May always brings a fresh batch of graduating students trying to make their way into the workforce, so you may find yourself interviewing a sudden influx of new recruits. While each of these individual candidates is unique, they all have one thing in common: they are “millennials,” members of Generation Y, and they see the workforce a bit differently than their future Baby Boomer or Gen-X employers. There are a number of ways to bridge the generational gap and ensure that these young employees are motivated and productive—and they’re easier than you think.
The stigma with millennials is that they can act entitled and may not work as hard as their older coworkers and employers, but this isn’t the case. The generational differences lie not in work ethic but in perception. Today’s young professionals grew up around technology that has conditioned them to expect results faster, almost instantaneously: emails ping back within seconds, social networking provides immediate feedback, and a vast amount of information is just a few clicks away. Unlike the experience of many Gen-Xers, praise and rewards were more readily distributed to Generation Y children, and these changes have conditioned even some of the hardest-working professionals to expect swift payoff.
As a result, it’s important to make sure you’re providing adequate and constructive feedback to your millennial employees. Although they value independence in the workplace, leaving them without praise where it’s deserved might leave them feeling underappreciated. Whereas older generations may be secure in their hard work, results-driven Generation Y needs a bit more reassurance of their productivity. Trusting younger employees with a certain level of independence, checking in on a regular basis, and rewarding their hard work with a compliment or even a promotion of some sort will keep them motivated and invested in what they do.
In addition to greater independence, Generation Y employees typically want their employer to demonstrate a certain level of trust. Despite their need for positive reinforcement, millennials do not like to be micromanaged or restricted. Allowing for more of their input on big projects can help them feel more respected and invested in the company and in their job, and in many cases, being flexible with vacation time and hours can encourage and motivate them. Allowing access to popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can also showcase a certain amount of trust between employer and employee, provided the employee does not take advantage of his or her privileges.
“We’ve had a lot of success hiring and retaining Gen Y employees at Execu|Search, and many of them have developed very rewarding careers here. It’s certainly not ‘one size fits all’ and what works for one individual might not work for the other, but I’ve found that the key to managing millennials is through trust,” explains Ed Fleischman, founder and CEO of The Execu|Search Group. “If the employer trusts their millennial staff with larger scale projects and allows them to take initiative by encouraging an environment where suggestions and ideas are welcome, the millennials will feel that their work is valued and will better understand how their actions can directly affect the bottom line. In return for this trust, employers will see more motivated employees who produce a stronger final product.”
A study done at the Kenan-Flagler Business School estimates that millenials will comprise 36% of the workforce by 2014 and 46% by 2020: hefty numbers that beg consideration. With the plethora of new information, skills, and talents that come with each generation—and this one in particular—the growing number of Generation Y professionals in the workforce can be a very positive thing, and oftentimes, they can infuse new life into an organization. It’s just a matter of growing and adapting to their unique needs and skill sets.