Stop Criticizing and Start Leading Your Youngest Workers

Guest post from Claudia St. John:
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
f
iguring 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
    24×7 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.

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.