The average age of our 35-person company is 28. Yes, 28. I’m definitely pulling that average up, but my 39-year-old self hired most of these millennials, so I think I’ve earned the right to speak about working with millennials.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past five years:
Most people get it wrong…
Some of our millennials are insulted by the way they are perceived in the media and in the eyes of society. Others just think it’s funny. I have to admit, I thought it was funny, too, after doing a quick Google search for “working with millennials.” Look at some of the golden nuggets I found:
- From The Balance:
“Millennials seek a challenge and do not want to experience boredom.” (Right, because those of us who are older LOVE to be bored!)
“Your millennial employees are used to loving parents who have scheduled their lives around the activities and events of their children. These young adults have ideas and opinions, and don’t take kindly to having their thoughts ignored.” (Yes, so good to know that all of our employees had the EXACT same kind of parenting! How handy!)
And perhaps my favorite, this bit of advice: “Worry if your millennial employees aren’t laughing, going out with workplace friends for lunch, and helping plan the next company event or committee.” (Don’t get me wrong — our young computer engineers are very social, and there’s a lot of laughter in our office. But if I judged how well our employees were integrating into the company community by how often they volunteered to plan social events, we’d all be in trouble!)
- From Wikihow:
“Not all their ideas will be conventional, but consider that a good thing. They often have new-fangled ideas that wouldn’t occur to older generations.” (Ha, ha, I’m not sure who should be more offended by this: millennials or those of us from the “OLDER” generations…)
“Avoid being confrontational with this age group; they won’t respond well.” (Good to know — we’ll just make sure we give them time to calm down and a juice box after giving them bad news.)
- From Business Know How:
“Quick and efficient communication is the way millennials choose to interact, not necessarily face-to-face. They are typically unaware of their non-verbal cues.” (This really made me chuckle. A few months ago, I hired a millennial assistant. She’s three times more likely than I am to pick up the phone and call to get an answer to a question. Seriously! I’ve been doing a scientific study!)
“In giving critical feedback, managers will need to first compliment millennials before they will listen to any criticism. They also have little patience for ambiguity, so directions during feedback sessions must be clear and specific.” (Oh man, there are no words. Are they describing our employees or my kindergarten-aged nephew?)
Okay, so enough with the sarcasm. Is there anything we CAN learn about working with millennials?
I do have some advice about working with young people. But frankly, I think this advice pertains to younger people in general, not necessarily just millennials. When I joined the workforce almost 20 years ago, it’s likely that this advice would have been true for many of my co-workers then, too.
Don’t underestimate millennials.
Just because the young people in our office wear cargo shorts and flip-flops and can occasionally be seen watching “The Office” with headphones over their lunch hour, don’t assume that they should be treated like “interns.” We do, actually, have a lot of interns (read more about our two-year apprentice program here) around. But it would be a huge mistake to think that these students are best used by getting coffee or making copies. We choose our apprentices carefully, and boy, are these students impressive. They start writing code by their third day with the company and are some of our most bought-in employees.
We are always on the lookout for “experts” in different areas of technology within the company, and several of these un-official titles are held by people that have been out of school for 1-2 years. Makes no difference to us. Why should it?
We have worked with a local marketing company that has probably a lower average age than we do. We met with this company recently to get a quote for a possible partnership. Three of us from EduSource sat in the room with four employees of this company, and not one of them was over 25. There was no “senior” person in the room. And it was just assumed that they would handle the situation appropriately. Boy, did they. They wowed all three of us with their insight and confidence. Their company had confidence in their ability to handle a brand-new client, so we naturally did too. Sure, they were young and intimidatingly trendy. But they were also capable and professional and really bright.
Expect millennials to be career-focused and driven.
According to Priceonomics, in 2015, the average age to get married in the United States was 27.9. Compare that to an average age of 23.3 in 1980 (source: infoplease), and you’ll see one very practical reason why millennials might be more driven than, say, I was when I entered the work force in 2000. You see, I’d already been married for a year and was within two years was having our first child. I was hurrying away from work at night to get home. Hire a 22-year-old today, and they’ll often be years away from “settling down.” (But that, too, is a generalization. We have one married 24-year-old employee and last year had TWO married student employees.)
Youth has more advantage today than it did in the 80’s because of this. It’s good to realize that there might be a concrete reason why recent-grad employees seem more driven and more capable and more future-focused than we remember ourselves being.
Concentrate on community for bought-in millennials.
If there is one way that millennials are dramatically different from earlier generations, it may be that they don’t give respect based on position. Instead, I’ve found that respect is earned by being vulnerable and genuine. Once, when EduSource was having a rough quarter financially, Jason was open about it to our employees, telling the truth about the struggles. Some of our older employees responded by freaking out, starting a job search, and in at least one case, finding a more “stable” job (of course, these employees have families, so there is, in some way, a logical explanation for this). In absolute contrast, one of our very young millennial employees wrote us an email asking that we keep paying into his 401K and covering his health insurance, but offering to forgo his salary otherwise. Indefinitely. With no expectation of repayment. Mic drop. We were FLOORED by the buy-in this exhibited. We didn’t take him up on it — he’s way too valuable to us to risk in that way (and things weren’t that dire anyway), but the contrast in these responses exhibited to me what was at least partly a generational reaction. Millennials respect vulnerability, while the blunt truth is threatening to some of those who are older.
Community is something we really focus on at EduSource (see the video here for more info about that). We don’t just say it, but we really, truly believe that productivity goes up when people honestly like the people they work with. And that if employees trust each other with mundane things (“Can your daughter babysit my kids this weekend?” “Would you help me install a water softener?”), they are much more likely to trust each other professionally.
Obviously, this is true for all people, not just millennials. The difference might be that those of us who count our time in the workforce in decades rather than years are more likely to put up with a bad work culture. After all, we’ve all worked in negative cultures before. Millennials are maybe not as patient in dealing with a crappy work environment. If they don’t enjoy being at work, look for them to leave. We know this is especially true with our software engineers. They can literally get jobs anywhere — probably with better benefits and a higher salary. But they’ll (hopefully!) stick around because of the relationships they have with other employees and because they know their opinions count and are respected here.
I don’t think I can over-emphasize this point: Community counts with millennials.
One word: energy
Young employees are young, obviously. So they have a ton of energy. They aren’t yet bogged down by life and families and schedules. They are ready to go, go, go. We recently had an all-company picnic at a park. Everyone mingled and enjoyed getting to know the families and kiddos represented. But long after the families had left to get the little ones to bed, the millennials organized various sand volleyballs games and laughed and played into the night. I got more positive feedback about this than from many other more complicated events that I’ve planned.
My husband and I invite the younger employees over often for dinner and games. As often as not, crazy active chaos ensues, from employees trying on our kids’ moonshoes to games of knock-out in the driveway.
Plainly put, people who are 40-plus will enjoy lunches and fancy dinners and family-oriented events. Millennials will come to these and enjoy them, but give them an active option, and they’ll really be happy.
So does the media ever give these youngsters the credit they deserve?
Sure. In fact, society as a whole is swinging back from the “millennials are lazy and entitled” mindset. Here are a few good examples:
- From Forbes:
“For millennials, their jobs are everything … (It’s) how they introduce themselves at parties, what they think about during their free time, how they make friends, even how they express themselves creatively. Because it is the center of their lives and their identity, they are concerned with how they are going to advance in their career and succeed.”
“It’s as if they (millennials) are standing at the foot of a mountain and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have on the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there’s still a mountain.” (Sinek makes some great, true observations about millennials that keeps in the forefront respect for this group of people.)
Interesting article about an entirely-millennial news organization. Maybe balance is important? “Mic’s staff of 106 looks a lot like its target demographic: trim 20-somethings, with beards on the men and cute outfits on the women, who end every sentence with an exclamation point and use the word ‘literally’ a lot.”