The big question of millennials in the workplace has seen many voices chime in with answers, sometimes cynically, sometimes absurdly. Statistics have been quotes, motives surmised. As a result, the generational moniker has sometimes become synonymous with teenage petulance and self absoption. While the debates rolled on, the cohort found themselves aged 20 to 35 and occupying many entry-level, mid-senior, and entrepreneurial roles across the workforce – yet, seldom found themselves included in conversations swirling about them. So the millennials in our team at Veldhoen + Company, supported by Worktech, invited a few fellow millennial professionals to a panel discussion titled “Gen Y and Z and New Ways of Working”, to get some answers. It was a talk with millennials, about millennials, facilitated by millennials.
The panelists discussed work life balance, loyalty, recognition, social media, and their priorities and responsibilities in the office and beyond.
The themes that emerged are surprising; anxiety, responsibility, and efficiency dominated the millennial professional mindset. Honestly, they came off a bit work-obsessed.
Millennials are idealistic, including about their leadership. They can be the canary in the coal mine for identifying a poor leadership culture. Their intensity can be intimidating and challenging to traditional management styles, (just like ABW), but their hyper engagement can be great for your organisation if leaders can meet millennials at their level. In the paragraphs that follow we provide some summary and context to some what we learned, to better integrate millennial talent at work and perhaps better understand this up-and-coming generation of employees, managers, customers and consumers.
What would they change about their workplace?
They want to be effective and efficient at work. When asked what they would change about their workplaces, every panelist mentioned that perfect time management is a priority or a desirable super power for them. Constantly learning and making meaningful contribution to results were also universally important to the panel. Panelist were very concerned with cultivating their own efficiency and productivity and saw this as their responsibility. They saw their bosses’ input as a vital part of this process; several panelists made long comments about just how important guidance from superiors is to their ultimate development. In short, millennials seem eager, to the point of anxiety, to do a good job.
Where does this intensity/anxiety come from?
FOMO, fear of missing out. If they are not growing and learning constantly they feel like they will be left behind. Loyalty to the boss and navigating the hierarchy used to be the path to job security for previous generations working in traditional industries, but millennials grew up knowing this path to stability was not available to them. Industries rise and fall much faster now; companies are disrupted and must adapt or die over and over and over. Rapid re-organisations and the layoffs or mergers that come with them. Millennials grew up believing that constantly gaining new skills and generating new ideas were the only defense against disruption. Ideas and adaptability are the new currency of career longevity.
The FOMO anxiety comes from growing up in a hyper connected world. Life comes at you fast when you grow up hyper connected to media and social media on multiple screens, every day. The world seems much more urgent, with instant notifications about every (significant or not) happening in your social circle and around the planet in near real time. So, millennials can feel like they are racing the clock despite their relative youth.
What does this mean for leading millennials?
A successful manager of millennials will be able to help them manage these anxieties, to slow down and direct their focus, build their resiliency towards some setbacks and drudgery in the office. Because they are so personally invested and eager to do a good job, failure could hit them hard. Doing a bad job, or earning disapproval, or letting the team down could be devastating. It is important to remind them (and ourselves too!) that failures are inevitable parts of learning and that the most meaningful progress or impact they may want to achieve in the world will be a marathon, not a sprint.
- Idealising leaders too much will eventually lead to criticism and disenchantment. Help them empathise; make handling a decision or a job stressor of your role into a teaching moment. Trust and transparency begets millennial loyalty (and I would argue, all generations’ loyalty).
- Help manage the work anxiety by reminding them that some things do take time and lack of instant results (or instant gratification) is not an indication that things are necessarily failing.
- Acknowledge when they’ve done a good job. They want to calibrate their performance constantly, not quarterly or yearly like traditional employee reviews. It would be a nightmare for them to spend six months doing something badly before being told. They see leaders as necessary teachers and partners is self cultivation.
About culture: What does a millennial’s working nightmare look like?
- Doing throw-away or busy work without any understanding of its purpose.
- A boss who micro manages or doesn’t trust them to do a good job.
- Coworkers who are more focused on own ego/prestige than results.
- Having no time for collaboration, information, sharing or discussion.
- Missing out on ideas or results due to office politics or warring egos.