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Loving Millennials: A Message to Generation Y (and Those Who Know Them)

I think things get lost in translation as other generations act to reach out to this particular generation. My message to the Millennials? Other generations want to help.
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I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden 1/3 of my staff are under the age of 35. Makes sense though. By next year Millennials will make up half the workforce. I'm loving it. Why? First of all, as a Baby Boomer, these guys are my kid's age. And who doesn't love your kid? I'm feeling optimistic as they enter the stage to rule the world.

I think things get lost in translation as other generations act to reach out to this particular generation. My message to the Millennials? Other generations want to help. Simply ask for it -- and keep these things in mind as you go through your professional lives:

1. Seize Professional Development. Most of you won't work for large companies who have formal training programs, but that doesn't mean you should be left out. However, you don't get if you don't ask. At my organization, I encourage everyone to take at least one course to continue building their skills. In annual reviews, professional development is always one competency that we talk about. It's amazing how many staff don't take advantage of this opportunity. Engage your Baby Boomer leadership and get them on your side (think back to how you might've gotten your parents to pay for something big). Engage them. Make them an advocate for you. When you finish something, let them know how it helped and how much you appreciated your support.

2. Show Up as a Leader. I know much has been said of CEOs of digital companies who get to wear tattered t-shirts to the office. But quite honestly, that is the exception. Dress code is a hassle, but who wants to be staring at your cleavage while you're presenting the next great idea?

3. Old Fashioned Relationship Building is Not Dead. Digital communication is fantastic 90 percent of the time, but you don't go out for a beer with someone based on how you relate on the Internet. Spending time, cultivating relationships, is something us Baby Boomers have done a little bit of in our careers. Maybe not over the top Mad Men variety, but a lunch or two. Think about networking the old-fashioned way -- inviting someone you admire out to lunch. Or just simple gestures: I just hired a communications manager who wrote a hand-written thank you, complete with correct address format. Seems small, but completely relatable and irresistible to our generation that used to open the mail and read it.

4. Get Deliberate About Mentoring. A lot has been said about reverse mentoring: how Millennials can teach us a thing or two about Reddit and Tumblr and why "Wrecking Ball" is a feminist anthem. But the real relationship can be built as a two-way street. There's nothing better than sitting down and brainstorming high-tech (Millennial), low tech (Baby Boomer) solutions. Most new product development teams at Union Plus (i.e. developing a new health care exchange product for uninsured workers) involved several generations. Low tech, high competency skills like contract negotiations and project management can be learned side by side with digital platform recommendations.

5. Practice Patience -- or at Least Appear to. When talking across any sort of difference -- age, creed, education level -- it's so important to have patience with those you're exchanging with. Even if you have a firmly developed position or stance, or approach to a particular thing, it's always important to be patient enough to listen. Understanding why someone believes something that they believe is almost (if not more important) as actually agreeing with them.

Children of the '60s and Generation Y have so much in common. They both are sharing a space across time that is transformative and historic in epic proportions. I'm excited to see where they take the world as it's being handed to them. They're connected. They're smart. They could stand to be a bit less cynical -- and in turn we should definitely be less cynical about them. This generation is on to something.

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