4 Ways Millennials are Reshaping the Way We Work

11/03/2016 03:38 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2016

I’ve always struggled with the way our culture talks about Millennials.

According to the way most people break up the generations, I’m a Millennial. Depending on who you ask, we’re lazy, narcissistic, and entitled. And I don’t know if it was being raised by immigrant parents or if it’s the entrepreneurial drive that had me starting my first business in high school, but I get a little offended by people who characterize me this way based on my age.

For so long, the narrative on Millennials has been so overwhelmingly negative that many people have missed the impact young workers are having on everything from coffee consumption to fundamental work practices. But in my work as a marketing consultant and agency owner, it’s something I see every day as I interact with clients and teams made up of people of all ages.

And don’t get me wrong, there are differences between the generations.

“Boomers may believe gen Xers are too impatient and willing to throw out the tried-and-true strategies, while gen Xers may view boomers as always trying to say the right thing to the right person and being inflexible to change,” says Constance Patterson, Ph.D. “Traditionalists may view baby boomers as self-absorbed and prone to sharing too much information, and baby boomers may view traditionalists as dictatorial and rigid. And, gen Xers may consider Millennials too spoiled and self-absorbed, while Millennials may view gen Xers as too cynical and negative.”

Real differences exist in the way the generations work, but I believe the specific contributions of Millennials are often overlooked. Here are four specific shifts I’m seeing in my work.

1. Millennials are Tackling Big Issues

Forget the days of “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Millennials aren’t afraid to question the status quo (even if doing so means occasionally stepping on the wrong toes in the traditional corporate hierarchy).

“Millennials want to be part of a solution and they are willing to try and tackle our most pressing challenges to help bring about transformative change in the social and corporate sectors,” says Jean Case of the Case Foundation. “The companies that successfully engage this group and answer their call will ultimately help to catalyze it within the corporate sector allowing for a new, more valuable kind of return.”

How amazing is that? I know change can be scary, but there’s never been a better time – or a better workforce – to help your company and your industry reach new heights. All you have to do is be open to the suggestions your youngest workers put forth.

2. Millennials are Reshaping Human Resources

Joe Hill, a Millennial HR professional, suggests that Millennials are making use of HR departments in new and different ways, viewing them more as partners than as gatekeepers.

“It’s a much more positive relationship,” he says. “I’ve seen Millennials less focused on their benefits and employee data and more on that social component.”

Miller attributes this shift partially to Millennials’ naturally more collaborative outlooks and partially to the way technology has absorbed a company’s administrative tasks, leaving HR professionals to be more involved in the employee growth and development initiatives Millennials crave.

But where many working professionals view this drive for self-improvement negatively – as if Millennials are demanding opportunities they haven’t yet earned – Maren Hogan of Red Brand Media asks managers to use this as an opportunity to help Millennials see where they fit into organizations. “Contrary to popular belief, a Millennial wanting a leadership role doesn’t necessarily mean they want your job and it doesn’t mean they want something they haven’t earned,” she says. “This simply means they want to see the path.”

Your HR team can play a huge part in helping Millennials identify paths to success within your workplace, thanks to their newly-unburdened time.

3. Millennials Could End Traditional Performance Reviews

Forget once-a-year check-ins. Millennials want feedback regularly, and they want it in real time.

And not by any small margin, either. Data gathered by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School found that 80% of Millennials want frequent feedback and real-time check-ins, rather than annual performance reviews.

Wagepoint’s Epic Guide to Employee Management offers a few suggestions for providing this timely feedback, including the following:

  • Discuss ways in which the employees can better manage their schedules while showing them effective ways in which to strategize and meet their goals.
  • Is the employee overwhelmed by their workload or doubtful of their abilities? Sometimes employees become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tasks set before them, and consequently underperform; other times, they simply lack self-assuredness.
  • Show the employee that you’re confident in their abilities and discuss ways in which they can break down their workload into something that feels more manageable.

4. Millennials are Redefining Corporate Culture

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, and yet I still hear older workers talking dismissively about businesses that cater to Millennials’ preferred work arrangements.

Consider this…when Crain’s Chicago did their latest review of the best workplaces for Millennials, it wasn’t heavy hitters like Google or Microsoft that topped the list. It was Jellyvision, an interactive marketing agency with just over 100 employees.

Although the company offers startup-style perks like in-office happy hours, a foosball table, and chili cookoffs, employees are drawn to it because of the company’s ethos, which CEO Amanda Lannert describes as: “Be nice.” According to one employee, “Jellyvision promotes a culture of kindness and honesty.”

Company culture matters to Millennials. Data gathered by the Young Entrepreneur Council and published on Business Insider supports this, demonstrating that:

  • In a recent survey, Millennials prioritized “meaningful work” over high pay as a job factor
  • One in three Millennials said social media freedom is a higher priority than salary
  • 70 percent of Millennials are planning to change jobs once the economy improves.

If you want to retain talented Millennials – and you should, given that Pew Research data shows they’re now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce – you’ve got to think about corporate culture in new ways.

That doesn’t necessarily mean chucking the conference table for an air hockey lounge. It does, however, involve recognizing that Millennials want to feel proud of the places they work and the necessity of bringing your business up to these standards.

If you’ve kept up with public discussions on Millennial workplace preferences, none of this should be surprising to you. And yet, everywhere I turn, I see companies struggling to balance the desires of their youngest workers with the status quo set by their older employees.

Here’s my takeaway: Millennials are here, and they’re having an impact on the way we work. It’s up to you to decide if your business will embrace the positive aspects of these changes, or if you’ll risk falling behind by continuing to narrowly – and inaccurately – define Millennials as lazy, selfish, and entitled.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear how your company is navigating intergenerational relationships at work. Leave me a comment below with your thoughts:

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