Guest Post by Monica Flores
As Generation Y Millennials enter the workforce, senior managers across the country express bafflement, confusion, and frustration at the inevitable gaps in communication that arise when the younger folks culturally clash with the Boomers. Types of questions we’ve heard:
+ “What should I do when our employee says negative things about co-workers on Facebook during company time?”
+ “Our new hire is completely disrespectful in e-mails, doesn’t show up to meetings, and took company materials home instead of turning them in as instructed — I need to get those back from him before we let him go, but he’s been unresponsive.”
+ “My assistant comes in ten or fifteen minutes after everyone else has started their workday. Sometimes it’s a half-hour of us sitting around waiting.”
+ “Every day, this staff person does only what we specifically ask her to do, but no more. I can’t manage my own schedule and also provide that kind of micro-management.”
The Gen-Y demographic cohort, born between 1978 and 1994, tends to be leisurely, focused on work-life balance, and unmotivated unless inspired. “They’ll do what they need to do, but nothing more,” says Dr. Yonie Harris, dean of students at a West Coast public university. For example, 20- to 30-year-olds might think nothing of coming into the office at 9:30 in the morning (for a 9 am start time), taking a long lunch, leaving early, or spending copious amounts of time on Facebook at work. “We’ve had to set clear expectations,” explains Harris, whose job requires oversight and policy-making for a college campus of 20,000+ students.
Elizabeth Agnew, Executive Leadership Coach at Integrative Leadership Strategies, encourages us to plan carefully for a workplace that honors Millennials. “What is happening at work – the thing causing this cultural clash between the generations – is that young people are demanding that individuals be honored, demanding that all people are heard, and demanding that we all play a win/win game.” Agnew, who consults with companies like Google, JPL, SETI, Lockheed Martin, and Sun Microsystems, develops customized strategies to build collaborative teams between individuals in highly technical fields. Her four simple guidelines for how to engage young workers? “Ask them what they think. Be transparent. Acknowledge their impact. And see them as who you know they can become.”
To cope with Millennials, I recommend managers learn from Vin Diesel, an early adopter of Facebook and currently the actor with the highest number of Facebook Fans (14 million as of September 2010). A multicultural actor who speaks Spanish, can play African-American, Latino, or Caucasian roles, and who reaches out regularly to his worldwide fan base, here are some lessons from his page that I believe you can integrate into your own company’s management style.
1) Be respectful of other people’s life choices.
Understand your workers and their wide diversity of cultural, religious, political, family, and physical backgrounds. Does your office celebrate Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist holidays? Do you only stock coffee and black tea, or can you also offer juice and soy and herbal drinks? Have you considered adding a bike rack? How about a unisex bathroom? Many differing attitudes and customs prevail in our younger generations: consider broadening your approach and providing training to anticipate cross-cultural, cross-religious, cross-generational interactions. Hint: Be sensitive. Not everyone behaves like you or values the same things you do.
Vin Diesel says: “Positivity is free here for the taking, inspiration awaits only to be recognized and confidence is always encouraged. However, please enter our world with caution, for there are angels abound… and if you are unaccustomed to love and compassion, you maybe [sic] in for a shock.”
2) Focus on the mission, vision, and values of your organization.
Millennials derive motivation from a strong sense of personal satisfaction. They consider opportunities based on how well the workday roles and responsibilities match their highly personalized sense of justice, fairness, and “good fit” for their skills. Focus on developing and articulating your company’s goals, and clarify how your employee’s day-to-day routine fits within overall goals. Hint: It’s not just about the money. Give your employees something that makes them care about being at the office, too.
Vin Diesel says: “They say, do what you love and you will never work another day in your life.”
3) Practice inclusiveness.
For Generation Y, “win-lose” is not as attractive or engaging as “win-win”. To your younger workers, the “bottom line” does not sound as motivating as a “triple bottom line.” A company with a culture of individual competitiveness, dirty tricks, lying, cheating, or vindictiveness, will lose its workers to the company that fosters cross-pollination and collaboration, integrity, honesty, sharing/caring, and team-building. Your edge in recruiting and retaining top talent boils down to your ability to provide an inclusive, affirmative workplace that offers clear guidelines for behavior, quantifiable benchmarks for results, and ongoing mentorship, coaching, and support opportunities for your workers. Hint: Annual reviews do not work anymore. Consider bumping up to weekly, monthly, and quarterly coaching in teams and in-person.
Vin Diesel says: “We got a BIG family! /smile”
If you’re an employer or manager, take note: the qualities that make these workers appear somewhat lazy at work are the self-same qualities that give this generation a focus on holistic health, a commitment to finding personally satisfying and engaging work, and an extremely inter-connected network of communicative, action-oriented individuals who engage with the people around them. Gen Y workers want to make the world a better place, and they’ll do so on their own terms.
My takeaway? Learn from the next generation, adapt and evolve, and assure your company’s future by understanding the way this newest generation of workers think, learn, feel, and communicate.
“Vinbook”, or Vin Diesel on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VinDiesel
Managing Generations in the 21st Century Workplace, by Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs University of California, Santa Barbara: http://www.ucop.edu/hrap/pdfs/day2/1b_demographics_age_diversity.pdf (PDF)
Michael on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=834830646
Yonie Harris, Ph.D., Millennial Campus
Yonie on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/yonie-harris/13/793/b9b
Monica S. Flores, author of “Fifty-one Ways to Build your Community of Clients Online” is a principal at 10K Webdesign http://www.10kwebdesign.com where she develops websites for green businesses, multicultural women entrepreneurs, and progressive organizations.