When looking at different areas of diversity and inclusion, you will be hard-pressed to find a topic as full of stereotypes and misconceptions as generational diversity.
It’s really surprising at just how many labels people are willing to slap on Millennials (or any other generation) right to their faces. In a world that is becoming increasingly politically correct, sometimes honesty is refreshing, and the ability to openly discuss how other generations view one another is what makes this topic so powerful.
But who wants to be defined by stereotypes? No one, surely, but especially not Millennials who have been pigeonholed from the moment they started entering the workplace.
Most stereotypes I share here come with at least some kernel of truth, whether or not you choose to agree with it.
1. Hating Face to Face Communication
The assumption that Millennials don’t like face-to-face communication is understandable. Walk into any coffeeshop and you will be greeted by downturned heads, faces lit by screens, and silence, with the occasional laugh out loud – even if he or she is sitting at a table alone.
While Millennials do spend many hours communicating via screens and feel quite comfortable doing so, it does not mean that they hate face-to-face interactions. Millennials are the generation that are often begging for mentorship opportunities and love to interact, network and socialise with others.
While Millennials do not hate face-to-face communication, they may struggle with it and need your help. This may be especially true for younger Millennials. They’re used to sending texts and instant messages because it’s their default mode of communication.
Even phone calls, with the slightest suggestion of a human at the other end, can make Millennials nervous. Rather than stereotype and scold them, coach them! It may seem remedial, but ask them if they’d like that: Model the behaviour you’d like to see.
If you’d rather a Millennial walk to your desk versus instant-message you, set the precedent by doing the same. And if all else fails, just straight up tell them what you expect or prefer.
The oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s and have a pretty good grasp of face-to-face communication. Many of them are now facing the challenge of managing a generation who can successfully function across five screens of work and have never lived a formative (childhood) year without Wi-Fi.
2. Having the Attention Span of a Goldfish
We’ve all walked by that Millennial in the office who has 17 browser tabs open with headphones in and handphone buzzing. Managers may think, “Either you’ve made your coffee with Red Bull and you can conquer all these tasks at once, or you’re disorganised, undisciplined, and unfocused.
It’s true. Millennials probably aren’t going to work on a single task for eight hours, but don’t mistake multi-tasking or switch-tasking as an inability to focus.Unlike previous generations, Millennials grew up in a fast-paced world fuelled by the infinite and ever-changing internet. Their attention is constantly being drawn into lists, which turned into 140-word character tweets.
Rather than getting upset, ask yourself two questions:
1. Why does this have to be a bad thing? 2. And how can I use this to my advantage?
In jobs where it makes sense, managers who worry more about results and less about process will find that the ability to switch focus rapidly and efficiently isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s a skill
3. Operating with No Work Ethic
A hiring manager at a financial advising firm once told us that if a Millennial candidate asks in an initial interview whether 8 to 5 is the hard and fast schedule, she immediately disregards them as a viable candidate. They’ve added to the pile of those Millennials who’ll never succeed in the workplace: the lazy, entitled, no-work-ethics types. While it is understandable where she was coming from, I would guess that she hadn’t reached the simple truth that hard work looks very different these days.
People work from their phones and tablets at all hours, and they can get just as much done at a coffee shop as they can at their desk. The once-clear understanding of working versus not working is more fluid now than ever before. So, do Millennials have work ethics or not? Consider these pointers before you give up on them
– Focus on results: Ask yourself what you’d rather have: a Millennial who’s at the office when you arrive, stays late most nights, and appears to be working very hard but doesn’t achieve the results you desire, or a Millennial who is in and out of the office, leaves for yoga at lunch, and takes care of some personal to-dos during business hours but always gets work done with exceptional quality?
– Assume the best: More often than not, I hear from Managers that if they learn that their employees are working from home, they’re most probably watching Game of Thrones. Or if they see their colleague on a social-media site during the workday, they’re more concerned about their social lives than work.
In my experience, these people are the exception to the rule. Witholding these kinds of freedoms from everyone to protect against the very few will hold you back as an effective manager. If you find yourself questioning an employee’s work ethic, reread the earlier bullet point and refocus on results.
4. Wanting to have Fun all day
Most people can remember complaining to a parent or a grandparent about work and being met with a response like, “Well, there’s a reason it’s called the workplace and not the fun place!”
The fact is that Millennials believe that work and fun do not have to be mutually exclusive. Of course, they do not think every working moment will be spent playing video games and drinking beer but they do expect a little something every now and then.
It’s easy to misinterpret that the more time you spend time having fun, the less time you are actually working. While there is a time to get the work done, studies have proven that having fun at the workplace not only builds stronger ties with co-workers but also improves the bottom line.
- At Google, employee satisfaction rose 37 percent as a result of initiatives dedicated to employee satisfaction – suggesting that financial incentives aren’t enough to make for highly productive employees.
- According to LinkedIn, 57 percent of Millennials say that work friendships make them more productive.
- A study by economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness at work led to a 12 percent spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10 percent less productive.
5. Refusing to do work that is “Beneath them”
Millennials have been granted the ‘entitled’ generation label that they would do anything to cast off. Ultimately it boils down to the one question that can seriously irritate Managers: “why?”
For generations in the past, if a manager asked a direct report to do a task, no matter how big or small, it was expected that the employee would get on with it, no questions asked. So, while they may push back and ask why a lot, it doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to help, or they believe they’re too “qualified” for the task, or just showing attitude.
They’re simply curious about your reasoning and how their actions will benefit you, the team and the organisation.
If you ask a Millennial to do something he may consider below his pay grade, take time to explain why you are doing so. It may be a great growth opportunity, an integral project to the company, or sometimes, it may just be something that needs to get done and no one else has the time to do it. All of those reasons are totally valid.
Which is why Managers should stay away from barking orders and explain the reasons behind the task. In response, you will see a generation that is not only willing to help but eager to do so.
Click here for part 2.
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