Management - Managing the Millennial Generation

Help Your Gen Y Employees Succeed

Gen YEvery generation of workers has a unique set of skills, but the talents of Gen Y employees – those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s – could be especially helpful to your business.

“The Millennial brings an enormous amount of tech savvy to the business,” says Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation Is Remaking America. “If you’re not currently engaged in social media and if you’re not doing a lot of business online, Millennials can bring that inherent knowledge which exists as a native language compared to a learned language. That’s a big plus.”

If you’re thinking about hiring Gen Y workers or have already done so, here are some suggestions for maximizing their full potential at your company.

Utilize Their Tech Savvy
Chip Espinoza, co-author of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, noticed something interesting while teaching a class that was a mix of Millennials and people in their 40s and 50s.

“The older ones were taking notes copiously on a notepad, but the Millennials just pulled out their smartphones and took a picture of the slides,” he says. “The older ones said, ‘My God, that never occurred to me.’ It’s something that’s small, but Millennials just think that way.”

Indeed, since Millennials have grown up with enhanced technologies, Winograd says their specific experiences can be beneficial to small businesses.

“A lot of us older people think of the Web as another thing to read,” he says. “You put up a website and you tell people to click on it and read all about your products or services. But most Millennials don’t go on the Web by way of a specific site. They go there by way of a search – usually Google – for the answer to a question they have.”

Because of this, Millennials can often provide suggestions for redesigning your company’s site in a way that will attract members of their generation. “They can help you make your website a part of your brand in a much more engaging way than it is,” Winograd says. “It could be designed to elicit the kind of information that would help make the interaction on the Web more customized and personal and therefore, more persuasive.”

And since they’ve been using social media since their teenage years, Winograd says Millennials can be instrumental in improving your company’s efforts in that area as well. “You can immediately put them in charge of your Facebook account, and, presuming you don’t have Twitter, they can get you into that world,” he says.

Go with Groups
Unlike their generational predecessors, Winograd says Millennials tend to be very group-oriented.

“Of course, not every millennial is that way, and small businesses are only going to be hiring individuals – but with that caveat, Millennials are much more likely to be successful working in a team than on their own,” he says. “They’re exactly the opposite of the 40-year-old employees you might have – the so-called Generation X, which prefers to do things on their own.”

Gen YWinograd believes placing Millennials in a group environment allows them to maximize their creativity. “For Millennials, teamwork is the way they thrive, particularly if the assignment is a presentation or something that can use pictures and video to tell the story,” he says. “They’re much better at that than writing a thesis or arguing through a critical-thinking process and deductive reasoning, which is not their forte. They live in a graphic, pictorial environment, and they’re very good at creating those things for the people they work for.”

Allow Flexibility
In another key generational difference, Millennials don’t typically embrace the 9-to-5, Monday to Friday work schedule, or the standard business attire.

“They’re interested in a flexible workplace. They’re not going to be into dress codes and traditional hours,” he says. “They’re going to work hard – they want to make a success out of anything they try – but they’re going to think about work as a part of their life, not a separate thing they do aside from other parts of their life.”

Winograd says Millennials aren’t trying to be disrespectful in their work habits. “That’s just them taking their job, absorbing it into the stream of activities of their daily life, and making it a part of who they are,” he says.

Espinoza agrees that Millennials don’t compartmentalize their lives like their older counterparts might do. Rather, they see their job as an extension of their personal identity. “I believe they want to blend work and life. They want to have fun at work and they don’t mind working while they’re playing,” he says.

Give Constant Feedback
Winograd says, in his experiences, it’s almost impossible to give Millennials enough feedback on their job performance. “You can never underestimate the frequency and immediacy of the feedback they’re looking for,” he says. “A quick pat on the back is one thing, but you can also simply do it with text messages or however else you want to communicate with them.”

As Millennials continue to flood the job market, Winograd argues that annual, semi-annual, and even quarterly job evaluations will quickly become a thing of the past. “Immediate, positive, short feedback is very valuable for Millennial employees,” he says. “They’re also not good with face-to-face personal interactions that are in any way confrontational, so if you have something that you want to communicate that’s not going to be positive, they probably would rather hear about it in a text, not in person.”

In other words, according to Winograd, Millennials tend to be especially sensitive to criticism. “You really have to be careful with how you give that type of feedback because they’re going to take it much harder than you expect them to,” he says. “Just as they tend to go overboard on the positive side, they go overboard on the negative side.”

Espinoza thinks a great way to boost Millennials’ confidence at work is to set specific goals and expectations for them. “You really have to have a career development plan for them in the sense of saying, ‘Here’s the path I want to have you on, this is what I’m going to do to get you there, and here are the milestones,’ ” he says.

Espinoza also believes company training programs can be very valuable to Millennials.

“Small businesses might not have the budget to do what some of the larger companies do, but I think they can take the time on the front end to be very clear in their expectations of Millennials,” he says.

The bottom line, according to Winograd, is that 60% of Millennials communicate with their parents on a daily basis, and they expect that same frequency of communication at work. “The danger is that if you ignore them for a day, they will assume that they’ve done something wrong or you don’t like them,” he says. As a result, they’re expecting encouragement and lots of feedback and even a parental-like relationship with their boss.

Display a Social Conscience
Providing constant training and offering words of encouragement are two great ways to keep Millennials happy and prevent them from looking for employment elsewhere. Also, if your company gives back to the community, your retention of Millennials as employees is likely to be higher, according to experts.

“Eighty-five percent of Millennials take into account the social contributions that their employer makes separate from the world of the profit-and-loss business,” Winograd says. “If you’re a company making a charitable contribution or organizing a charitable activity, Millennials will greatly appreciate that kind of gesture. It will make them more loyal to their employer.”