How to Understand Millennials

The topic of millennials and how they differ from older generations continues to be very popular. I often get questions about how to work with or handle my generation. How should we be treating millennials in the workplace?

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The topic of Millennials and how they differ from older generations continues to be very popular. I often get questions about how to work with or handle my generation. How should we be treating Millennials in the workplace?

I wish I could put an end to the constant conversation on Millennials, and I’m sure many of our Millennial readers would agree. However, it keeps coming up with clients, friends, and in the media. We are even starting to hear conversations about the next generation (Gen Z) that is starting to trickle into the workplace. I’ve previously written about how the generations are not actually different and gave a TEDx talk dispelling the myths around Millennials in the workplace. Today, I focus on how to interact with this generation and give tips on what to do when you feel tempted to treat them differently.

Millennials are no different than everyone else.

As discussed before, Millennials are similar to all of the previous generations. The difference is where they are in their lives. They are younger than the Boomers and the Gen Xers. They have less work and life experience. But they are just as diverse and complex as everyone else. It seems to be completely acceptable to stereotype and judge an entire generation when we would not do that about an entire gender or race, for example. I’m here to remind you to stop doing that.

So, while it may be tempting, it’s actually important not treat this group differently than you would anyone else. For example, they don’t need special job applications or training programs. Just like anyone else, you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable or different. In other words, you risk creating a toxic work environment for this generation when you give into the idea that they are mysterious or different.

Millennials may be tied to the avocado toast trend, but I know many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who also enjoy a good toast!

Millennials value wellness.

But…so does everyone else. As Katina mentioned in her recap of the Work-Family Researchers Network conference, Millennials do want their employers to provide benefits that include work life balance. However, everyone wants to have their ideal balance between work and life. Millennials are just lucky to be entering the workforce when these conversations are more common than they were in previous decades. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers that experience good balance are unlikely to want to give that up. They just entered their careers in a different environment, so they had different expectations about work and life at the start of their careers.

Instead of focusing on Millennials, it’s important to think about workplace wellness broadly. How can you create a work environment that is positive for everyone? We’ve talked about diversity, friendship in the workplace, work life balance, and the list goes on. All of the issues and the research we discuss are relevant to all employees. If you are a leader or a manager, you should consider improving the workplace for everyone’s benefit and not just to please those ‘needy’ Millennials.

Millennial employees will have weaknesses.

All employees have areas where they can improve. If you think you are noticing trends around the Millennials on your team, I want you to do two things. First, remind yourself that you may have biases about this group and remember that the one way they might differ from you is that they just have less experience. Second, if Millennials are behaving in ways that concern you, have a conversation with them. Is your Millennial employee always late? Sit them down and have a conversation around their timeliness. Just remember that there have always been late people – this isn’t an issue that only affects Millennials.

I personally believe that all generations love Instagram-worthy foods and drinks…even if they aren’t as likely to post!

If you manage Millennials or work alongside them, do not treat their weaknesses any differently than you would another employee’s. You need to have those conversations. Most of the weaknesses that are brought to my attention around Millennial employees are ones that many others struggle with as well, such as the tardiness issue. Stop looking for those trends within the group of Millennials. If trends exist across your employees (Millennial or otherwise), think about ways to help them improve. Just be sure you aren’t targeting your trainings or resources to only one group. Make them available to everyone!

Millennials are still relatively early in their careers.

If you aren’t a Millennial, try to think back to when you first started working. What did you struggle with? What could your managers and teammates have done to help you effectively enter the workplace? Try to do those things for all of the new employees entering your work environment. Help them learn the norms and the company culture. Teach them what’s expected of them. Remember that you were new once as well. What did you need to learn or improve upon to get you where you are today?

If you are a Millennial, remember that there’s a big learning curve as you enter the workforce. School does not prepare you for everything, like managing office politics or learning different company cultures. It’ll take you some time for you to get the hang of it all. Ask questions and find mentors. Be respectful when you don’t know the right answer or behavior and you will be just fine!

I would love to hear from both Millennial and non-Millennial readers! Have you ever struggled with being stereotyped as a Millennial or stereotyping them? What tips do you have for the generations working effectively together?




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