Ask Not What You Can Do for Millennials, But What Millennials Can Do for You

Why are we always trying to cater to Millennials? In media, marketing, human resources, education, all you hear about is "how do we please Millennials?" In terms of selling to Millennials, I get it - go ahead, test out a product with them all you'd like, make it colorful, whimsical, add some bacon - whatever appeals to them so you can make money.

But when it comes to employers, why are we so concerned with making sure we meet their needs? Sure, we want to retain them. But is that how we do it, by changing the way all of us interact in the workplace? By adapting all of our norms to please them? Throw out everything we know, like the whole "paying your dues concept," and basic respect for co-workers and supervisors with more experience than you? Perhaps it is time for Millennials to learn how to please the rest of us.

Really the stereotypes of Millennials are not that different than those for any other generation of twentysomethings transitioning from school to work. Millennials coming out of college, like twentysomethings of any generation, may have trouble adjusting from roughly four years of college to over 40 in the workplace. They want to be promoted, they want to be experts, and they want it to happen right away, just like Gen X recent graduates did in the 1990s. Twentysomethings are exploring, they are job hopping, they are impatient to succeed and transitioning to the new rules of the workplace after spending their entire lives up until that point in school.

The difference is not so much in twentysomething traits as it is in the older generations' reactions to adapting to the younger generations' needs. For Gen X and previous generations, the reaction to the age group was "get used to it. This is how the real world works. Pay your dues." For whatever reason, maybe because of sheer numbers of Millennials, the reaction now among employers and human resource experts seems to be "what can we do to please Millennials? How do we speak their language?"

I think we're taking the wrong approach to retaining Millennials in the workplace. It may very well be that each generation has a different style of communicating, and if texting works better for them, go right ahead and emoji away. But if a Millennial expects to be promoted to director within one year, we should make them understand how much they have yet to learn, rather than continue inflating their egos and elevating them to inappropriate levels of responsibility.

We should help Millennials adapt to the workplace rather than expect the workplace to adapt to Millennials.

Below are ten things Millennials can do to adapt to the rest of us:
  1. Your career span is 40 years. College was only 4. Pace yourself; adjust your goals accordingly.
  2. Your supervisor probably has more experience than you. Be glad for the opportunity to learn from them.
  3. Experience counts for a lot more than degrees in the workplace, at least it should.
  4. Showing initiative is great, but always ask questions. Always make sure you are working towards the project-wide vision and deliverables.
  5. Don't ask what's in it for you and your career, ask how you can help move the company forward.
  6. Step out of your office and have personal interactions with your coworkers. Texting is fine for quick questions but developing relationships can be the most meaningful aspect of work.
  7. If you think you can do the work better or differently, offer an alternative. Once you've voiced your idea, let your supervisor decide whether or not to use it. Respect their decision.
  8. Titles are meaningless. You could be called a director but still be treated like an assistant. If you've got a good gig, don't jump ship for a title change.
  9. You will have to do some grunt work to get to where you want to be. Deal with it.
  10. Supervising employees is not as easy as it looks. One day you'll have to deal with Millennials.