The Millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, is fast becoming the largest generation in history; far bigger than the preceding Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980). Millennials encompass the population born between 1980 and 2000. As more of this generation begin their careers and their prominence in the workforce increases, it is crucial that employers and organisation leaders understand their motivations and attitudes.
Developing this understanding will ensure we get the best out of them and maximise their co-operation and integration with other generations. This millennial generation has a lot to offer; and notwithstanding that I am stating the obvious, but they are part of the future make up of organisations and the future leaders.
What differentiates Millennials from previous generations has been researched and discussed in many different fora. In comparison to Generation X, Millennials are much more active online and in social media in particular. They try to implement these skills in the workplace, preferring to work in teams and utilising technology enabled solutions and communication platforms to a higher degree than previous generations.
They have a greater desire to be creative and want to be challenged to develop creative solutions to solving problems. While thriving on feedback, although on a much more regular and informal basis than semi-annual or quarterly reviews, they have a desire to be recognised for a job well done and regularly updated on their progress from management and colleagues. They want feedback that is clear, specific and honest. This desire for feedback can be misinterpreted as a self-absorbed, ‘look at me’ attitude, however this is far from the truth. In reality, such feedback was also desired by previous generations who conceded that feedback was not always forthcoming. Another striking feature of this new generation is confidence in their abilities; and this needs to be managed through effective feedback and expectation management. Strong line management is essential.
Organisations need to be aware of any unconscious bias against this new generation because they have a different approach to work and a different method of achieving their goals. Millennials have a strong drive to do good. A high number of Millennials see giving back to society and being civilly
engaged amongst their highest priorities. In addition to this, they also value the opinions of other generations. Most Millennials enjoy working with other generations, but can often feel unappreciated or even resented by them. This issue can be addressed by increasing the understanding between generations so that colleagues can learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, methods, motivations and so on. This greater understanding could improve the dynamic of a multigenerational team and produce a more efficient and motivated workforce. In contrast, there are several risks to organisations that don’t do enough to build an understanding between generations. One such risk is that organisations could struggle to retain their Generation Y employees.
Research conducted by Mazars on their own global Generation Y employees, of which there are more than 7,000, found that 60% of Generation Y employees disagree that ‘spending long hours at the office is part of the job’ and 70% believe that hours at the office do not matter as long as the job is done. They indicated a preference to work towards goals and objectives regardless of the hours instead of the traditional 9-5 working day. Other research supports this preferred way of working. Linked closely to this is work/life balance, a key motivational feature for the Millennial generation. The Mazars research found that 75% of Millennials think that a good work/life balance is important.
A question of loyalty
Loyalty to employers is not as fundamental to Millennials compared to previous generations; particularly in the context of a more fluid jobs market. If a Millennial feels undervalued, they are prepared to readily seek more fulfilling and enjoyable working environments. This move away from loyalty is not necessarily a reflection on Millennials, but of an employment market that has job insecurity as a key feature. In a sense, this type of jobs market is all Millennials know as they have experienced an economic downturn followed by the recent growth in the economy. Maximising their retention is about appealing to their desire for challenging work in a good working environment with the right balance of financial and non-financial rewards.
For employers, the ability to engage with all generations is critical – respecting their roles, abilities, and experience. Millennials are a generation of confident individuals in the main, but an organisation is a mix of different generations that need to work together towards a common goal influenced by strong leadership and effective line management. Organisations and their leadership need to ensure they understand not only the Millennials, but all of the generations within their workforce, as they will all have different motivations and desires. Meeting and/or managing these motivations and expectations is key to attract and retain talent. A mutually beneficial relationship will develop as a result.
How to break down generational barriers
Here are five ways you, as a Millennial, can ensure you work well as part of an intergenerational team:
1. Mentors: identify colleagues or managers that you can benefit from having a mentor-type relationship with. This does not have to be a formal mentor/mentee relationship but someone whose advice you can seek, that you trust, can learn from, and who demonstrates strong positive behaviours. Choose your mentors wisely.
2. Team dynamics: teams by their very nature are a mix of people with different skills, experience and personalities. As a new team member, invest time in observing team dynamics; participating where you can add value but respecting the team dynamics. Observation and listening for the first while will help you better understand, and appreciate, how the team functions.
3. Evolution: teams, processes and systems evolve over time. Take care when working in an established team not to undermine existing ways of doing things. Innovations or ideas for improvement are more likely to be accepted if you approach their introduction well. The importance of points one and two above are key here.
4. Experience is learning: each task and interaction will provide you with learning about you, the job, the organisation and/or stakeholders. Embrace each experience (positive or negative) with a learning agenda focusing on the three whats – what, so what, now what. What did I learn? So what does the learning mean? And now, what will I do with this learning?
5. Get involved: making yourself available for projects and tasks that are both within and outside your area of stretch is worthwhile. Working within the team to ‘earn your stripes’ will help you build
credibility and raise your profile. As a new team member, it will take time to build credibility. The only way to do this is to been seen as someone who acts and can deliver. No matter what the task, do it and do it well. You won’t be long in becoming a valued member of the team.
This is not a one-way street and Millennials should work to build an understanding between themselves and other generations. While they enjoy working with older generations but often feel undervalued by their peers, comprehending other colleagues’ point of view would help to develop a greater understanding and create a greater cohesion among inter-generational teams.
Millennials also need to be aware of the opportunities available to them with regard to their own development and finding a good work/life balance. However, they need to ensure that these benefits are met with the results and expectations their employer is anticipating.
Millennials are a confident generation and employers have a challenge on their hands; a positive challenge.This challenge presents employers with an opportunity to develop and adapt their work environments to meet the requirements of this generation. Attraction and retention of talent is the biggest challenge facing employers in the current market and tapping the millennial employee resource pool is critical. It is important to stay ahead of the curve; the Millennials are!
This article first appeared in Accountancy Ireland magazine February 2016.