April 11, 2017

The millennial workforce: A new (and a bit confusing) era

Have you found yourself recently perplexed by your millennial employees? Even me, a millennial leader, can admit to noticing some unique qualities of my millennial counterparts that can be confusing and sometimes lead to negative perceptions.

However, those negative perceptions likely derive from a place inside ourselves that still does things (and expects things to remain) “the way we have always done it.” Those dreaded words are so terrible in business operations, but yet we rarely apply them to our own personal viewpoints.

Challenging our mindset

As we transition to more millennials in the workforce, many of whom are becoming our new leaders, we need to truly challenge ourselves to change our mindset. Business leaders, managers and HR professionals must take a new perspective, which can start by asking the following questions:  

1. Training

  • How can I update my approach to training and onboarding to provide more relevant information so that my employees can better understand their job?
  • How do I continue education beyond millennials’ first days in our organization? How do I engage them to own that development?

2. Workplace presence

  •  Should I alter my own attire?
  • What persona do I portray? Could my suit mean I’m not flexible or approachable?
  • Could I be distancing myself from my team?

3. Work-life balance

  • If I challenge myself to find work-life balance, could I be a better leader and role model for my team? Could all my employees find this balance?
  • Could our work be improved to make this more possible?

4. Leadership style

  • What’s not working in our organization and/or our leadership?
  • What drives our employees and makes them want to work for us?
  • How can we express our appreciation in a way that they feel and appreciate?
  • Everyone has a choice, so how does our business become the best/right choice for our people?

Putting it into action

Now that we have reframed our thinking to something we can actually accomplish (changing ourselves instead of the entire millennial population), we can put this into action by shaking up some of the most ingrained processes, which often are the oldest, most outdated and least impactful.

This doesn’t mean everyone should throw out everything core to their personnel practices. However, it does mean we should build a plan to transform and revitalize our approach. Through focus groups, exit interviews and just good ole’ conversation, target easily identifiable areas for change. Remember – you may not always agree with the change. Here are some common areas for improvement:

  • Dress code
  • Telecommuting
  • Vacation time
  • Compensation/bonus
  • Rewards/recognition
  • Office space/office events
  • Performance reviews/feedback process

Planning and prioritizing

From here, we must take the same approach often used in operational changes – a well-written plan with some trial and error expected. Traditionally, we have viewed such changes to be either 0 percent or 100 percent and forget we have options. The in-between can help us get momentum in the right direction without having to jump too far ahead and make a decision that is hard to undo. Little steps can go a long way.

Lastly, prioritization of change is key to a successful transition. If there is too much change going on in an organization, it can lead to chaos even when all the change is good. Therefore, it is important to prioritize and focus. To do so consider the following:

  • What other changes are occurring in the business (personnel or operations or external)?
  • What can quickly and easily change without too much invested time and risk?
  • What will most drastically improve my employee’s experience?

In general, millennials are much needed change to our organization. Maybe… just maybe… what got us here, won’t get them there.


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