The Millennial Conundrum – Are You “Stuck” In Traditional Mode?

The term “millennial” still comes with a lot of baggage and misunderstanding, most often that this generation of workers is “entitled”, “lazy”, and “disloyal”. “Why bother hiring them?” is a behind-the-scenes frustration common in the corridors of American business. Those companies are “stuck in traditional mode.”

Millennials – adults age 18 to 34 – make up the largest generation in American history, at 75 million individuals1. As of 2020, they will make up 40% of the American workforce.2 More than one in three workers today are millennials.3

It is crucial for business leaders to recognize and seize the opportunity of leading and mentoring millennials, and to do that now. Know this immediately:

  • They work for a purpose.
  • They are more agile than other generations.
  • They are confident and aspirational.

Now, start adapting. Here are the most important elements for working well with millennials:

  1. Look for leaders. Millennials offer key leadership skills: 1) they are overall superb and uncanny listeners; 2) they naturally trust others; 3) they naturally coach and help others; 4) they develop strong personal relationships.
  2. They love feedback. Millennials are more open than other generations to direct feedback; they love clarity and transparency and they are less likely than other generations to take feedback personally.
  3. They want to know how the work they are doing contributes to a greater mission. Have a mission and culture that really matters and you will likely have millennials dedicated to you/your company. It is about being part of a mission that is bigger than any single individual.
  4. They are non-hierarchical. Millennials prefer a collaborative approach to one that is “I am over you”. We work this way at Choi & Burns, because it is good for business and great for our clients. Leading with mutual respect and excellent teamwork, we allow good ideas, diverse perspectives and the highest quality of work to come before titles or seniority.
  5. They see their lives in chapters. Millennials are lifelong learners. They stay in jobs for shorter periods of time because they value the “learning” that comes from the “next chapter” and “the next one” after that. If you provide the learning and skills development for that “next chapter” – they may just stay.
  6. They are “disloyal” for a reason. Twenty-one percent of millennial workers left their jobs in the past year to do something else, three times the number of other workers, in part, because the economic downturn affected them: they learned not to trust employers for a lifetime of work. You can change that, too.4
  7. They are prodigious networkers. Whether social media, email or texting, most millennials find their jobs through networking. You need to be doing that, too, in order to access them.
  8. Develop mindshare with them. Engage with them; develop relationships with them. Find out: how do they think? How do they want to be challenged? What do they care about? – engage with them before you need them.
  9. The line between professional and personal is more nuanced. The approach is more holistic than other generations. For millennials, it’s never “here’s what I do for my job” and “here’s what I do for play.” It’s all one. Work life balance usually means work life integration.
  10. Leadership is key. Millennial turnover is costing the US economy $30 plus billion annually.4 This is the call-out to Baby Boomers and Gen Exers: take up the mantle to lead and be led by millennials. Allow their energy, perspectives and aspirations to add dynamism to your teams and company cultures. You will be rewarded and surprised.