My first job in high school was, like most kids that age, in a retail store. I worked in the stock room of a shoe store (grateful to never have to touch anyone’s feet). I worked a bunch of retail jobs and every time I moved I realized how much I not only loved retail, but how much better I could be at building and running the store than the people in charge – I was 19 when I recognized this. As much as we hear about millennials and how tough they are to communicate with and manage, I can only think that I was either way ahead of my time (I am definitely not of millennial age) or that every single generation, as we all already know, has its “difficult” employees. I suspect I was in the latter category.
Freelance journalist, Alyson Krueger (@AlysonBKrueger) wrote an article for Forbes back in April titled, “5 Things Every Boss Should Know About Working With Millennials”. After reading her article, hearing countless presentations about the topic and having a mind-numbing amount of conversations over the past several years, it has become very evident that I really do love working with, around and for (in the capacity of putting them to work in a new role) millennials. Potentially because of all the things that we have in common, but my sense is that it is because they are simply great to work with. They challenge, they question, they aren’t afraid to share their opinion and they aren’t “yes people”.
In her article, Krueger says of her first job out of college, “in less than 2 hours of being there, I realized my supervisor wanted me to do any task from chasing down research to cleaning up food after group sessions” She, on the other hand, “had skills I wanted to use and tons of ideas to share.”
My dad and his dad both worked in one job for many, many years. Their jobs defined who they were. Millennials have been described the same way. That aspect has changed a little bit, but the basic premise that your job can help define who you are and what you stand for is still the same. As Krueger points out, millennials introduce themselves at parties by saying what they do. “What do you do?” is a question that has spanned every generation and will not soon stop.
Today, people aren’t going to be happy doing just one thing forever (my grandfather’s first job was on the railroad – he then retired from the railroad). People today want variety, they want a purpose and they want motivation that is very possibly, non-money driven. Most research on millennials proves that they are much more about lifestyle choices and making sure that they are giving back or doing work that “betters” the world versus being solely focused on money. This is definitely evidenced by the amount of savings they have – continually on the decrease.
Communicating with your employees, understanding what their interests are and how you can help them achieve their goals will go a long way in helping you lead them. No matter what, you will still have “yes people” in the world, you will still have those who aren’t quite as great as they believe they are and those who are rude about how they question rather than offering suggestions that further the mission of your company. Millennial or not, those people continue to enter the workforce.
Leading people will never be formulaic or simple, especially if you are adverse to conflict. For me personally, when it comes to millennials, I would much prefer to be challenged as opposed to being placated. The timing should work out well for me!