Nov 28, 2012
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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Generation Gaps in the Workplace: Meet the Millennials


When it comes to generations in the workplace, today’s workforce is one of the most diverse ever. Four generations dominate — Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials — and each share different views, priorities and styles of work.

Last week’s post explored characteristics and values that define older generations of employees. Traditionalists raised during the Depression era, for example, have a survivalist outlook toward work and value loyalty, dependability and respect for the chain of command. Baby Boomers born during the prosperous World War II era are more competitive and free thinking, but still prize structure. Generation Xers who grew up during the cultural instability of the ’70s and ’80s are fiercely independent and protective of their overall creative freedom.

But perhaps the most different and revolutionary generation of workers is the up-and-coming one: the Millennials. Also known as Generation Y (though that name is becoming less common), this group of emerging and future employees aspire “to go far fast” and expect more than their predecessors in terms of jobs and opportunities, explained Peter Tokar, economic developer for the town of Davie, Fla., during a session on the multi-generational workforce at the recent International Economic Development Council conference.

“They see themselves as free agents,” Tokar said. “They are convinced they can contribute now, so it’s important to provide them with opportunities to show what they can do.”

Considering the size of this generation — 80 million strong — employers would do well to take them seriously, Tokar said, especially with the next to largest generation of workers, Baby Boomers, retiring in droves.

More than any generation before, Millennials are highly confident and ambitious. Why the big ego? Born between 1980 and 2005, members of this generation were raised during a child-centric era and are accustomed to encouragement and positive reinforcement from their parents and teachers. They share a strong desire to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts — often seeking feedback from their employers — but they refuse to build their lives around their careers. They expect flexibility in everything from their work schedule to their dress code and view corporate loyalty as “not how long they worked for you but how hard,” Tokar said.

According to experts, the average Millennial will change jobs — and sometimes career paths — an average of five to eight times throughout their lives. With more than half of college graduates living with their parents after graduation, they aren’t ashamed to move back home until they find the right opportunity. Millennials are known for their expertise at multitasking and “aren’t just tech-savvy, but are tech-driven,” Tokar said. Raised in a technology-infused world, many employees of this generation are more comfortable communicating via email, text or instant message than by phone or face to face.

Motivating Millennials
With this generation set to represent the largest group of workers in the coming decades, how can employers attract, retain and motivate Millennials? Tokar offers these tips:

Affirm their value. Forget the “silence as approval” rule. Provide feedback as often as possible and keep criticism constructive. Show appreciation frequently and make sure sure your best employees know that you consider them keepers.

Give them a career map. Show them how to get to the top of your organization. Outline the achievements, skills, prerequisites and expected outcomes necessary to attain (and retain) positions throughout the company. Show them “no matter where they are, there is a step to getting there they want to go,” Tokar said.

Challenge them. Track their progress and assign them tasks and projects that will allow them to take a leadership role and provide them with a sense of ownership.

Celebrate successes. Take time to recognize both individual and team accomplishments. Celebrate their successes — both on the job and outside of work.

Coach, don’t command. Treat (and speak to) them as a surrogate parent would and act as a mentor, guiding them to where they want to go in their careers.

With their confidence, expertise, energy and sense of responsibility, Millennial workers can be a boon for employers, especially those trying to adapt to a market that is growing more technologically advanced and global, Tokar said.

“Millennials can help employers in ways they don’t even know — as long as they give them the opportunity,” he said.

Read more on how to attract young talent and keep them invested here or share your own success stories below.

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