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Article Category >>>Leadership

Stop Criticizing and Start Leading Your Youngest Workers

By Free Online Articles Editor       Dec 04, 2015

 Stop Criticizing and Start Leading Your Youngest Workers

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”  -- Socrates circa 400 B.C.Some things never change.  It sounds like Socrates is talking about our current millennial generation – those currently between the ages of 18 and 34.

We’ve all heard the rap against them.  They’re entitled, self-absorbed, disloyal, tech-crazy and don’t know how to communicate.  They are a generation we love to complain about.  But they’re also creative, smart, compassionate, tolerant, enthusiastic and giving – especially to those jobs or bosses that understand what makes them tick.  

Millennials, also known as Generation Y , are often maligned and quite misunderstood. And figuring out how to harness the energy and enthusiasm is clearly a worthwhile endeavor, as they are the fastest growing, most diverse group in our population and just this year they surpassed all other generations in the workforce – one in three U.S. workers are millennials.  They value family, community, creativity and the environment.  They are entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and are fiscally conservative.  They are also notorious job-hoppers and 

What this means for business leaders is that, more than any other generation, our youngest employees need to be actively engaged at work or they will leave for another job that offers them growth, opportunity or, more often than not, a meaningful, value-based work experience. So, as you as you welcome these workers into your company, here are five things you might consider:
  1. Treat them like the adults that they are…even if they show up for work in hoodies and sporting tattoos.  Relationships, respect and purpose matter more to this group than money.  Connect the dots for them. Explain how their jobs matter in the big picture.  And they are a generation that celebrates self-expression and diversity – get past the superficial and look for the value and purpose that they can provide.
  2. Let them use their personal technology at work.  Get over it.  If it doesn't cause a safety problem, let them have access to their phones during breaks at work.  They see 24x7 connectivity as essential to their own sense of purpose (and face it, so do many of us older folks) and they will be more productive if you don’t restrict their natural form of communication.  And they may see opportunities for using technology in unique ways to build your brand or engage your customers.  Incorporate their technology into their jobs – use them as your organization’s social media ambassadors.  No one knows that space better than they do.  Heck, they created it! 
  3. Over-indulge their need for feedback.  Their parents gave it to them, their teachers give it to them.  It’s about time their bosses gave it to them too.  They, more than any other generation of employee, need feedback on their performance.  If you see them doing something well, don’t just walk by, stop and tell them what you observed and why it is important.  Unfortunately, all too often we restrict our feedback to constructive criticism – if that’s all they get from you then you will lose them.
  4. They’re not looking for just a job…they’re looking for a meaningful experience.   Be infectiously enthusiastic about the mission and purpose of your organization.  Find ways for them to give back to the community and the world.  These are truly global citizens who want to do good as much as they want to do well.  Find opportunities to engage them in the world and create a work environment (with flex-schedules or condensed workweeks) so that they can engage in activities outside of work that are important to them.  If you respect their interests, they will respect and appreciate you in return.
  5. They are not entitled – they are survivors.  These amazing young workers have endured a start to their professional lives that none of their older colleagues could imagine.  They carry crippling student loan debt, entered the workforce just after the Great Recession when jobs in their field of interest were few and far between.  Lesser jobs that would pay the bills are now occupied by Baby Boomers who are failing to exit the workforce to make room for their younger counterparts.  The political landscape is full of poison.  Global warming is all that they know.  Yet they remain optimistic, engaged and in search of solutions to all the world’s ailments.  Recognize the challenges that they face and consider offering them benefits that provide financial protections and savings opportunities.  Study after study show that this cohort is more financially cautious than all other generations in the current workplace.  Use that to your advantage to help them create financial stability and security.

Are the millennials challenging to manage?  Yes, they are.  But we must also remember that we, ourselves, created these young people.  As parents, and as a society, we nurtured them and protected them and we told them to make their own way because no one (including their employer) would look out for them.  Yes, we created these creative, independent, confident generation.  And now it’s our turn to lead them.


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Claudia St. John is the author of Transforming Teams: Tips for Improving Collaboration and Building Trust. She is also founder and president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, a national human resources and management consulting firm specializing in talent selection, workforce management, and human resources compliance. As a consultant and frequent speaker, she has given hundreds of presentations and workshops on topics such as employee engagement, common management mistakes, challenges in managing a multigenerational workforce, and building trust and collaboration. Her weekly HR Minute e-bulletin and columns are followed by thousands of business leaders nationwide. Claudia earned an undergraduate degree in employee benefits and labor relations from American University and a master’s degree in business and public administration from The George Washington University. She also holds an SPHR, an SHRM-SCP, and numerous other HR and management certifications. Claudia lives in Cazenovia, New York, with her husband, David, and her sons Charles and Henry.

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