The Keys to Working Well with Millennials

Dealing with millennials at work can be a challenge. You have to learn how to motivate them, explain why showing up in wrinkled clothes for an important meeting isn’t appropriate, and you can’t for the life of you figure out how can they be both lazy and ambitious at the same time. This enigmatic generation has us all confused. But Bruce Tulgan, author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Millennials and a nationally recognized “management guru,” says working with millennials doesn’t have to be painful. Tulgan has been studying young people in the workforce for 23 years and shares his insight and management tips for working with millennials.

Why have millennials gotten such a bad reputation within the workforce?
Let’s clarify: First-wave millennials — those born in the late 70s and early 80s — aren’t the millennials we’re talking about. Second-wave millennials, those born 1990 to 2000, are the youngest in the workforce, and it’s the second-wave millennials that have the reputation of being disloyal, having short attention spans, needing immediate gratification and having no self-awareness or people skills. How did they get this way? Well, in the late-80s, parents were focused on building self-esteem and became helicopter parents on steroids. But it’s also the new world we’re in: globalization, the explosion of technology, information tidal wave, sense of immediacy and diversity of every kind. All of these things changed the way this generation thinks, learns and communicates.

Specific to the workplace, what are the key differences between second-wave millennials and other generations?
 Second-wave millennials take a short-term, transactional approach to their careers. They don’t expect to have a long-term, pay-your-dues, climb-the-corporate-ladder career. They don’t think,”What role will I play in your company?” They think, “What role will this job play in my life story?”

Second-wave millennials take a short-term, transactional approach to their careers. They don’t expect to have a long-term, pay-your-dues, climb-the-corporate-ladder career.

How do we misunderstand millennials at work?
 The myth is that they think they should have the top job on day one. That they want everything on a silver platter, and they don’t want to do the grunt work. That’s just not true. They want to hit the ground running — they don’t want to wait and get a feel for their workplace for two years, when they only plan on being there for two years. They want to be taken seriously, to be told clearly what they can do to earn more interesting work. They want to know someone is keeping score and will help them earn the things they want. The biggest misconception is that they don’t want to learn from people. This is absolutely not true. Remember, this generation is closer to their parents than any other generation in history. They yearn for highly engaged, personal leadership.

There’s the issue of basic work etiquette — showing up on time, dressing appropriately, not using your phone during meetings — that they seem oblivious to.
 Yes, the soft skills. No one is teaching young people the soft skills anymore; it’s out of fashion. These used to be parenting basics: “Say please and thank you.” “Pick up after yourself.” “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.” This is now a counter-trend because of the self-esteem parenting, teaching and counseling. Millennials are the ultimate non-conformists in a time of non-conformity. In some ways, old-fashioned work habits are a matter of conformity. The best way to handle this is to say, “We’re not asking you to conform, but we’re paying you to be on time. We’re paying you to dress properly.” It’s pretty simple: If you don’t want to wear a uniform, don’t be a police officer. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t work at a burger joint.

What are the best ways to manage millennials?
 Make expectations known every step of the way. Keep score by creating checklists and project plans. Make it very clear to them what they need to do to earn more of what they need or want. Give clear, regular guidance, direction and support. Act more like a coach or a parent. And have highly engaged one- on-one dialogue on a regular basis to check in.

What is something you want to make sure employers know about millennials?
 They thrive on structured boundaries, clear expectations and strong leadership. Strong doesn’t mean yelling or forceful, but with consistency, integrity and clear expectations and standards. And remember: It’s all about direction and feedback.

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