4 steps to getting the best out of Millennials in the workplace

There are a number of important ways to engage Millennial employees

There are a number of important ways to engage Millennials, and it is important that managers understand the benefits of these approaches and embrace them, writes Jennie Walker

“Millennials”. The very word inspires spirited conversations among seasoned managers, and has led to a steady stream of workshops and books with telling titles such as How to Manage Millennials, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, and Motivating the What’s in it for Me Workforce. With all of the attention the subject gets, it would seem that there is something particularly different about the newest generation of the workforce.

A review of history over the past century reveals that generational clashes are a nothing new: Traditionalists (1925-1945) clashed with Boomers (1946-1964), and Boomers clashed with Gen X’ers (1965-1985). Only the topics of the clashes differed: savers versus consumers, company first versus family first, followers versus pioneers, rule abiders versus independent contributors. The differences between generations in the workplace were largely based on values and working preferences in the past. History teaches us that generational differences are to be expected and managed.

Researchers have certainly found distinct preferences among Millennials. They tend to value flexibility in work structures and personal recognition, for example. What is most significant about this generation is not in their values and working preferences, however; it is in how they are ‘wired’.

Millennials and technology
In societies with access to technology, the Millennials are the first generation to grow up as digital natives. They grew up with computers, the Internet and a vast array of mobile technologies. An extensive multi-million dollar research project by Don Tapscott (Grown Up Digital, 2008) revealed that, as a result, they may be literally wired differently than previous generations.

Tapscott says that their reflexes are ‘tuned to speed and freedom,’ creating a shift away from working cultures of control to cultures that enable contribution and collaboration. Their generation has begun to transform the way we communicate, learn, shop and work. Instead of focusing on how to ‘manage’ Millennials, the magic question may be what can managers learn from them? While there are several characteristics that could be explored in more depth, two that are most pertinent to the workplace are contribution and collaboration.

The Millennial contribution
Don’t be fooled by an employee staring at a handheld screen for hours as the image of a loner. That is not loner behaviour. It is actually a deep focus on communicating with others. Whether on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, real-time mass communication is happening. It is fair to argue that some of that behaviour is self-promotional, but that could be said of face-to-face communication too at times. The long-winded colleague and over-participator are guilty of this, for example.

Millennials are interested in others’ experiences and opinions. They stay tuned into what is trending. They also actively contribute their thoughts and experiences to discussions. These are great skills for any manager to keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on in a department or functional area and engage with their employees. Certainly, there are professional standards and boundaries to maintain in communications, and this is a point of education for those who are newer to the workforce. Rather than discourage or be annoyed by the behaviour, the key is to find ways to harness it for the benefit of the organisation.

Collaboration for Millennials
Mass collaboration, where people work independently on a single project, has led to the creation of some of the most useful products of our time: Android software, Wikipedia, and YouTube. It is no longer necessary to have a group meeting to collaborate. Online collaboration tools have increased exponentially in recent years, and have become more accepted in the workplace. Basic shared drives that allowed employees to swap documents are now supplemented by real-time collaboration on Dropbox, Google Docs, and in chat tools.

Expensive video conferencing hardware is now being replaced with Skype for Business and Google Hangouts. There are a myriad of low cost, easily accessible ways for employees to engage with one another and contribute in their own time wherever they are in the world. It is important that managers understand the benefits of this behaviour and enable it.

4 steps to harnessing Millennial’s contribution and collaboration in the workplace

  1. Work with your IT and communications departments to get access to and training on tools that are already available or to procure useful tools.
  2. Actively use existing tools and encourage others to do so.
  3. Use social media tools that your teams already widely use and create group pages where a team, department, or whole organisation can participate in a professional forum.
  4. Invite a Millennial to lead a project team on ways to better harness technology for communication and collaboration in your department.

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