In a challenging economy, many young workers are just thankful to have a job. But smart companies are developing strategies to maximize the potential of their entry-level employees-members of the Millennial generation-to gain full value from their work force and to minimize turnover as the economy rebounds.
Celebrated by some as the second Greatest Generation, snubbed by others as Generation Whine, the Millennials (individuals born between 1982 and 2000) are statistically not any more altruistic, family-centered, or success-driven than their predecessors, despite the media hype. But what sets them apart in the workplace is their sixth sense when it comes to incorporating technology to interact with the world, coupled with an expectation that organizations will meld themselves to accommodate their needs, according to two Goizueta scholars.
In their latest paper, Millennials and the World of Work: An Organization and Management Perspectivepublished in the June issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology,Andrea Hershatter, a senior lecturer in organization & management and the associate dean and director of the BBA program at Goizueta, and Molly Epstein, an associate professor in the practice of management communication, explore the challenges and opportunities of managing and motivating Millennials.
Millennials are going to be the next generation of partners, the next generation of revenue-generators, explains Epstein. And, yes, they need some grooming.
As do their immediate supervisors, many of whom are disillusioned Gen-Xers who resent the Millennials for demanding special treatment when, as bright-eyed college graduates themselves, they were told to sink or swim upon entering the work world. Hershatter and Epstein believe that institutions in general failed to adapt to the needs and inclinations of Gen-Xers, thereby cultivating a disenfranchised generation, misunderstood as slackers but subsequently known for an independent entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity. The authors' hope is that Boomer and Xer managers in companies will find effective ways to harness Millennials' collaborative orientation and enthusiasm for the future to boost productivity.
Perhaps the most striking difference between Millennials and other generations is how they relate to technology. As Epstein notes, This is their world. We're just visiting. The term digital natives describes Millennials who began using technology as toddlers. All others are digital immigrants, who may know how to fully leverage technology, but learned it later in life. Are you a digital immigrant? The answer is yes if you've ever typed on a typewriter or used a telephone with a cord.
While Millennials did not invent the Internet, they own it, along with texting, tweets and Facebook. These digital natives are more effective in some arenas, like multitasking, responding to visual stimulation and filtering information, but less adept in terms of face-to-face interaction and deciphering non verbal cues, the authors write.
Companies can capitalize on Millennials' comfort with technology by leveraging their vast social networks. Some corporations are rethinking their websites to foster more personal interaction, such as holding contests for design concepts or innovative ideas for products, the authors say. Others are recognizing Millennials' preference for texting over email and experimenting with group text messaging services or IM interactions.
While technology has fundamentally changed how Millennials understand the world, their positive experiences with institutions from a young age means they are more likely than Gen-Xers to trust authority and remain loyal to organizations.
Millennials have always felt loved and wanted by their doting parents, guided and cared for by their teachers, and, at least before 2009, desired by corporate recruiters, the authors write.
Millennials generally care about corporate mission statements, value teamwork, and work to improve the organizations and communities in which they operate. They thrive in structured settings in which job expectations and career paths are clearly outlined. Chesapeake Energy, for instance, has adapted to Millennials by conducting twice-yearly compensation reviews and basing promotions on ability rather than longevity, the researchers note.
On the flip side, Millennials can be risk-averse and fearful of ambiguity.
The real world, unfortunately, does not always provide safe and clear choices, says Hershatter. There is rarely a workplace equivalent to a grading rubric that outlines the five indicators that you are doing a good job at every step of the game.
Some companies have developed programs to help Millennials grapple with uncertain outcomes, according to Hershatter and Epstein. Fidelity Investments, for instance, specifically recruits and encourages interns who think creatively and take the initiative. Despite a track record of hiring some of the most accomplished graduating students each year, Boston Consulting Group has added additional training for Millennials, who struggle with ambiguity in client assignments. To prepare future leaders, leading undergraduate business programs like Goizueta offer fieldwork and applied courses that help Millennials gain experience solving complex problems in uncertain environments.
Shielded from unstructured time and unknown outcomes since childhood, the Millennials' need for constant reassurance may pose the greatest challenge to managers. Providing frequent feedback is essential, especially initially, Hershatter says. In addition, taking the time to provide directions and frameworks up front will assure a certain level of comfort and enhance performance. While this may initially feel time consuming, it will result in less of a need to micro-manage on the back end.
Millennials crave feedback, adds Epstein. If we clarify the objectives, they will trip over themselves to achieve them.
An organization's chain of command is not perceived as a boundary by Millennials, says Hershatter. They have enjoyed close relationships with parents, teachers and mentors, and open electronic access to virtually anyone. They are therefore more willing to circumvent institutional hierarchies to have their voices heard at the top. By providing bounded access to senior-level managers, such as through formal meet and greet occasions or informal town hall-type meetings, Millennials can feel that their ideas are being heard while still working within the larger organization's structure.
An important driver for Millennials is to acquire the tools necessary to make a meaningful difference in a chaotic and troubled world. By focusing on the skills and tools being acquired rather than the task itself, a manager can reframe a day of cold-calling from a tedious chore to an exercise in perseverance, says Hershatter. In addition, they will gravitate towards companies whose practices are aligned with their own ideals. For example, companies that provide telecommuting options not only are perceived as environmentally-friendly, but also are valued for contributing to healthy work-life balance-a top priority for Millennials, who have witnessed the tradeoffs made by their Baby Boomer parents.
Speaking of parents, corporations may soon realize that they are building a relationship with more than just the Millennials. Active consumers in their children's educational pursuits and a strong voice in their choice of careers, these parents will not be accustomed to taking a back seat when it comes time for their child's first job. While companies need to set realistic boundaries for employees and their parents, Hershatter says, they may be able to honor the Millennial-parent bond by making certain information and accolades available online, or accommodating family desires by giving ample vacation time during the holidays in exchange for more hours worked during busier periods.
It's a slippery slope, notes Hershatter. Companies invite parents to be part of the recruiting process of Millennials, but then they are shocked and horrified when they see parental involvement in the workplace, she says.
In the end, companies can tap into Millennials' desire to achieve, their technological savvy, and their team orientation, or they can become frustrated by Millennials' need for feedback, high-maintenance demands, and fear of the unknown.
Millennials are very willing to enhance the mission of the organization, says Hershatter. They have a broad social network that they're willing to call upon. They have a track record of developing creative, innovative and collaborative solutions to complex problems. And they're not afraid at all to get their hands dirty to create organizational change.
When you create a positive work environment, employees of every generation are happier, adds Epstein. These Millennials are securing your legacy.