We’ve all heard the stereotypes around the Millennial generation. They’re narcissistic, job-hop, aren’t loyal, and most of all, entitled. They think they deserve more than they work for, and have unrealistic expectations. Right? Isn’t that what we’re lead to believe when we talk about a generation that populates such a large portion of the workplace? It seems like it, but doesn’t necessarily have to.
The Millennial demographic, as big as it is, is brought up in a technological world that didn’t exist for the generation the preceded it. This generation has better access to internet, cell phones, social media, and information that simply wasn’t nearly as accessible as it was 15-20 years ago. Job postings aren’t posted on a cork board and the resumé is only a small portion of what educating a potential employer looks like.
This means that the expectations are bigger because this next generation knows what can, and is being done.
Let’s take fairly recent news that came out of Sweden, for example. In Sweden, there is talk about moving to a 6 hour work day. Now, as someone in Canada who may not like their job, there are two options. The first is to apply for a job in Sweden with the hopes that the application will be accepted and I can work only six hours a day. The second is that I could ask my employer or government why it is that Sweden is the only country that is doing this, and why we can’t look at a similar practice here in our hometown.
Another example would be around office aesthetics. One office may have a beautiful open concept style and another may be stuck in the ‘70’s with cubicles that limit communication and interaction between employees. Because of the hyper-connected world we live in, information about these great places to work is spreading faster than it ever has before. As a result, people are asking ‘why not me too?’.
No, things haven’t changed around what people need to do to progress another step in the organization, or to work in a more efficient manner by changing the structure and aesthetics of the office, but the way we talk about it might. People need to know that the grass will always be greener, the story is always bigger than the one that is being told, and that there are always exceptions. It is too easy for a story to be posted and go viral, only to be the flavor of the hour and forgotten about shortly after, while still having impact on the people in the office and what they are aware could be taking place.
The world of work is ever changing and the ways we work and the environments we work in are changing just as quickly. Telling stories of the newest office space are nice, but rarely do they paint a full picture of what the office culture is, or what it is like to work there. The next generation is right to ask about the opportunity to advance the workplace they are in, but shouldn’t have expectations to do so. There needs to be open communication within the office from the top-down and from the bottom-up to ensure that the environment created is one the provides the tools necessary and the environment that allows people to naturally do the best work they possible can. This awareness and hyper connectivity, paired with curiosity and desire to change, adapt, and grow, shouldn’t be confused with entitlement, which is a completely different topic.
I’m going to try something a little different today. I’m going to take generalizations many of us have come to accept, and blow them up a little more just to emphasize my point.
Millennials, for example. If you’ve been reading my posts you’ll remember that this group is (sarcastically) narcissistic, they job hop, live in their parent’s basement, watch Netflix all day, are notoriously lazy, and can’t do great work.
Let’s say that 90% of Millennials are like this. Depending on where you live (for the sake of this piece it is either Canada or the US) there are ~167 million of them (again, depending on the ages we use to define them), that means that just over 150 million of them are effectively useless.
Great! We’ve just made things a lot simpler.
Because assuming a demographic is all the same doesn’t do anyone any favours.
Instead of thinking that all people who are ~19 - ~35 (a Millennial, depending on the definition) want the same thing and act the same way is ludicrous.
Sure, many of them may act a certain way, but this isn’t bound by the years they were born. Instead, these behaviours are more based on the values of the individuals.
And so in a conversation last week, I heard that the Ford Escape is targeted at people who are between the ages of (roughly) 40-60. I started wondering if it is really the age of the person that defines what vehicle they want to buy? Or is it the stage of life, value set, and personality of the individual that is more important? Are we marketing to a demographic that is based on age, or are we talking about something that is more important- values?
See, a conversation with a good friend of mine who is over twice my age taught me something that is really important:
Age doesn’t matter.
With over twice as many years on this planet than I have, what he told me is that I trump him in experience in some places, and he obviously trumps me in others. Where we align though (regardless of experiences), is in some of the shared values we have.
These values don’t see age. They don’t see time.
And so whether we’re trying to sell a Ford Escape or trying to bring on a new member to our team, I’d like to challenge not how we’re communicating to people, but what we’re trying to say when we sell a product or a position to them.
Are we playing off of the demographical stereotypes, or are we speaking to the individual that is looking for the experience we are trying to offer?
The bottom line here is that many companies are trying to compete for the top millennial talent. Actually, just the top talent in general. We think that if they are between the ages of x and y then they are going to like a certain thing. Going back to the example before, even if 90% of these people felt that way and it didn’t align with the opportunity we are trying to sell, we should be celebrating that, not be concerned. Even if we have a target of 0.001 we still have over 1,670,000 people that would be a good fit for the experience.
Sounds good to you? Me too.
Let’s start telling the story to the individual, not the generalized demographic.
Conversing in the workforce isn’t what it was in the past. In some cases, training and initial phases of on-the-job learning may be done without ever communicating with people and hearing and learning from them first hand. Though it may not seem related, the average tenure for Millennials (those born between 1980-1994) is sadly only 18-24 months, and though communication can’t be solely blamed for the poor statistics, it is certainly a contributing factor.
Often we talk about cross-generational mentorship. That is, the ability to have different generations learn from each other in the workplace. This, simplified, is just mentorship. This mentorship requires communication. It can’t be done on a computer, or over email as effectively, and there isn’t the focus that either group would have, assuming traditional conversation were to take place. In a world where we are trying to live faster and be more productive than we were in the past, it is difficult to slow down and actually learn from the people who are more senior that the juniors in the workplace.
This leads too, to giving junior people a seat at the table. Often we recommend giving the younger generation a seat at the table to be able to provide an alternate perspective, opinion, or angle to the situation at hand. This individual doesn’t necessarily have to have an equal vote, but in a company or organization that is striving toward the same goal, it would seem silly to not have a more diverse perspective at the table.
Another thing to consider when giving people a seat at the table and valuing their opinions is the consideration of engagement and involvement in the company. The juniors that have the opportunity to contribute at a larger scale to the company are sure to be more prepared to do the best work they possibly can. Research suggests too, that these individuals speak more highly of their job, peers, and senior people in the company, and inspire and motivate others around them to have a similar opportunity. Again though, the common thread here is that conversations are taking place and people are being valued in ways they aren’t if the conversation is happening over email or phone.
Too, there is a lot of talk about the value of remote work, and we are continuing to see a greater shift of people moving from the office, to the bedroom or coffee shop. Though conversation happens in these situations, it may not be with a ‘work’ focus. The communication between employees and employers, employees to each other, and employees to peers is important in every case. Ensuring there is a space and time for people to talk and interact may be part of the key to improving retention and allowing people to do better work.
Conversation isn’t dead, but it is dying slowly. We have to ensure that there is a great deal of focus and effort being put on the creation of time and space for people to communicate face-to-face, and learn from each other as much as possible.