Celebrating Millennials

Stereotypes about younger workers abound, but they’re really not all that different.
Sherri McDaniel is CEO of Sage Solutions Group, a human resource consultancy in Livonia.

In the world of human resources, rarely a day goes by without reading an article, a blog, or a white paper that provides advice on how to “deal” with the unique characteristics of millennials.

Outside the human resource world, it’s not uncommon to find negative opinions shared in a variety of articles and editorials. No doubt, millennials often get a bad rap — but to make a fair evaluation, one must first understand their influences.

Millennials, born roughly between 1977 and 1995, grew up in a time of unparalleled technological change. For them, the internet and iPads replaced newspapers, fostering the delivery of information into sound bites.

This is a fundamental difference that has been highlighted time and time again, but it’s an important one, nonetheless. They simply interact with the world differently. With that as a starting point, it’s interesting to note millennials aren’t necessarily up-and-comers; they’re already here. In fact, based on data from the Pew Research Center, they’re the largest current living generation.

Proportionately, millennials represent:
•    Higher levels of education.
•    The highest percentage of renters.
•    The highest number of household heads who identify as multiracial.

Consider that more than 40 percent of millennials have at least a bachelor’s degree (the overall average is around 28 percent). As a result, they hold the title of owning the largest amount of student loan debt of any generation in history. For those keeping score at home, millennials constitute an educated, diverse workforce that, in a lot of cases, has financial challenges.

Almost every generation gives the “new kids” a hard time. Regardless of when you were born, your parents undoubtedly lived through different societal issues, pressures, and stereotypes. While past generations often complain that they had to “walk two miles uphill to school in the snow,” millennials are accused of having routinely won “participation trophies.” No matter your generation, you likely look to the next group of recruits with some level of misunderstanding.

Roll all the normal generational differences in with an ever-evolving digital world, add a sound bite or two from the 24-hour news cycle machine in which we all live, and the pejoratives regarding millennials fly. In this world, general assumptions are numerous: Millennials can be impatient, self-centered, unmotivated, or job-hoppers, and they possess a short attention span.

“Simply put, millennials work together, they foster others to do the same, and through collaboration they maximize the collective talents within a given business or organization. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

To dispel one point, millennials aren’t really job-hoppers. Research shows that there’s only a 3 percent difference in turnover at the 13-month mark of employment and no difference at the five-year mark between millennials and Gen X’ers (born roughly between 1964 and 1980).

From experience, more appropriate adjectives for millennials include educated, articulate, and socially conscious. Many find this generation to possess advanced communication and technological skills, along with a greater appreciation of diversity. Couple this with a tendency to be openly collaborative, and one can easily identify the synergistic value that’s inherently present within this group.

Simply put, millennials work together, they foster others to do the same, and through collaboration they maximize the collective talents within a given business or organization. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In turn, Millennials are very serious about achieving a healthy life and work balance, and frequently give back to the community through their charitable efforts.

So how do organizations thrive in this new world? The answer is simpler than one might predict, and it’s a largely accepted practice within the workforce. Assess and address your organizational culture by reviewing your practices, policies, and processes; hire the best people, and don’t settle for less; and then work hard to retain them.

One of the best ways to retain employees is to engage them. There are key areas many organizations can improve upon that will impact engagement. Start with your management team and focus on soft skills. Technical skill isn’t necessarily what differentiates a good leader from one who’s considered poor.

Skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and relationship management are components of a strong leader. Focus on employee development through mentoring programs, fostering effective employee-supervisor relationships, and participating in social projects like building a home for Habitat for Humanity.

These strategies play right into the culture that motivates and engages millennials to be key players who are on track to become highly effective leaders.