Getting past generalizations is a major growth step. I admit that I joined the bandwagon of Boomers and Gen Xers expressing exasperation at what we perceived to be the less-than-professional performance of millennials, worrying about what would become of the American workplace if they could not get with the program. Yet some recent experiences have opened my mind to a more optimistic perspective. Considering that as of last year they have outnumbered us Boomers by a small margin (75.3 vs 79.5,) it doesn't make sense to reject the unique gifts of what is now the largest generation.
A few months ago, I was interviewed on a local business radio show. I had a chance after the show to chat with the other guest, Ben Wieder, owner of a local marketing firm.
The subject of employing millennials came up, as my husband and I had experienced a four-year sojourn of having kiosks in malls, testing out a retail approach for a line of products we developed that until then we had only sold wholesale. Because of the whimsical nature of our brand and the fact that we were in retail sales, the majority of our personnel were millennials in their early 20s.
We had very good intentions towards our personnel, but there were some major disconnects; we readily owned up to being clueless about this new generation.
In the mid-2000s many of our friends, parents of these 20-somethings, also pronounced their progeny as selfish and entitled. Criticism of the millennials has also been echoed in a number of disparaging articles and blogs, pointing out their lack of professionalism in the workplace and extremely high turnover rates.
Wieder, who at 38 straddles Gen X and Y, has developed what he feels is an enlightened and avant garde approach to working with millennials in his firm. He has found that millennials rebel against hierarchy and get impatient if they have to go through multiple levels of authority to reach a decision-maker. They want to be heard and feel needed, so they function much better being part of a network where each employee has access to their coworkers, and the lead decider is accessible to all. (Think wheel instead of ladder.)
Technologically this generation is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous ones, learning new advancements in a fraction of the time. Wieder feels that it's important to give millennials a sense of ownership of a project. He also has discovered that they exhibit more stability when treated as adults. For instance, from day one the employee is issued a company credit card and a full three weeks paid time off, giving them a sense of being trusted and trustworthy. His turnover has been minimal and no one has ever abused these privileges.
Since that radio show, and after having had a chance to interact with his millennial staff, I have come to appreciate and embrace the differences between our generations.
Several of our former retail employees -- now in their late 20s, early 30s -- have reached out in the years since we shut down the retail operation to express fond memories of their brief time in our employ. In my opinion, this shows sensitivity and growth and bodes well for them. So maybe it's time for us "older folk" to hold a positive vision for the generation of the future.
In her beguiling article, executive coach Jamee Tenzer, wisely counsels: Our minds love to be right even when they are wrong. Expect the best of the millennials in your workforce and you will see more of their strengths. Tenzer suggests that we be more like Yoda and "welcome them aboard the mothership."
Aye, Aye, Captain. I'm on board!