The Importance of Understanding Millennials in the Workplace

LauriBy: Lauri Dahlberg, PHR, SHRM-CP

Our work places are changing. For the first time ever, there are four generations in the workplace.  One in particular is unique, and based on their sheer volume and drive, they will change the way we do business.

Millennials are currently the largest generation on the planet, with 75.3 million in the workplace. If you think that’s a lot, then stop to think about this:  that generation is projected to increase to 80.1 million in 2036. And to further illustrate this point, try this on: Millennials will make up half of the workforce by 2020.

Are you wondering why you should care? Well, Millennials come with their own unique perspective, expectations and ambition.  They were shaped by historical experiences that showed them loyalty to corporations isn’t the best (parents laid off, Exxon Valdez oil spill); authority figures can’t always be trusted (Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Enron); and public places aren’t always safe (OKC bombing, 911, high school shootings).  Due to these experiences, many Millennials have chosen to build their own path and not wait for things to happen.  Their mentors/idols include people who took ideas and made billions (think Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook and reality tv stars like the Kardashians).

More than that, they’re changing the workplace dynamic. Millennials have a strong desire to make the world a better place. Millennials are more globally aware and focused than any other generation, according to New York Times in Education. They are also more networked and more aware of things going on real-time, thanks to technology.  Since many of them grew up constantly connected, they are incredibly transparent, showing the good and the bad through social media and in conversation.  But it doesn’t just stop with them – they expect others to be transparent too.

If you manage Millennials, it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and what drives them. Millennials hunger for growth, development and advancement.  They want what they do to have meaning and to make a difference.  They enjoy working in teams and succeeding with other people.  They have a strong need to be autonomous (micro-managers need not apply), and want to find a better, faster way to get the job done.  Most importantly, they want to be kept “in-the-know” and given information, even if it isn’t necessarily relevant to them (see note on transparency above).

Millennials will soon outnumber Baby Boomers and Generation X. Due to predicted workforce shortages, employers will need to shift their current way of doing business to accommodate the style of the Millennial. How do you do this? Here are a few tips:

  • Provide training that is hands-on.
  • Allow work to be accomplished in groups or teams.
  • Allow Millennials to review a process and then make recommendations on how to improve it.

Millennials are among us – many in leadership roles already. It’s time we take them for who they are and harness their positive qualities to improve our organizations.  Encourage their entrepreneurial spirit and transparent drive … or they’ll find a different workplace that will.

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