by Elizabeth Michelle, Consultant, Elizabeth Michelle Consultancy
With millennials an ever-growing part of the workforce, older baby boomer and Gen-X executives can often get frustrated and nonplussed by a generation with a reputation for being flaky, temperamental and prone to a sense of entitlement. But it’s also one that can be highly productive and tech-savvy if managed correctly.
The struggle to retain and engage this younger generation at work can be seen in many common complaints from their employers: about what they’re wearing, how they’re speaking, their lack of timekeeping or resilience, their overbearing parents, phone addictions, and a general rudeness and lack of boundary awareness.
Plenty of other articles have already outlined stereotypical problems of narcissistic, lazy and entitled millennials. But this one will focus on the single most powerful strategy I think exists: education.
Working in extreme psychiatric, rehabilitation and forensic settings has taught me that, while humanity is diverse humans are still human, whatever their age or background. My studies at Cambridge and the pursuit of a psychology doctorate have verified this notion with substantiated research. And my experiences as a therapist, educator, speaker and consultant have showed me that a better understanding of each other, and of ourselves, will heighten engagement and performance across a diverse pool of individuals.
The mindset that I advocate is that age is just another form of diversity. The last few decades have witnessed a wave of education in diversity, which has led to better working relationships, more effective workplace cultures and better results. Research has repeatedly shown that the best executive teams are those that are diverse – whether that’s defined by gender, sexuality, ethnicities, race, religion, and so on.
I challenge you to reassess your view of millennials in light of this. Instead of seeing them as a category to “fix”, why not consider them as a new category of diversity that needs to be understood, embraced… and optimised.
My background is in psychology, education and history, and the way that behaviours in generations have unfolded is an area that intrigues me. I very much enjoy running workshops exploring why generations are the way they are, and executive teams have revealed they are especially surprised by the difference a better understanding can have on management.
For example, the understanding that with the development of children’s rights comes the strengthening of young people’s voices, which could lead to an entitled attitude.
Or, with the rise of technological advances, comes social media – hence the ongoing need for feedback at work: “likes” all day on Instagram far outweigh a monthly appraisal. You’re just not giving them that buzz.
The bottom line is that there are reasons behind millennial tendencies other generations might find annoying. While education doesn’t change them, it helps us understand them, and with that comes stronger inter-working and better results, which research has shown will ultimately lead to better staff retention.
Managers have shared with me that the talent is often missed due to how difficult millennials can be to manage. However, with a better understanding of the context to their differences it becomes easier to understand and relate to them, manage them more effectively and get better results.
They might be irritating, but millennials are also the best collaborators, the most productive and the most tech- savvy. They’re also now the largest generation in the workplace, so we’ll all need to get used to working with them sooner or later.
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