Understanding the maturing millennial: Why our attitudes to working with them need to change

Author: Greg Muller — Founder & CEO of Gooroo

Millennials are misunderstood

For the good part of a decade the working world has been fascinated by millennials.

Painted as a generation distracted by smartphones, entitled, self-absorbed, unlikely to stay in a job for long, and who don’t conform to the ‘stick it out no matter what’ mentality that has encouraged company loyalty in the past, there has been an obsession with trying to analyse and understand them.

But now we’re at a tipping point, and this depiction is getting a little old. Millennials are no longer the office juniors in their early 20s; many have a decade or more of work experience, they’re parents, managers and chief executives, and they will soon outnumber other generations in the workforce. Millennials have matured and how we view and work with them needs to as well.

Here are some tips that might help you to understand and get more out of your millennial employees.

Understand millennials aren’t that different

Many studies have proven that millennials aren’t in fact much different to earlier generations. The narcissism for which millennials are apparently known is really an enduring symptom of youth — we’ve simply over-analysed this generation.

A 2016 article by Harvard Business Review cited multiple examples showing that workers of all ages are much more alike than we’re commonly led to believe, while in 2015, IBM conducted a global multi-generational study and found little difference across age groups for long-term work goals. Millennials rated on par with other generations across all measures, including achieving financial security, making a positive impact at work, managing work-life balance, and becoming a leader.

Rather than assuming millennials are inherently different to other generations in the workforce, take time to understand their ambitions and motivations. It’s likely you’ll find more commonality than difference.

Offer a genuine career path

Perhaps because they fear an early exit, some companies fail to set proper career paths for millennials.

We know this generation is more likely to stay in an organisation where they find meaning in their work, so not being challenged in areas they’re interested in is a recipe for departure. Regular goal setting, mentoring and feedback is particularly important when working with millennials — as it is for everyone else.

It’s also important not to view management as the end goal; some people are great mentors or excellent technically but don’t want to manage people. They too should be recognised and developed in what they’re good at and engages them.

Hire for potential

One of the biggest problems in workplaces today is the practice of hiring purely for skills and past experience, and not looking at future potential. Millennials have fallen particularly foul to this, taking on roles unsuited to them simply because that’s where they could find a job.

Too often companies today require many years of experience in a rigid skill set, eliminating an entire pool of younger people who are perfectly suited to that role, will fit with the team and could help the company grow. We need to move away from ‘exclusionary’ hiring and filtering people out, to ‘inclusionary’ hiring where companies assess the entire pool and apply behavioural testing technology to predict who has most potential to succeed.

With industries like tech facing major ‘skills’ shortages while many young people are unemployed or in the wrong jobs, it’s time businesses started hiring based on how people will engage with the work, not just the skills they need to do it.

Value and cultivate their digital skills

Millennials have a competitive edge when it comes to digital skills as they’re the first generation to have grown up using computers and are quick to adapt to new technology. Our data science team shows a higher concentration of ‘digital’ roles on offer among less senior positions, many of which are currently filled by millennials due to age. It also indicates how common digital transformation is across major industries, with many big corporates hiring for digital expertise.

A company’s greatest asset is not its technology but its people. The people with the capacity to adapt to change, the ability to learn new skills and adopt new technology quickly are essential to growth. It’s important we hire for the future, value the unique contribution that millennials bring in this area, and reward and cultivate through pay, career progression and professional development.

Give credit, not criticism, to the ‘work/life’ desire

Despite being the first digitally ‘native’ generation, millennials entered a workforce that is expected to be ‘on’ email, text and phone 24/7 and have become known as a highly stressed, anxious generation. They also entered a workforce faced with very few graduate opportunities, low wage growth, rising student loans, and an increasing cost of living. Although the different generations working today share many common goals, millennials have faced several unique challenges and there is a reason they won’t hesitate to move jobs in search of better work/life balance.

Companies that demonstrate an understanding of the fact that our workplaces, and life outside of work, have inherently changed, will do better at retaining talent — particularly millennials. Embracing policies like paid parental leave, gender equal pay, continued career progression for mothers and part-time workers, not frowning upon five o’clock finishers and offering remote work where appropriate, will set up a company for long-term success.

Originally published in SmartCompany