Millennials: They're Just Your Kids at Work

2016-03-03-1457038094-3998064-ChristopherKelly.jpgBy Christopher Kelly

"The Millennial Generation" is often uttered with a sneer. Generalizations and misunderstandings are rife among employers who don't know how to appeal to this tricky breed. Are they motivated only by "culture"? Do they start twitching if kept away from technology? Do they really want to work standing up?

Despite the rumors, we Millennials aren't that different from any other generation. Our environment has molded us in different ways, but our aspirations have a very familiar ring -- we're just more likely to act on our satisfaction and dissatisfaction than any other previous generation.

As Millennials now make up 53.5 million people in the American workforce, it's time you started relating to them as colleagues and friends, rather than as aliens who've invaded your office. Here are some truths about us that might help you understand us better:

1. We were raised by Baby Boomers. Millennials were largely raised by Baby Boomers, who were raised by the World War II generation. While the Greatest Generation passed on rationing and thriftiness, Baby Boomers handed over a vision to pursue one's dreams without fear of failure and give back along the way.

For me, happiness is a life goal. This has nurtured my view of purposeful work and lifestyle -- so you can see why Millennials crave meaningful careers.

2. We're here because we want to be. While young people were once likely to constrain themselves to narrow paths to prescribed success, Millennials will move if they're unhappy. Formerly, jobs were lifetime commitments to which employees pledged loyalty in exchange for gold Rolexes and pensions. In today's on-demand economy, both sides of that paradigm have fundamentally shifted.

Millennials expect that their own personal development will be measured in days, weeks, and months -- not years. The Millennial workplace needs to feel like a university, where learning happens every day and milestones are celebrated as semesters pass. Otherwise, Millennials feel stuck and will move on to pursue challenges elsewhere.

The best salesperson I ever hired was a former nursery school teacher. She was 24 years old and realized she needed to be in an office. She's not flaky -- she's as driven and goal-oriented as anyone I've known. Just because Millennials don't put up with conditions they don't like doesn't mean they're spoiled. And if a Millennial has chosen your company, you can bet he or she wants to be there.

Treat Millennials like volunteers, not employees. Understand that, with this new generation, the authority no longer holds the cards -- the employee does.

3. We don't have work-life separation. Previous generations had a home personality and a work personality, and they had to adapt to their surroundings. Today, technology has created an environment where this generation is the same throughout. For example, I don't wait to communicate with my employees the next morning -- I send an email from home, after hours. Likewise, I have the freedom to use some time at work for leisure or to address personal matters. I grant the same freedoms to my employees.

Millennials see work as another activity that follows them anywhere, not as merely a "place." Respect them for how much work they complete, and they're more likely to reward a job with their loyalty.

4. We look for all kinds of progress. It's not just the traditional salary promotion that tempts Millennials to work harder. It's getting happier, getting fitter, making creative progress and making a difference. Care for your Millennial counterparts by contextualizing every task you give them and make projects purpose-driven. We tell our team that the meetings we host today are the newspaper headlines tomorrow. Our employees feel like they're a cutting-edge part of the business world -- even the one who's busing tables or changing linens.

One of our core mantras is to become 1 percent better every day, as individuals and as a company. It's an attainable, seemingly modest goal that inspires us to challenge ourselves but also amounts to transformative progress at the end of months and years.

Praise and encouragement is a kind of progress, too. Give your Millennials a vision of the growth they could make within their roles -- and help them achieve those goals with continued education.

5. We follow our dreams. Part of the reason employers like Google overtake traditional companies is that they actively acknowledge their employees' lives outside work. They know their employees want to pursue other projects that don't necessarily involve the business.

Google's 20 percent time, in which employees spend some of their working time following their pet projects (while still applying those projects to the betterment of Google), has been a landmark policy because it tells Millennials that their ideas matter. Similarly, we make sure that every employee has a hammer and is actively engaged in building and refining the business.

6. We're part of your family. I was speaking at a panel for human resources executives and they asked, "Who are these Millennials?" I reminded them that they're part of their families. As a leader, see them as you see the real people in your life: your child is a Millennial. Your little sister is a Millennial.

And just as a family does, measure the success of your workplace by asking one simple question at the end of the day: "How was your day at work?"

To understand and successfully motivate Millennials, acknowledge that each individual is the CEO of his or her own career. The more you empower Millennials to take ownership of their time and performance, the harder they'll work, and the longer they'll stay.

Christopher Kelly is the co-founder of Convene, a company that combines service and design to improve the workplace experience. Since opening in 2009, the company's portfolio of over 110,000 sq.ft. of real estate makes it the largest owner of day conference centers in New York and is quickly expanding to serve demand in other cities and for management services. Convene's client list includes more than 65% of New York's Fortune 500 companies.