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5 ways to work with millennial expectations

5 min read


The new 20-something hire is walking down the hall with her eyes fixated on her phone screen again. Is this what the future of the workplace looks like? Maybe.

An estimated 36% of today’s workforce is millennials, wtih 46% expected by 2020.

Between baby boomers and millennials is a gap in workplace expectations and values. With such different values, how can these two generations work together? Here are a few suggestions for how boomers can better understand and work with millennial expectations:

1. “Years of service? You mean two, right?”

Instead of the long tenure that baby boomers value, the millennial resume is peppered with shorter stints. Boomer hiring managers look at millennial resumes and scratch their heads. “Only eight months at the last job and four at the one before that? That doesn’t seem right,” the boomer says.

Job-hopping is normal for millennials. The last two decades have seen multiple recessions with weak recoveries. Layoffs have taught millennials to not expect loyalty from their employers, and they rightly see no reason to show loyalty to a job if it is not meeting their economic, social, or emotional needs.

These cultural and economic trends are reshaping the terms and length of employment. In fact, 91% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to a Future Workplace survey. Meanwhile, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median tenure of older workers is more than three times higher that of workers aged 25 to 34.

Baby boomers need to work harder to retain millennial talent. Offer more of what millennials value, including work-life balance, social responsibility and growth opportunities. They treat all their assets — time, money, relationship-building — as having equal value. That means time off could serve as a substitute for a raise.

2. “I need learning opportunities. Now.”

Growing up with search engines at their fingertips, millennials expect to be able to learn and retrieve information when they want from anywhere. Boomers grew up in an era when skills were learned by shadowing a professional. Learning required time and patience, neither of which millennials are used to with the Internet’s provision of tutorials.

Many millennials prefer to learn as they go, so don’t be surprised if your millennial employees dive right into a project with little to no information. Show them where and how to access all company resources and information they may need. Be supportive, but don’t micromanage them, as they are more self-sufficient than generations before.

3. “Your end-of-year feedback is too late.”

Millennials see work as an opportunity to grow and learn, not just produce. Because of that outlook, they value timely and frequent feedback. They see rigid hierarchies as inefficient and old-fashioned, and tend to value feedback from peers as much as management.

Annual reviews have never been an effective way of giving actionable, meaningful feedback, no matter the age of the employee. The millennial desire for learning is so strong that they get frustrated without regular feedback to supplement the learning process.

Provide ongoing feedback for millennial employees. Be specific and direct. Include positive feedback with any negative so millennial employees will know what to do more of.

4. “Move quickly before I’m bored.”

Boomers might mistake millennial boredom for laziness; rather, they are seeking mental stimulation. As digital device natives, millennials are comfortable switching among multiple tasks. It’s normal for them. That means more work at a faster pace, but it must interest them.

Don’t drown your millennial employee in long, unproductive meetings. Keep meetings short, to the point, and break up information into shorter bits. Allow them to take notes on digital devices so they can access them later. Include memes, videos, or a little pop culture in presentations to keep them engaged.

5. “What I do is more important than when and where I do it.”

The line between work and life is blurred for millennials. They value flexibility and the ability to work when and where they will be most effective. Boomers often suffer from the “butts in seats” fallacy — the false belief that one must be in the office from 9 to 6 to actually get work done.

Having grown up with technology, millennials know that creative and information work can often be done from anywhere at anytime. It is extremely frustrating for millennials to be evaluated based on attendance instead of results, or to be forced to adhere to an arbitrary schedule which lowers their productivity.

Evaluate millennial employees based on the work they produce rather than what time they arrive at the office every morning. Allow them to create their own schedule in which they can be most productive. If possible, allow them to work out of the office or from home for part of the week. When your millennial employees see you value the “what” more than the “how” and “where,” they feel free to channel all their focus into producing great work.

Though boomer and millennial expectations don’t always line up, both generations can work successfully together with understanding of where the other is coming from. Millennials should realize their older managers were brought up in a different workplace culture. In the same way, boomers need to keep up with changes in the contemporary workplace.

What are some other gaps in expectations between millennials and baby boomers? What would you suggest to help the two generations work together more effectively?

Raphael Crawford-Marks is the co-founder & CEO of Bonusly, a Web platform that helps companies reward and motivate employees by using peer-to-peer bonuses. Connect with Crawford-Marks and Bonusly on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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