Make no mistake – this is the Age of the Millennials. Love them or hate them, you can’t run away from the fact that the millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, and now entering employment in vast numbers, will shape the working world for the next few decades.

In my line of work, I often get complaints from the older generation – the Baby Boomers and Generation X – that they are having a tough time managing the millennials, also known as Gen Y. The criticism thrown at this generation is that they are lazy and lack commitment, are money-minded, want instant gratification and have no respect for authority and the older generation.

In all my dealings with this generation, both at a personal and professional level, I have found these accusations to be totally unfounded. The issue does not lie in their character – it lies in their value system. The truth is this: Millennials simply march to the beat of a different drummer. To carry the metaphor further, it is a beat that the older generation does not understand, or appreciate; their failure to do so is the basis for the conflict that appears to exist around the globe wherever millennials and their seniors work in the same office.

In my training programmes, there are two fundamental presuppositions that I introduce to facilitate rapport-building. They are “Respect the other person’s model of the world” and “The person with the most flexibility takes control of the situation.” If older generation managers are to get the best out of their millennial employees, they need to first of all take the trouble to understand their model of the world, which has been shaped from a young age by technology and all its implications.

No other generation in the workforce has had as much exposure to technology as this one. They have grown up with gadgets like smartphones, laptops, tablets, and broadband and do most of their communicating through social media. They have instant access to information at a single click, which means they are on the ball with the latest trends and developments around the world. One of their defining characteristics is their affinity with the digital world, which has been able to provide them with the knowledge and insight that their bosses took years to acquire through practical means. In fact, they are the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than their seniors.

At a recent training programme on conflict management that I conducted, many of the older generation delegates were at first resistant to the idea that they needed to understand the millennials’ model of the world and adapt their management style to unleash their tremendous potential.  However, given an understanding of what motivates the millennial employee, many of them began to see that it is worthwhile engaging with their young colleagues to tap into their creative skills, of which many possess a great measure.

Companies aiming to attract and retain this new breed of employee should be mindful of the following:

  1. Work-life balance. In a survey entitled Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace done by PricewaterhouseCoopers a few years back, 95% of the respondents said that work-life balance was important to them. They don’t mind working hard, but they like to play hard too. They are willing to work hard and appreciate being able to do it according to a flexible work schedule and value being rewarded for the results they produce rather than the hours they put in.
  2. Growth opportunities. Millennials not only want to be fairly compensated, they want to have opportunities to grow within the organisation. Career progression is extremely important to them and they expect to rise up the corporate ladder fast. To recruit and retain them, offer them an environment that will foster their ambition and drive. They value training and education and if you invest in these areas, you’re likely to be repaid with their loyalty. They are also not willing to wait too long for promotion and increments, so you will need to design a career advancement path to meet their expectations.
  3. Competitive salaries. Many millennials have the will and the capability to start their own businesses and will do so if they feel they are going nowhere in their organisations. Their competence in the area of digital technologies offers them creative entrepreneurial ideas. In fact, do not be surprised if your millennial employees have a side business to supplement their income. Allowing them to come up with creative new business ideas and rewarding them accordingly will definitely be pull factors to make them stay.
  4. Flattening your organisational structure. Millennials don’t do well with hierarchy and bureaucracy. They are turned off by rigid corporate structures and information silos. They like to feel they have a voice that is heard by the higher-ups in the organisation. They love it when you know them by name and elicit their opinions and new ideas. They also get discouraged at the idea of promotion based on seniority and believe strongly that promotion needs to be on the basis of performance. Another thing to remember is that they thrive on feedback and will feel dissociated if they don’t get it regularly as they want to feel their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognised.
  5. Culture of transparency. In the age of technology, where Twitter and Facebook can bring down an entire brand, millennials expect the company they work for to be transparent and stand up to scrutiny. They want to know first before the company makes a public decision and they are more committed and engaged when management communicates the rationale behind certain decisions. Better still, get their opinions before implementing changes.
  6. State-of-the-art technology. Millennials expect the technologies that empower their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace. In the PwC survey, 59% of the respondents said that an employer’s provision of state-of-the art technology was important to them when considering a job.
  7. Digital presence. One of the most common information tools used by millennials is Google. The first thing they will do before applying for a job is to research your company. If your business lacks digital presence, they might be put off from applying – in their opinion, the business is behind the times or unwilling to evolve.
  8. Reverse mentoring. Just as millennials can learn from long-term employees, your business can learn much from them. Your business can strengthen its presence in the social media and digital space by tapping into their knowledge and expertise in this area. Pairing a millennial with a more senior worker can work to the advantage of both; the younger shows the older how to utilise technology and innovation to leverage the company’s brand while the senior can groom the millennial in the soft skills and technical knowledge required for advancement. Known as reverse mentoring, it is a good way to bolster the “tech-savviness” of the older generation.
  9. Brand ownership. One way to make your millennials feel connected to your brand is to constantly elicit their input into brand development strategies. For this, you need to strongly project the company’s values in the product and service offerings as well as the processes. If millennials believe in the message of your company, they’ll happily tell great stories about working with you, thereby boosting your company’s social presence.
  10. Fun. Millennials are drawn to organisations that offer an engaging, comfortable, and stimulating atmosphere that creatively blends work and life. They love social events that offer the opportunity to interact and want an ambience that fosters creativity, innovation and rapport between colleagues.

Companies that adapt to their culture to that of the millennials are the ones that are going to attract the creative and innovative ones that can help them ride the competitiveness of the global marketplace.

Sheila Singam is the founder of The Human Equation, a company dedicated to bringing the best out of people through training, coaching and facilitation.

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