This first appeared on Forbes.
The millennial generation (born 1980-2000) is the most educated and tech savvy generation in history, and it also appears to be the most controversial.
Many companies – and their older employees – are frustrated by this new class of worker, who they perceive as being entitled, disloyal and non-conformist.
…But in light of the recession we lived through, is it really so surprising that we aren’t interested in using our education to man the copy machine or brew coffee?
We got a rough deal early on.
Private sector job creation slowed to a crawl right around the time we started pouring out of our pricey colleges, and more Baby Boomers than ever have been holding on to the existing jobs.
Where did that leave us? Those of us who were able to find work quickly learned that the corporate bottom line mattered more than employee well being, and many of us were unceremoniously tossed out when the recession hit. The rest of us rode the waves of uncertainty and unemployment, adrift for months or years, learning how to take care of ourselves… Even living with our parents.
It was a humbling experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
The costly college degrees that were supposed to grant us VIP access to the American Dream? They turned out to be general admission tickets to the nosebleed seats. And the companies that were supposed to chase, cherish, and reward our talents forever? Forget it – loyalty was too expensive.
Unfortunately for fearful employers, it doesn’t matter how strongly they disagree with our beliefs and values: Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce in the next 10 years.
Many companies are starting to comprehend the significance of this, making structural and behavioral workforce changes that were unheard of even a few years ago. Others are dragging their feet, refusing to accept the strength of the tide they’re up against.
So, what do you do if you’re a CEO looking to grow your business in a world where Generation Y is taking over?
I’ve presented to countless companies on the topic, and the truth of the matter is it’s all about understanding the generational divide and bridging it with a few key ingredients:
CEO Tip #1: Keep the communication lines open, welcome ideas from everyone, and work around the table – not up the ladder.
Baby Boomers are known for their strict adherence to hierarchy and harmony, whereas Gen Y really likes the “team” approach – to just about everything. We get frustrated when we’re denied access to the CEO, 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.
CEO Tip #2: Build a culture that focuses on results, not hours. Set standards for the results you seek, and if your employees get their work done, let them leave. This not only inspires the employee to keep producing stellar results, it sets an example that will motivate the rest of your team… And it’ll improve retention.
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. 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.
CEO Tip #3: Don’t hide the ball when it comes to compensating your team. Employees who perform well know they can do so elsewhere, so reward them… Or expect them to network their way into a new job.
We are about all about compensating merit, not longevity or hierarchy. When the oldest guy on the team makes the most and contributes the least, you’re telling us that performance doesn’t matter. We won’t stay in your company if you don’t promote us when it’s deserved. The 3% raise won’t work for the employee who is giving more than 100% of themselves.
If you want to keep us, pay us – it’s simple math. But to be clear, we don’t care about the money as much as the principle of getting paid for what we are worth. Our generation is $1 trillion in debt for earning those degrees we use in your office each and every day, so it should come as no surprise that we want financial recognition.
CEO Tip #4: Open your eyes to the enticement power of benefits. If you can’t give raises, give more vacation time (and flexibility, see #2).
A recent poll of graduates revealed that 44% would leave their current job if their benefits were cut, and 20% would quit if their perks were being cut. Key among those is time off – whether it’s vacation days, or giving us a day off for a job well done, these bonuses go a long way with Millennials. This gets back to the idea of flexibility: We are willing to work our butts off for you, but having time outside of the office is a much greater incentive for hard work than knowing that the only reward in our future is just another day in the cubicle.
CEO Tip #5: Make sure your employees understand their purpose in your company and lay out what the future looks like for them if they join your team.
Millennials work for a purpose, not a paycheck. In some cases, this means the employee is looking for meaning in the job itself; in other cases, the employee is looking for meaning in the context of what he or she will learn and take from the experience. For us, the promise of professional development is worth its weight in gold: According to one study, 65% of Millennials reported that it was the most important factor in staying in their current job. We want to grow as people, and will stay loyal to companies who support our interests and potential.
CEO Tip #6: Give your employees frequent feedback and let them know their hard work is making a difference.
Judge away if you like, but our generation is a big fan of the gold star sticker. It’s not because we’re needy; it’s because we care about our contribution to the company and want to improve when needed. 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. 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.
I was recently called in to coach a top law firm in attracting and retaining Millennials. Most of the executives I met with were excited about the opportunity, but some of the older people seemed disgruntled by my suggestions.
“I busted my butt to get where I am,” one aging gentleman sniffed. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that we’re going to make our hiring practices more Millennial-friendly just because that’s what they’re used to.”
… And I get it, I really do.
It’s not about relegating CEOs to the sidelines and letting Millennials steamroll their way into the corner office, and it’s not about bending to entitlement or handing out favors. It’s about tapping into this incredibly powerful generation’s core strengths and cracking open the universe of what will be possible for businesses in the future.
After all, we are the leaders of the future. The data doesn’t lie.
When you look at it through that lens, the question simply becomes one of commitment. Are you committed to your long-held beliefs about what’s right and wrong in the workplace? Or are you committed to progress, innovation, and the power of an idea?
Those who are coming around to the latter are finding out that “Millennial” is a mindset, not an age.
And if you don’t care about it, we don’t care about you.