April 1, 2014

Millennials: Heroes or Headaches?


Kayla Barrett is the president and founder of Organizational Impact, a consulting business that serves the middle Tennessee area. Their job, as she puts, is to keep businesses moving forward by increasing organizational sustainability through managing their talent. 

She cites some interesting facts about the current talent in the workplace. Today, we have four different, very distinct generations working side-by-side. Comprising less than 10 percent of the workplace are the Traditionalists, those who fall into the 64-and-above age bracket. These are the individuals planning for retirement, in the final stages of their career. Next are the baby boomers, who account for over 50 percent of the general population, and the greatest percentage of the workforce. This group includes all adults between the ages of 46 to 64. It’s a broad age range encompassing individuals in various stages of their careers. Behind them are the Generation X-ers – Kayla’s generation. They’re between 30 to 45, and represent approximately a third of the active workforce, or roughly 35 percent. Finally, there’s the most recent generation, the one that continues to inspire one passionate article after another: the Millennials.

Millennials – or Generation Y – fall between the ages of 19 to 29. Right now, there are more than 75 million of them in the general population. They’re the buzz generation right now, and get a lot of attention. Kayla finds herself talking about them more than anyone else.

The above mentioned numbers generally hold up across most industries, though she does explain that certain industries are more likely to be occupied by certain generations. The tech sector, for example, is widely expected to be taken over by Generation Y, while the utility sector is still largely comprised of baby boomers.

According to Kayla, the key to successfully working with any and all generations is understanding the individual.

Generalizations about generational traits are just that: generalizations.

Employers might be reluctant to employ Gen Y-ers due to the perception of them being impatient, slacking off, and having a disregard for institutional hierarchies. At the end of the day, she explains, all employees want the same core things. These include a sense of community, recognition for their effort, a desire to be challenged, and the knowledge that they have a future with the establishment. What differs from generation to generation is the ways in which these needs are met.

Kayla explains that generational values – professional ones – are ingrained through social practices. If you can understand these processes, you can better reach out to and manage millennials. Millennials have grown up in a fast paced generation. Computers and smartphones have grown with them. Feedback is instantaneous. Movies tickets are purchased at the click of a button.

In the workplace, this translates to impatience with the chain-of-command evaluative process. If you want to really work well with Gen Y-ers, give feedback fast and often (this strongly echoes the words of one Baby Boomer, and another guest of ours, Chuck Coonradt. Check out what he has to say about the importance of instant feed and efficiency here). They have little patience for red tape. Understand this, and you will improve your ability to work with millennials.

What really distinguishes this generation from others, in the workplace, is lack of title-driven occupational goals. Rather than wanting to be the CEO, Gen Y wants to make a difference. To get the best results, let individuals from this generation know how they are making a difference, and leverage that to inspire results. Kayla says that this does require an organizational change as well. Make higher ups successful, and accessible. The CEO may need to Bob, instead of Mr. Smith.

Often, Millennials are criticized as the Trophy generation, as they saw the implementation of the participation trophy. This doesn’t make them immune to feedback though, as employers might assume. Instead, Kayla insists, provide them with feedback they haven’t heard from others; they will value it. Then tell them how they can improve, by again addressing how that can lead to impact.

Throughout this conversation about Millennials, Kayla continues to reinforce the concept that, yes, these overarching ideas may be true about this generation, but the greatest success comes from dealing with every employee one at a time, on an individual basis. As the economy continues to improve and greater job-shake (to steal her phrase) takes place, employers will need to deal with more and more diverse employees.

For those interested in hearing more about what Kayla and her organization does, please visit her awesome podcast, Impact You, and her website, Organization Impact.

 The Facts:

  • Employers are dealing with four different generations working side-by-side
  • Each generation is distinct
  • However, always deal with individuals on an individual basis
  • Leverage Millennials’ distinctive qualities to improve performance rather than dismiss them
  • The economy is improving, which will lead to job shake-up, and newer, younger employees entering your workplace

What do you think about millennials? Send me a voice message here, or share your comments below.

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