Generation gaps can prove to be frustrating when it comes to running an efficient business these days. Leaders who have built long careers often find themselves puzzled at the work habits and attitudes of younger employees.
The largest generational group entering and slowly becoming the majority of the workforce today is that of millennials. George Bradt gives us a quick definition of who these millennials are in his piece for Forbes: “Millennials, born after 1980 and before 2000, are children of baby boomers. Their parents doted on them, heaping them with praise and building up their own sense of self-worth. Their childhoods were filled with structured activities. While that has certainly happened to some children before, this is the first Internet generation with all that entails.”
One of the major differentiators between millennials and preceding generations is the “previously unimaginable access to data and information, connecting them with each other and the world,” Bradt writes. Two areas that are especially important to millennials are flexibility and feedback. Here are several ways CEOs can approach working with the younger generation.
1. The Stats
How do business leaders feel about millennials? A study by Duke University and CFO Magazine polled more than 1,000 chief financial officers, according to CBS News, and published the following results:
- 70 percent complimented millennials’ technological abilities, while 21 percent noted their superior creativity and innovation abilities.
- More than half believed millennials were “less loyal to their companies.”
- 46 percent said millennials have “an attitude of entitlement.”
- 27 percent believed millennials are “more interested in their own personal development” than the company’s.
- 21 percent are adapting their work hours to allow more flexibility for millennials, and 17 percent are allowing employees to work from home.
2. Embrace Their Attitudes
For many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, finding a balance between work and life has been an ongoing challenge. Knowing where that line is and how to unplug from the office to enjoy life outside of it can be a struggle. Yet millennials have a different outlook on what a work-life balance means, as Bradt explains for Forbes.
“For Millennials, the line between work and personal time is one such artificial boundary,” he writes. “As one student remarked at a CEO Connection Forum on Managing Millennials, ‘What I do is incredibly convergent with who I am.’ It makes no more sense to them for you to worry about their doing personal emails and texts during ‘work’ time than for them to worry about doing work emails and texts on their ‘personal’ time. There is no work time. There is no personal time. There is no work/life balance. There’s just life.”
As with so many elements of business, communication is crucial when it comes to working with millennials. In her story for Forbes, Ashley Stahl writes that a CEO’s communication lines have to stay open and that the staff should “work around the table—not up the ladder.”
“We get frustrated when we’re denied access to the CEO,” Stahl says, “because we grew up with the message that success isn’t determined by experience, it’s determined by powerful ideas and the willingness to act on them. The leaders we look up to are the ones who believe in actualizing big ideas efficiently and collaboratively.”
4. Be Prepared to Listen
Another trait experts all agree on about millennials is that they have a desire to be heard. A traditional business structure may not naturally allow this, especially if there are lots of managers between a CEO and the young employee. Making the extra effort to listen — and for those millennials to recognize that you are listening — can make a huge difference. Ken Gosnell talks more about this in his story on LinkedIn.
“CEOs should train leaders to listen to the areas that these twentysomethings are wrestling with their self-esteem and self-concept. Although they have been praised greatly, many still struggle with self-defeating talk. The wise leader will be the one that can listen to the areas of weakness and in those deficiencies, call out their greatness. Jeff Martin, CEO of Tribal Brands stated it this way, ‘Young people need to be asked what matters, not be told what matters.’ When a leader can encourage their team, the impact can be long lasting.”
5. Think Like a Teacher
Business leaders can learn a lot from teachers since they are tasked with the responsibility of developing lesson plans for students on a daily basis. Writing for U.S. News & World Report, Robin Reshwan recommends analyzing the issues each employee is dealing with and then jotting down the skills or traits required for dealing with these issues.
“For example, say you are the manager of a customer support team at a technology company. The key business problem your team addresses daily is how to resolve customer issues completely with the least amount of time and minimal amount of escalation. The key skills and activities required are product knowledge, knowledge of available solutions, communication skills, problem resolution tactics, knowledge of when and how to escalate, documentation, research and the expected results per employee. Now that you have outlined the requirements, think about each employee and in what areas she excels and struggles. An ideal plan will praise and expand the employee’s strengths while addressing his or her weaknesses.”
6. Be Flexible
All CEOs want results, but those who believe results only come from an eight-hour office shift may find it difficult to relate with the millennial generation. Stahl explains in her Forbes piece that CEOs should foster an office culture that is less rigid and not solely dependent on the clock.
“Work is where the wi-fi is, and companies that want to compete in the new workforce need to understand the importance of flexibility with Gen Y,” Stahl writes. “Whereas Baby Boomers equate hard work with long hours, our mastery of technology and multitasking enables us to get more done in less time, wherever and whenever. For that reason, we aren’t interested in ‘set’ hours. If we can get more done, faster, value us and don’t punish us by having to sit in a cubicle with boredom and recycled air after a job well done.”
7. Be Specific
When dealing with young employees who haven’t been part of the workforce for long, it’s important to be as specific as possible when guiding them along their career path. General or theoretical instruction may not yield desired results and can even result in higher rates of attrition amongst the younger staff. As Reshwan explains, establishing expectations with measurable results gives millennials something to aim for and thus a better chance to succeed.
“Often, your newer employees don’t know what they don’t know, so they aren’t even aware if there are better options available or if their performance is subpar,” Reshwan writes. “Quantifiable goals or objectives give a well-needed measurement tool and allow for detailed, productive coaching conversations on how to achieve success. Not sure if you’re specific enough? Ask your newest employees to write out the key business problem (or problems) they were hired to solve, how success in their role is measured and how they think you would grade their performance so far. Their responses will show the clarity of your message.”
8. Frequent Feedback
Millennials crave feedback, according to Stahl, and they want to know that their efforts are appreciated. This is why it’s important for CEOs to use this as an opportunity to connect with younger employees. Millennials are not needy, she says, but they do care about their contributions to the company and improving their skills.
“We were raised with more feedback and encouragement than our older counterparts, and social media has made us more aware of the availability of instantaneous feedback,” Stahl writes. “In short, biannual performance reviews aren’t going to cut it. Why should we wait six months to find out we’re screwing up when you can shoot us an email and the problem will be resolved in a day? We don’t want to be micromanaged, but touching base with us frequently makes us feel valued, and gives us the motivational fuel to keep hustling.”
9. Authentic Feedback
Millennials don’t seek to receive generic or empty compliments about their work. An insincere pat on the back will likely not register as true appreciation and can even do the opposite of the intended effect. According to Gosnell’s story for LinkedIn, millennials “crave authentic conversations.”
“They want to be praised for a job well done, but they do not wish to be given empty words,” Gosnell explains. “Look for the value in their efforts and the particular effects that their efforts bring. When you give praise, make it as specific as possible, highlighting their efforts with detailed examples.”
10. Realistic and Timely Feedback
Formal evaluation processes naturally tend to include both positive and negative feedback. As Reshwan writes, it’s important to share feedback with millennials as good work happens to maximize the employees’ chances for success.
“… Effective coaching, just like good teaching, should not be negative most of the time,” Reshwan explains. “Discussing desired results is a forward-thinking way to draw emphasis to what is needed and expected before it’s too late. The opposite is trying to manage after poor performance. It is much harder to motivate and improve performance when you are addressing failure versus coaching along the way to reach intended objectives.”