This article was originally posted on Katherine Spinney Coaching.
There is a quote that has floated around the Internet for years. Often attributed to Socrates- though likely incorrectly- it has come to symbolize each generation’s disapproval with the one that follows it: “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” As inevitable as the coming of the next generation is the lament that it is so much worse than the one that preceded it.
As a Generation X-er myself, I have endured the laments about my own peer group- we are the “me” generation, we don’t work as hard as our baby boomer parents, all we care about is money. Each generation has its own identity, and all too often, this identity consists of all that is wrong with it. This has perhaps never been truer than with the Millennials. Today, I will argue that: 1) there is a lot that is right with this generation and 2) we are not so different from them after all.
At 80 million strong, Millennials, or Generation Y, compromise 1/3 of today’s workforce. By 2020, that number is predicted to be almost half. So, whether you admire them, begrudge them or are one of them, you need to learn to work with them. Success in the workplace is contingent on effective communication, collaboration and understanding of those we work with. This did not begin with the current generation and it certainly will not end with them.
It is often said that the Millennials espouse different values than other generations, but it is not the values themselves that are different. Instead, it is the willingness to honor and advocate for them. For years, workers have sacrificed their own wants and needs for the betterment of the company, a value in and of itself, perhaps, but this does not mean those wants and needs disappeared. Instead, they were overshadowed by a more prevalent mindset that they did not matter. That work was work. That the paycheck was the reward. That work doesn’t need to be fun- that’s why it’s work. The Millennials are not satisfied by this, and neither were the generations that preceded them.
Below are five of the most important workplace values of the Millennial generation. As you examine them, I ask you to evaluate how they line up with your own values and how they can contribute to and improve your own organization:
- Transparency– Long gone are the days when employees were satisfied with an explanation of, “I’m the boss, that’s why”. If we are being honest, were employees ever satisfied with this? We may have kept quiet about it but that doesn’t mean we ever really supported it. Decisions that are made without employee input or knowledge only result in increased suspicion and decreased buy in, two major factors that diminish job satisfaction and performance, eventually leading to increased turnover. Increasing transparency, on the other hand, builds trust and connectedness. It also holds management accountable to ethical decision making. And if management doesn’t have an answer for why they are doing something, they shouldn’t be doing it.
- Work life balance– The Millennials are hardly the first generation to want an acceptable balance between their professional and personal lives, but they are the first generation to demand it. In fact, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, 75% of Millennials state that work life balance is the number one driver of their career choices. And why shouldn’t it be? For far too long, we have infringed upon employees’ personal lives for the good of the company- working late, obligatory weekend events, praising the first in last out employee. Working a lot has been viewed as commendable, but today’s generation thinks differently. They realize that working a lot does not always mean working effectively and efficiently. They also realize that there is more to life than work. They want flexible hours. They want to be able to work from home. They want to work hard and play hard. Don’t we all?
- Coaching and feedback- Professional growth and development are important motivators for this generation. As a result, today’s managers must focus on more than just the task at hand. They must develop their employees through coaching and professional development. Millennials are more likely to leave a job that does not provide these. They want feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to improve, a basic role that managers should already be filling. Millennials are not shy about holding them accountable for this. Good for them.
- Recognition for a job well done– Millennials want equal access to growth, leadership and recognition opportunities. Many companies continue to reserve these for their longer-term employees. Specifically, a full 87% of today’s recognition programs focus mainly on tenure. Millennials are railing against this, and why shouldn’t they? While loyalty and dedication are admirable qualities, today’s generation lived through a harsh recession and saw their parents’ loyalty rewarded with layoffs and downsizing. In addition, staying in one company for a long time does not necessarily mean that person is doing good work- it simply means he has been doing work at the same company for a long time. Millennials want to be recognized for their good work, regardless of how long they’ve been doing it. Makes sense to me.
- Meaningful work– More than any other generation in the current workforce, Millennials state that meaningful work is important to them. They are driven by making positive change and want to spend their time in a company that values this. They are drawn to socially conscious organizations and respond positively to opportunities to contribute to the greater good. The average employee spends 90,000 hours at work over his lifetime. Why shouldn’t he want to spend them doing something meaningful and personally valuable?
It is time we put our assumptions about Millennials aside and open our minds to the positive contributions they are already making in the workplace. Recognizing and building on our shared values is a powerful first step. Are you finally ready to take it?
Katherine Spinney has spent her entire career working to improve the lives of others. Educated at the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Katherine has earned Master's degrees in both teaching and social work. She has worked in diverse environments from urban to rural to suburban as well as four years living and working overseas. With extensive experience in the public and non-profit sectors, Katherine has been in management for nearly a decade. She has combined her experience, education and passion to create Katherine Spinney Coaching LLC in order to support others on their own professional journeys.
Originally published December 6, 2017