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Gen Ys/Millennials: Getting Beyond Stereotypes to Engage the Best and Brightest

Thursday, February 26, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Engage Millennials | Best | Brightest | IndySHRM

Nancy Ahlrichs by Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CDE

Gen Ys/Millennials: Getting Beyond Stereotypes to Engage the Best and Brightest

With Gen Y/Millennials making up almost as much of the current workforce as Baby Boomers, woe be to the employer who does not integrate effective engagement and management tactics into their culture. Too many organizations today cannot attract—much less retain—Gen Y employees. The challenge will only get harder going forward.

Part of the problem with managing and engaging this young generation is that too many employers have a negative outlook toward their Gen Y workers. They think they know what makes Gen Y employees tick (or not tick) and fall victim to stereotypes from the outset. The following are three common misperceptions about Gen Ys—and the reality behind them.

  • Gen Ys/Millennials are entitled, are lazy, and think they know everything. Reality: every generation feels “entitled”—just entitled to different things. Millennials graduated into a work world in the depths of a recession that seemed it would not quit. As a generation, they experienced the highest rates of unemployment compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers. Even commonly entry-level positions were filled by experienced candidates. Now that hiring has resumed, Millennials are very likely to seek out training and career development, tout their technology proficiency to employers, and work collaboratively with and learn from tech support. They are not willing to “fall behind” so they also seek different kinds of training, especially in the form of e-learning via educational mobile applications, gaming simulations, and other non-traditional types of training. They don’t think that they know everything—but they do have confidence that they can find everything via online research. In my office, our Gen Y employee is one of the most focused, productive people on staff.
  • Gen Ys/Millennials waste time at work on their phones and social websites. Reality: Gen Y sees technology as an extension of their minds. They also see work as a “thing to do,” not a “place to be,” so they are very comfortable working 24/7 as long as they can also play 24/7. They use a variety of technology simultaneously to conduct research and stayed connected throughout the day. In my office I see a wide variety of technology being used by all generations because all are working harder than they ever have before.
  • Gen Ys/Millennials would rather talk through a screen than to a person, either by phone or in endless meetings. Reality: This one is basically true but in a good way. Gen Ys/Millennials use their smart phones for anything but phone calls. If there is an app for that, they have it! They have been using collaboration software in their classes and prefer to use multiple tools to communicate with coworkers: text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other virtual tools. They are prepared for workplaces with multiple locations that make actual meetings nearly impossible.

As an employer you must understand that you get what you expect. If you put stock in stereotypes, it’s likely you’ll see only activity that reinforces them. On the other hand, if you define desired outcomes and behaviors, give your employees the tools they need to succeed, and then expect the best, you’ll be rewarded.

So with an open mind to the strengths of Gen Ys/Millennials, focus on what you can do to best attract, manage, and engage them. Given the realities we discussed above, this means you should:

  • See learning and career development as the recruiting and retention tools that they are. On the Careers section of your organization’s website, add average employee training hours, a description of new employee training, how many employees went to professional conferences or are members of professional organizations, etc. Once Gen Y new hires are on board, sign them up for needed professional memberships, training, etc., then keep pushing them to learn and praising them for putting their new skills to work. When they stop learning, they leave!
  • Consider the many ways you can develop Gen Y/Millennial employees. Little real learning goes on inside a classroom, but concepts are conveyed. Most learning happens on the job and involves experiences followed by analysis and discussion. Give your Gen Ys the opportunity to practice, practice, practice! Discuss articles and books with them. Encourage them to seek out resources to share with colleagues. Ask them to lead lunch-and-learn discussions based on topics presented at outside meetings.
  • Coach rather than control. Gen Y does not want to be told what to do, especially not in great detail. They want to know the expectations, the deadline, who else to involve—and they want to be able to “check in” regularly with progress toward the goal. They want encouragement and praise as they complete different steps toward the goal. And an end-of-project celebration is always welcome!

We talk a lot about the war for talent, and Gen Y workers are now the top prize. As they take over from the Boomers and become the predominant generation in the workplace, we’re going to have to shift our talent management approaches in order to win them over. A good place to start is to shed stereotypes and really focus on understanding them so that we can implement tools and processes that speak to them, that engage them, and that tap into the abundant gifts they bring to the workplace.

About the Author

Nancy Ahlrichs

Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CDE is Consultant, Business Development at FlashPoint, a talent management consulting firm. She is the author of Manager of Choice: 5 Competencies for Cultivating Top Talent