"In new employee orientations, we include training on how to use landline office phone systems, since many younger people have never used a landline," an HR manager recently told me.
"In one of the undergrad IT classes that I teach, I asked my students how they would put together a banking system that had to handle millions of transactions a second, and they came back with the idea of just stringing together a bunch of PCs," said an acquaintance who is a professor at an east coast university.
Both statements are from boomers in positions of authority and management, and both statements express frustration in dealing with Millennials for whom they have some responsibility. So if you are a boomer or a GenX manager, how do you get the best out of the new generation of workers?
A survey conducted by American Express and Millennial Branding revealed that managers should focus less on negative stereotypes of young people and recognize instead that "they have a lot to offer," according to Dan Schawbel, a Managing Partner at Millennial Branding, as quoted in a September 2013 Wall Street Journal article.
Schawbel and others say stereotypes that older managers have of Millennials run the gamut from an impression that there is widespread attention deficit, a poor work ethic, the inability to use a phone, and a general feeling of entitlement that, according to one telecom manager "makes them think that they should start in a managerial position and work up to a corner office within five years."
The Millennial Branding and American Express survey showed something else: that nearly 6o% of the young people who responded said their managers can teach them how to be successful at the company. Another 40% said their managers are wise, and another third of those surveyed said their managers are willing mentors.
The takeaway for managers is that they are the ones in positions of authority, so it's their responsibility to reach out and make the situation work. One way to start is to take stock of what Millennials can bring to the company. For instance, in some areas (e.g., social media) it might be smart for Millennials to do some "reverse mentoring" of the older generations.
When connecting with Millennials, it is helpful for managers to know that these new workers tend to value efficiency over the amount of time that it takes to get something done (which is what traditional metrics focus on). It doesn't mean that time as a factor should be dropped from all of the productivity formulas, but it could mean that minds should be open to new ideas about how to do work. "The future of work is not a one-size-fits-all model," said Schawbel.
How important is it for managers to capitalize on this?
Businesses are moving at ever-increasing velocities. The speed of change is daunting, and agility is absolutely critical. To gain agility in companies, many CXOs look to the streamlining of systems, operations, and even corporate acquisition strategies, but they overlook the day-to-day collaboration that must occur to make all of this happen — and the potential repercussions that can occur when boomer and GenX managers and Millennial employees don't connect.
Like preceding generations, Millennials want to make money, and they want purpose and satisfaction in their work; they also want work environments that accommodate their lifestyles (e.g., a working woman with daycare needs), which in many cases were accommodations that boomers didn't have but had to fight for.
In a June 2014 Forbes interview, Stiller Rikleen, executive-in-residence at the Boston College Center For Work & Family and president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, is quoted as saying:
"I do a lot of speaking and training and several years ago, whenever I was doing a presentation, the conversation always came around to people complaining about Millennials in the workplace. One stereotype is that Millennials feel 'entitled.' But are we confusing the word 'entitlement' with what self-confidence and self-respect look like in young people? And is it off-putting to an older person to see young people come into the workplace so self-confident?...I don't think other generations were raised to be focused on being self-confident the way Millennials were — the whole parenting notion that 'you are special' and making your children feel secure in the world....It's essential for managers to understand what drives Millennials because if you come up with the wrong answers, you're not going to be able to retain the people you want to retain."
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.