Is there a generational, workforce clash in the making? Recently, MTV conducted a "No Collar Workers" study of Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born between 1981-2000). And the study's results may make some older workers' hair stand on end. For example: 92 percent of those surveyed feel their company is lucky to have them. And 76 percent of Millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them. Based on these results, it might be easy for readers to interpret younger workers' attitudes as egotistical and self-important.
Is this a recipe for conflict in the workplace? It could be. A recent Time article reports there are approximately 80 million Millennials, between 44 and 50 million Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980), and 76 million baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964). Also, "Approximately 10,000 millennials turn 21 every day in America, and by the year 2025, three out of every four workers globally will be Gen Y."
So, can we all get along at work? Charles Purdy, senior editor for Monster Worldwide has studied intergenerational conflicts and thinks it's possible to leverage Gen Y workers' attitudes for positive results. He suggests the following to careerists who are working with the youngest members of the workforce:
1. Create a transparent work environment. Purdy explains, "Information builds trust, community, and a shared feeling of purpose." Retaining these workers requires engaging them. "Gen Y feels engaged when they know why. When appropriate, make data available for all employees to see. When people know the score, they feel trusted."
Purdy quotes Brad Karsh, president of the workplace training company JB Training Solutions, when he says: "Millennials have been taught to ask 'Why?' So we will give them an assignment that maybe isn't the most glamorous assignment in the world. We'll say, 'Go pull numbers for the spreadsheet,' and they will say, 'Why?' Now older generations, when they hear that,they think, 'How dare you? I am your boss. Because I said so.' The reason Millennials are asking that is they legitimately want to know 'Why?'"
2. Turn away from a time clock evaluation calendar and take the focus off of hierarchical structures. Instead, create a motivating environment where performance is related to concrete goals and projects. Purdy notes, "Millennials don't go about their work in ways that are intended to get them to the next rung of the corporate ladder or win them favor with their bosses. They prefer to get involved in projects and initiatives that fascinate them, that they consider worthwhile, and that they see as useful to the world at large."
3. Recognize star performers publicly, and tie their great performance to the success of the organization. Publicly reward junior team members who are doing a great job. But Purdy warns, "Do not make the rookie mistake of creating false reasons for praise."
4. Teach them. Younger employees are very motivated by education. While their eagerness for success and opinions can be viewed negatively, Purdy suggests, "Consider that Millennials often act out of ignorance and not out of arrogance."
5. Ask frequent questions and wear authority lightly. Engage younger workers by asking for their ideas. For example, this generation tends to be very tech savvy. Tap into those skills.
6. Invite interaction with members at all levels of the organizations. Purdy says, "Younger employees are often shyer than their older counterparts, so invite interaction not just with yourself, but with others throughout the company … For this generation, life comes before work, and work is intertwined with life. Gen Y has an ingrained lack of confidence in organizational stability, so they are less loyal to employers." Keeping them connected to individuals and providing potential mentors will enhance relationships and work products.
7. Offer opportunities for Gen Y workers to start making decisions immediately. However, do so with some limitations. To prevent younger workers from being overwhelmed by responsibility, Purdy explains, "It’s a good idea to assign projects broken into multiple steps or deliverables."
8. Give them some attention. Purdy says, "Millennials are highly social, with large, interconnected 'tribes' that they're loyal to. Tapping into their craving for interaction will help them feel engaged in the company's goals."
9. Emphasize long-term rewards, and set an example. Millennials as a group have a tendency to be philanthropic: They care about the world and want to work to make it a better place. Companies can leverage this to their advantage and create workplaces and cultures to appeal to their employees and customers.
10. Use social media as a way to sell your company as an awesome place to work. Instead of over-regulating online activities, Purdy suggests organizations use Millennials' energy for online activity to the company's advantage. He says, "Create corporate blogs that cover your company's activities and culture. Encourage employees to get involved in your social-media activities to promote the company's goals. Be sure to keep it genuine."
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.