Productivity Perspectives from a Gen X on a New Generation at Work
I recently attended a meeting of the Colorado New Talent Management Network (www.contmn.com), which I co-founded several years ago. Our host and facilitator of this meeting, Steve Franklin, Director of Learning and Development at CoBank, led attendees through a discussion of millennials at work. The audience tossed out some of their perceptions about millennials: they are job hoppers, want to move up quickly, have an entitlement mentality, and want flexible schedules.
Let me tell you about my daughter, who is 20 and a junior at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. She’s already had several jobs. It’s been fascinating for me—a Gen Xer (1969)—to observe the work habits of a Millennial (1995). I was always interested in how the rise of technology and social networks when she was a child would impact her mindset at work. And of course, I wondered how the lessons I taught her would “show up” in her behaviors.
My daughter grew up with a jam-packed schedule of her own accord. She hated to be bored and enjoyed life to the fullest. If she didn’t have anything to do, she was a master procrastinator, so she knew enough to keep herself engaged. She had a full class load, belonged to multiple clubs (she was the president of four at one time), exercised regularly, spent time with friends, watched her favorite shows, and earned a varsity letter in volunteer service (for heaven’s sake), along with multiple awards. I was an involved parent (much like a coach) and helped her when needed; however, I encouraged her to “advocate for yourself” when she didn’t agree with a grade a teacher gave her.
Her efforts in high school earned her the Boettcher Scholarship, a full ride to any Colorado school (yes, that was like winning the lottery). Some people think her generation has an entitlement mentality because “everyone gets a trophy.” To the contrary, she deserved that scholarship from her high performance, and she did feel entitled to it. She was.
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, yes, Laura, but you’re the Productivity Pro. So it is shocking at all that your daughter is that way?” Granted, I’m sure living around me rubbed off in some way with regard to her personality and her living environment; however, my two high school boys are completely different, so that’s not the only answer.
Once she accepted her first jobs/internships, I was able to observe some of the qualities she brought to the workplace, mostly extrapolated from her stories and the advice she requested of me. Here are eight characteristics I’ve discovered:
1. Millennials need to be challenged. My daughter wants to see a project through from the beginning to end and gets quite bored with doing the same thing all the time. She works in quick, rapid bursts, and she likes to move between different tasks continually. My daughter specifically asked her employers for ad hoc projects that interested her, not just day-to-day operational types of tasks. She asked her potential employer this coming summer, “Will I able to take on new projects that are exciting to me?” She accepted the job when they promised challenging work. If you won’t challenge Millennials, they will go somewhere that will.
2. Millennials are all about results. Give them responsibility, make them accountable for their results, give them clear feedback about how they’re doing, and coach them on how to improve. Because Millennials grew up with technology—iPads, computers, games, texting, and the like—they learn quickly, so they adapt well and love change. They understandably want to be acknowledged for what they create.
3. Millennials can multitask better than you can, so give it up. For these young people, it’s normal to write a report, work on an essay, text, listen to music, watch YouTube, and carry on a Facebook conversation—all at the same time. I used to think, “You can’t possibly be doing well on your homework with all of that distraction,” but she got straight A’s, so clearly I was wrong.
4. Millennials tolerate differences. They grew up in global world and don’t “get” the big deal around diversity. They tolerate all differences and really don’t think very much about it. “Like, it’s not an issue.”
5. Millennials are direct and will ask for what they want. My daughter wants things to happen quickly. She has a bit of “professional impatience” as I call it. “Geez, I sent that email yesterday—why can’t people respond more promptly?” They are good at efficiency and want to find ways to make work easier and fun. So listen to them! They often have great ideas—let them make a difference. Because we taught them to stand up for themselves and be direct, they are fairly competitive. If they don’t understand something, they will ask you why. Hey, we taught them to question, so why should we be surprised?
6. Millennials are hard workers. They don’t just work 8 to 5. They don’t hesitate to pull out their phones and laptops and work at night if needed. The challenge is you can’t always see them working. My daughter is always “on” and doesn’t have a lot of boundaries between the different areas of her life, because the entire thing is just very exciting. They are focused on work/life integration, not balance, and have an uncanny ability to go smoothly back and forth between both; however, they are good at setting boundaries when necessary.
7. Millennials want flexibility in life, since everything blends together. For my father’s generation, success was all about face time. The longer and harder you worked, the more committed you were to your job. In fact, my father was a workaholic. Us Gen Xers pushed back against that and wanted more quality family time. As an entrepreneur, I have ultimate flexibility in my job. I drummed in life balance into her, and she internalized it and believes in it 100%. So she’s good at turning off the phone to spend time with her family and friends.
8. Millennials define success by making the world a better place. The ideals of our hippy baby boomer parents rubbed off on us Gen X kids. We were told we need to make the world a better place than they lived in. I recited that to my daughter, and she took it to heart. She served at camps for disabled adults, pushed a wheelchair-bound athlete in basketball games, taught Sunday school (still does), and led Vacation Bible Schools. She wants to make a difference in the world. Accordingly, she needs work that is meaningful and fulfilling. If you can show Millennials how your organization is making a difference in the world and aligning with their ideals, they will happily get on your bandwagon and give you plenty of discretionary effort. If you can’t, they will leave. We need to show Millennials how our goals are linked and how their work contributes to the greater whole. Spend time explaining why—they will actually follow the rules if they make sense.
And there you have it: eight productivity perspectives from a Gen X on Millennials. The assumptions the audience tossed out in the meeting—they are job hoppers, want to move up quickly, have an entitlement mentality, and want flexible schedules—are largely true. I found myself smiling and shrugging, “So what? Good for them.”
As a reminder, this is one person’s perspective on this new generation at work. I’d love to hear yours as well.