The Truth about Millennials

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and then some time later created emoji . One of the most widely translated works in history has been given a 21st-century update with the publication of the Emoji Bible. Described as a great and fun way to share the gospel, it interprets all 66 books of the King James Version with Unicode-approved emoji and commonly-used internet slang and contractions”.

This was the story that featured most frequently when I recently googled ‘millennial’.  An amusing piece of nonsense maybe, but seriously was this the best I could find about the generation that apparently has become the largest age group in the American workplace?

First of all, who exactly are the Millennials?  A fair working definition seems to be adults aged 18 – 35.  This compares with Generation X (35 – 50) and Baby Boomers (50 – 70).

The stereotypes would suggest Millennials are lazy, entitled and delusional.  They also live with with their parents.  It’s unclear however whether this is because of the cost of housing, their inability to fend for themselves or just because they actually like for their parents’ company.  One article came up with an interesting comparison between how the relationship Generation X and Millennials had with parents is portrayed in popular TV.  “Sex and the City” barely featured the protagonists’ parents, while in “Girls” they prove as important as romantic relationships, with entire episodes are dedicated to them.

Anyway, what prompted me to think about Millennials was the number of articles I’ve been reading recently about how to manage them at work.  It’s great to see that instead of just moaning about their many faults (real or imagined) and wishing they’d behave ‘more like us’, real thought is being given to how to respond to potentially different attitudes, motivations and values.

Among the many suggestions for managing Millennials, the one that particularly stuck out for me was a shift from being a boss to being a coach.  Millennials want managers who can coach them, who are interested in them as people and not just employees, and who can help them make the most of their strengths.   With this comes a shift from having formal annual appraisals with periodic reviews to having regular conversations and keeping in touch using all the technology that’s integrated into a Millennial’s life.

Ten years ago, Peter Kawalek, a Professor at Manchester Business School wrote a blog post called “The Very Ordinary Case of Anna Eagin”.  This identifies the skills that one Millennial had acquired, particularly as a ‘digital native’.  The choice an organisation employing her faced was would they encourage her to conform to a culture of formal meetings (the longer and more snooze-inducing they are then the more worthy they must be), or would they instead decide that it is the organisation that must learn from Anna?

Ten years on, we’re still talking about how best to manage Millennials.  As another article suggested “the generational preferences of these digital natives matter, and you should care. They will increasingly affect talent decisions and business outcomes over the years”.  Given the number of Millennials now in the workplace however, perhaps the question should be shifting towards how Millennials will work best as managers.

Sources

  • The Emoji Bible has arrived … and ? has yet to declare it ?, The Guardian
  • Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force, The Pew Research Center
  • Millennials: The Worst, Most Entitled, Most Spoiled Generation in the History of Humankind?, Alternet
  • The Very Ordinary Case of Anna Eagin, Peter Kawalek
  • Working With Millennials? Gallup Says Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong, Inc
  • 6 Really Dumb Moves: What Managers Should Never Do to Millennial Employees, Inc

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

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