what university students were reading in university newspapers while riding the bus to school. His organization was genuinely dumbfounded to learn that not a single university undergrad turned to print media for the latest happenings. Well, certainly none that he was aware of that commuted by bus to school. Although an amusing anecdote, could you imagine the wasted dollars spent on this type of print media campaign? Thankfully the organization did value his insights and pursued a different channel.
This workforce also needs active dialogue regarding their career goals. They will never be satisfied with the mantra, "If you work hard you will be rewarded." What does that actually mean? Sounds vague to me. If I was starting out today I would want to know more specifically how to move from "meets expectations" to "exceeds expectations" to an "outstanding" ranking.
Outstanding must be translated into specific tangible examples. It should be explained to this workforce that lateral transfers are part of their career trajectory as a way to gain breadth across the organization. Employers must do a better job of illustrating that a lateral move is not instead of a promotion, rather it's actually a ticket to ride, to ride the train towards the destination of advancement.
There is a recipe to successfully attracting and retaining millennials. If you regard and treat millennials as consumers of your organization you will reinforce loyalty, engagement and the desire to do great things on behalf of the organization's community and the community at large. "Older" generations should heed this wake up call. If you do, your millennials will pay off in dividends.
Having trouble bridging the gap with your employees? Learn how to communicate with corporate veterans and millennials in your organization.
Cindy Wahler, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in succession planning and talent management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellevate Network is a global women's network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.