Millennials – They’re Alright

When I graduated from high school in the early 1970s, my yearbook was filled with well wishes from fellow students as we ventured forth into the world.  Many of these messages ended with LOL – a very common and welcome sentiment at that time.  Fast forward to a few years ago – when I first saw LOL at the end of a sentence in an email.  At that time, I wondered what “Lots of Luck” had to do with the content I was reading.  What then became apparent, however, was that the meaning of LOL had changed quite a bit … from the 70s “Lots of Luck” to today’s “Laugh Out Loud”.  My – how times have changed!

I was in the audience at the 2008 FranklinCovey symposium listening to Hadyn Shaw speak on the topic “Leading Multiple Generations in the Knowledge Worker Age”.  His opening comment got my attention and has stayed in my memory to this day.  Hadyn held up one of his son’s flip-flops and said, “To me – this is a thong.”  Laughter ensued as the population of Baby Boomers in the room nodded their heads and thought “yes”.  You could almost hear the gears turn as the collective image in our minds then morphed into the “thong” of 2008.   Again – how times have changed!

So, let’s face it. Each generation has its own character.  Approaches vary.  Traditions change.   Dress.  Speech.  Customs.  On and on and on.  Generations are different.  And here we are – faced with four … maybe five … generations in one workplace.  How do we turn this generational disparity into productive collaborations?

I would like us all to think about this question the next time we interact with a colleague from another generation.  Instead of seeing age … instead of talking differences … let’s talk similarities … let’s talk about what each of us brings to the relationship.

As we know, each generation brings great value to the workplace.  One of my favorites, however, is the Millennial generation.  When you “lift the hood” and look at what is inside, I believe the Millennials have it all together.  Maybe my bias is based on my wish for a carefree spirit!  Maybe I am living vicariously!  Regardless, the Millennials bring a vibrancy and innovative spirit to the workplace … one that says “don’t take yourself so seriously” … and one that will be our salvation as we move forward into a global environment full of the unknowns of tomorrow.

We often hear descriptors such as entitlement, high expectations, and impatience when one talks about the Millennials.  These stereotypical characterizations make this generation sound like a self-absorbed bunch of ne’er-do-wells – those expecting to recline on their chaises eating grapes while their parents gather ‘round and fan them.

Instead, what I have found to be real is that Millennials want meaning and significance. Millennials want work AND fun.  Millennials are the consummate team players, and they believe everyone counts.  (Hmmm – now that’s a concept!)

When thinking of Millennials, three special people come to mind.  These three exemplify diversity of thought and the spirit of spontaneity … however, each is very driven.  You wouldn’t know it by just a casual glance – but they are indicative of the best the generation has to offer.

I asked my special tribe of three to respond to some questions regarding their challenges with regard to age and generation gaps.  Their comments are not surprising … but should give us pause as we look at how we view the world through their lenses.

When asked – What recommendations do you have for your colleagues regarding the best way to “understand” and partner with a Millennial?  They responded –

♦”Millennials are used to encouragement as we are all typically raised to think that we are ‘special’ by our parents. In the workplace, colleagues of different generations need to understand this dynamic, and use encouragement more often than with other generations. If you want to partner with a millennial, build a structured plan with goals and target dates. Once goals are achieved, use encouragement as a tool as this will fuel our interest.  Millennial interests typically will involve the Internet and pop culture. It does not hurt to be ‘plugged in’ to our interests, and use them to find common ground and build relations.”

♦”Understand the role that technology has played in their upbringing. Understand that they are less rigid in some ways and may be less concerned with professional speech and appearance than their Generation X counterparts. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

♦ “Give them challenges, allow working independently, and show appreciation.”

So the point?  Next time you are near a Millennial, take time to find out more.  Be a partner – not a judge.  Honor differences.  Learn something new.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Let your hair down.  (Baby Boomers – Isn’t that what you told your parents – oh so many years ago?)  Instead of being the “sage”, become the “sponge.”  Soak up as many customs and different approaches as you can.

Bridge that gap. Form a bond.  Remember – it’s all about relationships.

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