Despite some of the media hype, about the divide between Millennials and their older colleagues at work, forging common ground is not a hopeless task or an expensive one. It does require willingness of both parties to address perceptions and stereotypes and engage in open conversation. I offer some advice for both Gen Y/Millennials and their managers.
Among the common stereotypes, perhaps better termed “perceptions,” about Gen Y in the workplace are these, and I follow each with suggestions to reach workable solutions.
Stereotype/perception: Gen Y/Millennials (I will use the terms interchangeably) don’t have a good grasp of acceptable workplace behavior. Typical examples are inappropriate dress for a professional work environment, demeanor, not calling in when sick or coming in late, leaving cellphones on a desk unattended which ring and disturb others, etc.
Suggestions to avoid this stereotype: I advise employers to expand their customary orientation programs to include these issues and behaviors and lay out specific expectations from Day One. We design these sessions to both appeal to Gen Yers in language and spirit to hold their attention – and to be taken seriously.
The Gen Yer can also take the initiative by asking upfront about expectations at work or ask a parent, older sibling or mentor what’s appropriate to avoid career threatening behaviors.
Stereotype/perception: Naturally drawn to the use of electronic media, Gen Yers have developed little discretion about appropriate communication media and styles to fit particular situations at work. Regular use of texting or it’s abbreviations for professional communications, bluntness, lack of care in spelling and punctuation creates a poor impression to older managers and clients, customers and others outside the peer group.
Suggestions to avoid this stereotype: This is another subject for expanded orientation by management.
Suggested action on the Gen Yers part: Look for a mentor or coach in the organization to learn what is considered appropriate when and why. Quick and efficient is not always the better method to get desired results. Shift your focus to the other person’s/receiver’s point of view.
Stereotype/perception: Aptly nicknamed “Generation Why,” they ask a continuing stream of questions, often at inconvenient times for the recipient of the question who may be running off to a meeting, making a deadline or working intensely on a project etc. Sometimes it may be perceived as challenging a decision or authority.
Suggestions to avoid this stereotype: Asking questions is a good thing, and likely they were taught that. But be sure not to appear to be challenging a manager. Before asking the question, inquire if it is a convenient time.
I have counseled leaders and supervisors to set aside time for a regularly scheduled group session for questions to be raised and answered. Gen Yers like doing things in groups. They can get their questions out and feel listened to.
Stereotype/perception: Gen Yers are said to be demanding of quick and frequent promotions and are thought to possess a poor work ethic – often by the same person. They don’t like to do the same thing over again many times, thinking they have mastered the skill or job very quickly and deserve to be promoted to something more challenging – like team leader, VP or partner in two months. As to the work ethic perception, many Yers like to leave early and arrive on the late side in the morning. Actually, many Gen Yers are willing to work hard, but they want to work when and where they want to. They don’t buy into the facetime concept.
Suggestions to avoid this stereotype: As a young employee, have reasonable expectations. If you are not challenged enough, ask for new projects where you can learn new skills. Or initiate. Suggest something to benefit the organization and volunteer to develop it.
Stereotype/perception: Gen Yers are spoiled and over-protected by their “helicopter parents.” Only a relatively small percentage of parents actually exhibit extreme helicopter/hovering behavior such as showing up at job interviews, insisting on negotiating job offers or calling to complain to the employer about less than positive performance evaluations. However, that behavior is so inappropriate that it has gotten a lot of media attention.
Suggestions to avoid this stereotype: Recognize that while asking parents for advice is often wise, that should take place behind the scenes. An employer wants to see that young employees can make their own decisions, take responsibility and are accountable. Keep your parents out of the workplace except when invited (and some employers are inviting parents these days), and don’t talk with parents by phone several times a day at work.
Additional thoughts: I prefer to think first of the good stereotypes or characteristics attributed to Gen Y/Millennials: that they are eager to learn, ambitious, optimistic, tech savvy, altruistic, idealistic, family-oriented, seeking authenticity, appreciative of diversity and flexibility. Like their Boomer parents, with whom they tend to have good, close relationships, they want to change the world for the better. It’s worth putting the time and effort in to come to “yes.” These mindset and behavioral issues can be solved with enlightenment about why it matters, what’s in it for them (or WIFM), and how to change for harmonious outcomes that benefit the whole organization.
What would you add? Let me know what you have found to work best in these and similarly frustrating or disrupting situations.
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