As a species humans love to complain, and we seem to really love to complain about the younger generations. However, it’s time to give the kid-bashing a rest and look at the ways that working with the millennial generation (18-30 years old) helps us be better leaders and build better companies.
Overall, I love working with millenials. Where some see entitlement, I see self-confidence. Where some see a lazy work ethic, I see a respect for work-life balance. Where some see an unwillingness to get with the program, I see people who want meaning in their work. Who doesn’t want self-confidence, work-life balance and meaning? We all do; this is just the first generation to have the guts to ask for it at the outset.
Even though I admire these things about the younger generation, they’re not the main reason I enjoy working with them. The biggest gift I believe millenials bring to the workplace is that they’re a great BS meter to help you and your business stay real and connected to the market and the employee base.
Why do you need a BS meter? Everyone needs a BS meter! It’s all too easy for the “adults” running the business to get out of touch with what’s going on with customers, front line employees and “the way things really work around here.” Just in managing the typical overwhelm of the average workplace, most of us give up trying to weed out the BS. It becomes easier to believe our own press and reward a culture around us that doesn’t challenge us to do more, be more and innovate. Too often we find ourselves doing things because we’ve done them before, not because they still make sense.
Millenials really don’t like doing stuff because it’s the way it’s always been done. Because they’re still newbies, they see things with fresh eyes. And – because they were told they mattered growing up – they have opinions about how things could be done better. Because they’re sophisticated consumers, users and media junkies many of their opinions are worth listening to.
Case in point. One millennial left his job because he was asked to spend a half a day filling out paperwork to purchase a stapler. The glass-half-empty manager says that individual needs to get some humility and find a work ethic. The glass-half-full manager says, “why are we wasting half a day of anyone’s time doing paperwork for a stapler?!”
Working with millenials can be a blessing and an opportunity to run a better business, but to take advantage of them you have accept that there is some BS in your system and set your intention to clear it out. Here are three simple steps to help you do this.
1- Ask their opinion and listen to their thoughts. Really, how hard can it be? You don’t have to DO everything they suggest. Just listen and absorb non-defensively. Millennials love to give feedback. (They also love to receive it.)
2- Watch what they enjoy. If consumers vote with their dollars, millenials vote with their time. Where they spend their time and energy is what they consider valuable and meaningful. If it’s not what you want them to do, look for the BS in the “what you want them to do” system (see #1). Once you understand the BS there, seek to get rid of it or replace it (see #3) with something important.
3- Try to retain them. The manager who’s stapler lost him a millennial employee failed this test. Millenials want to understand how their work connects to something important. If you can’t help them see what it is, then you may lose them. Think this sense of purpose and meaning in your work is a luxury? Your millennial employees are the canaries in the coalmine for the rest of your workforce. The fact is that everyone wants to have meaning in their work and they work better when they have it. Solve the problem for the millenials and you’ll be solving the problem for your entire workforce. Solve the problem for your workforce and you’ll run a better business.
There are many more benefits the millennial generation brings to the workplace. Join a video panel of millenials and organizational development thought leaders to explore some of these themes on July 16th. Register here (recording available).