Millennials are a hot topic in the halls of the largest and most successful companies. Talent managers and leaders at all levels are asking “What do they want?” and “How do we retain them?” We read that they need constant positive reinforcement, have to get to the gym, and want to be promoted tomorrow. And then there’s the real headshaker—the prevalence of these alien creatures is increasing even as they continue to confound us.
I grew weary (and a bit curious) listening to those around me lament about millennials. I watch the “millennials” on my team, and my impression is very much the opposite of what I hear from complainers and read in the media. I see men and women (especially women) who are deeply committed, highly intelligent, profoundly articulate, and so capable. Sure, many have serious fitness goals, but they are absolutely not compromising their careers to make it to the gym.
To resolve this contradiction in my own mind, I asked a few millennials to lunch in the hopes that they could demystify the millennial culture. First thing I learned? They don’t identify with that label. They told me they had to Google it! That insight alone was worth the lunch. OK, so what else did I learn?
Ageism is alive and well(And I thought I was the only one worried about that). They get sized up pretty quickly by age, and invariably someone makes a comment that’s best summarized as “those damn millennials.” It’s no surprise, then, to learn that they feel they can easily become the scapegoat for when things go wrong—just because of their age.
Gender is not an issue. Millennials don’t see gender as an advantage or disadvantage, but they readily admit that things are just different for men and women. And sometimes that difference does become less than optimum because of an unbalanced environment. These women in particular are blind to the larger gender conversations taking place in the advertising industry, which seems a blessing to me. They’re just going to go and do.
The big picture really matters. Not because they deserve to know, but because they can better understand where they fit in and where they can best contribute. Ultimately, they very seriously take preparing their managers to be successful, and having a deeper understanding of the big picture allows them to do this.
Recognition is about their team knowing they contributed. It’s not a solo game. Recognition can come in many forms, and it doesn’t have to be completely visible. It’s nice when it’s unexpected and results in more opportunities and growth. They really like the opportunity to “reach up” and “rise to the occasion.”
It’s a personality thing, not a millennial thing. There will always be people who will feel entitled or who don’t want to work very hard. Broad generalizations especially for such a broad label just doesn’t compute for them.
Relationships matter, and it’s part of a greater value equation. The beauty of multiple generations in the workplace, along with ever increasing diversity, is the availability of a wealth of knowledge and experience to tap into. That’s where the relationship comes in. They talked about wanting to know people as people and not just in the professional sense. I, for one, feel confidence in knowing they have something to offer, that mentorship is no longer a one-way street. They fully expect to be friends with their supervisors, and to my eyes, that’s a marked change from other generations.
Don’t take “jumping around” personally. Don’t believe what you’ve read. These are not flighty people. They are deliberately hunting around to find the right path, especially when graduate or professional school is not the immediate next step after college. They see it as a natural learning process and necessary for growth.
To me, it all comes down to this: We need to expunge Millennial from our vocabulary, since it’s not in theirs.