Managers: Stop Trying to Please Millennials (Only)
A quick scan through the business media on any given day yields a vast number of how-to guides for hiring and maintaining a staff of millennials, as if they were exotic house pets that require special care. These tips usually recommend offering perks like happy hours, flexible working hours and of course, ping pong tables. If only it were that simple. The way we work today is shifting in some dramatic ways. This is driven by a number of factors and millennials are just one of them.
Each generation holds certain overarching views about hierarchy, corporate loyalty, necessary skills sets and what a good work ethic looks like. The question for managers shouldn’t be, “how do I deal with these confounding millennials,” but rather “how do I manage the stressors that occur when people of different generations are working under the same roof?” Instead of focusing on the whims of the younger generation, managers need to look at the big picture to smooth tensions and reconcile the views and approaches of both groups.
Here are some common differences between millennials and boomers that today’s managers need to recognize and how to balance them against each other to get the best out of your teams.
1. Tenure vs. merit.
For boomers and those who came before them, the thinking went, if you were loyal and put in your time, you’d be rewarded by the company. Tenure was what drove increases in compensation and title promotions. Millennials have had to deal with a very different employment landscape, one affected by a sharp rise in temporary and freelance staffing that doesn’t encourage, or even allow, workers to settle in for the long haul. Because of this, millennials believe that merit, not tenure should drive respect and upward mobility for workers. In their eyes, varied expertise, education, personal projects and career wins should count for more than the dates they signed their contracts. Managers should be open to taking into account the valuable experience and skill-sets one can build from working in varied industries, without dismissing the institutional knowledge and focus that comes with spending years and years at the same company.
2. The importance of hard skills.
Older generations saw the education to work pipeline as relatively straight. You went to school to gain a certain set of skills that you would then hone over the course of your career. In time, this highly developed set of technical abilities or industry expertise would be your most important asset. For millennials, the view is a bit more complicated. They value intangibles such as emotional intelligence, leadership qualities, communication skills and the ability to adapt quickly to new processes and technologies just as highly, if not more, than hard skills. Perhaps this is a result of growing up in a quickly changing environment that has a tendency to render some skills obsolete as fast as you can master them, or a byproduct of the way social media has trained the younger generation to think about self-presentation. The fact of the matter is they’re both right. Mastery of hard skills is only becoming more valuable as technology advances and more jobs become automated. Meanwhile, interpersonal skills and the ability to see the big picture in real time are crucial in an increasingly complex business environment. A strong, well-balanced team takes the best components of each view.
3. The definition of stability.
An increasing number of businesses are waking up to the fact that it’s often cheaper to hire freelancers or talent from the new breed of skilled “flex workers” we see emerging -- designers, coders, writers, etc. that companies can hire on an as-needed basis -- than hiring full-time staffers. This creates some friction between boomers who see full-time jobs with benefits as “normal” and preferable, and millennials who value the dynamism and increased knowledge that can come from working at a variety of companies on a short-term basis. It’s not that millennials don’t value stability; they view stability as gaining a diversified set of experiences and skills. They want to be able to rely on a paycheck just like everyone else, but many don’t see full-time jobs with benefits as the best approach to achieving their career goals. This generational disparity is something recruiters need to keep in mind as they seek to attract talent and balance staffing needs between freelance and full-time.
In reality, millennials want the same things most workers want, including their older colleagues -- to grow in their careers, to balance their work and personal lives, to make a decent wage, to work in a positive office environment. The difference is their multi-tasking, diversification approach to achieving them. So, don’t make changes to your business simply to appeal to millennials; make them to balance the ideals and work styles of all of your talent to optimize the common ground.
Justin Tobin is founder and president of DDG, a consultancy that designs, builds and manages startups inside Fortune 500 companies to ignite innovation and sustainable growth for the greater good of the organization. DDG proudly lists a diverse set of clients from IBM to The Economist, to Citibank and The Actor's Studio. Justin has over 10 years of digital innovation and marketing experience in the financial services and consumer product industries, and previously served as Vice President of Interactive Strategy and Transformation at American Express, where he developed Amex’s first social media strategy and mobile offering.