I’m excited to introduce Vicki Foliot, a marketing coordinator with Halogen, who will be contributing regularly to this blog perspectives on talent management and career management from a Millennial employee’s point of view.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Millennial Musings – one enthusiastic twenty-something’s fresh take on being a Gen Y in today’s workplace.
As a marketing coordinator here at Halogen, I’ve learned more about what best-in-show organizations do to engage their workforce (and what I should expect from any organization worth my time!) than I ever imagined I would know by the age of 23.
It’s an incredible situation to be in: every quarter I set new goals with my manager that not only tie into our departmental and corporate goals, but that also give me an opportunity to try new things, stretch outside my comfort zone and bring new value to my team.
One of my goals moving forward is to start writing on the Halogen blog. Now, allow me to phrase this in words you may recognize: “I’m not trying to cause a big sensation, I’m just talkin’ ’bout my generation.”
I want to bring a Gen Yer’s perspective to the blog, and to topics that we’re facing alongside our older colleagues: navigating new career paths, using social media in the recruiting world, and remaining engaged in the short- and long-term work that we do.
Before jumping into these ideas, though, I want to talk to the traits that have come to define the newest generation to hit the workforce.
Millennials have already begun to make their mark on society, bringing social-minded ideals and a flair for technology to much of what they do. But for all of the promise that I believe my generation has, the critics aren’t pulling any punches when it comes to our flaws.
They call us Millennials “lazy”. Or “sensitive and needy.” If I’m to believe everything that I hear, we Millennials are a self-important, overly-entitled cohort.
But wait just a second. I’m a Millennial, and while I won’t be speaking for my entire generation here, I do have a couple of ideas about how these traits are being misunderstood.
I’d like to share my perspective on the most common stereotypes, how my generation has come to be or act in these ways, and the silver lining that I think many critics are missing.
It’s my hope to shed enough light on the topic to keep you from running scared. After all, as the Boomers finally begin to retire, you’re going to be seeing more and more of us in your own workplace.
Millennials have a poor work ethic
The idea that Millennials have a poor work ethic is usually phrased as something like, “compared to the generations that came before them, Millennials are unwilling to pay their dues.”
But what does that mean, exactly? That Gen Yers expect to enter an organization anywhere but the bottom of the ladder? Let me tell you from experience that even if that’s the case upon graduation, a few months of job searching will do a lot to straighten that misconception out.
I’ve also heard that it means that on the job, we’re unwilling to figure things out ourselves.
It seems to me that this is just a matter of how Millennials learned to access information. Human nature has always been to archive our knowledge for future reference, and for the generation that grew up on the Internet, accessing that archive has always been lightning-fast.
Internet culture is all about sharing and accessing information easily — we build on the knowledge of those who have come before us so that we can delve deeper into an idea or discover new ideas altogether.
In the workplace, it seems obvious to a Millennial that by referencing the knowledge of colleagues, we can build on what has already been done and use our time to take the task even further.
Asking for the answer instead of figuring it out on our own is not laziness for my Millennial generation, it’s a practical way to bring about a greater good in the time we’re given.
Millennials are disrespectful and self-entitled
Our collective entitlement is seemingly the hardest rumor to shake, as the media and older generations calls us “trophy kids” and declare us to be self-important above any other trait. Public opinion seems to lean towards the thought that Gen Yers won’t respect their superiors in the workplace, and constantly make demands for more than they deserve.
The way I see it, this generational attitude is all about how we were raised: my whole life I was told I can have anything I put my mind to, and be anyone that I want to be.
Sociologist Annette Lareau has a name for the parenting style that taught me these beliefs: concerted cultivation. The 80s and 90s were incredibly child-centric, and Millennials have grown up with parents that wanted more for us than they had themselves.
Our parents made every moment a learning opportunity, and nurtured our self-confidence with techniques like answering all of our questions with more questions (e.g. “Why is it this way?” would be answered with, “Why do YOU think it is this way?”)
We were given very early opportunities to develop our critical thinking skills, and the Millennial generation was always intended to be both seen and heard. Just think of every chance we were given to grow intellectually and socially in clubs and teams, and how our schools took on new attitudes of no child being left behind.
My parents dedicated themselves to encouraging my development, and in all of this time that we spent together I learned to respect my parents — as equals. As we Millennials enter the job force, a workplace hierarchy seems counter-intuitive to us and inhibitive to the collaborative creation that we experience in our online lives.
If you start to layer in that very world of social media that we learned to become adults in — with no defined hierarchy of users, and an even playing field where power is crowd-sourced — you may have an even better understanding of why Millennials resist the concept of starting at the bottom.
Frankly, it’s not that my generation believes we are inherently better than the others, but that we actively seek the opportunity to prove that we can be.
How to manage your Millennials
For all the hoopla around our needs and demands in the workforce, I imagine that managing the increasing number of Millennials in your organization will not be terribly different from managing a Boomer or Gen Xer.
Millennials are not asking to be coddled or babied, but we do have unique needs just as the generations before us have had. Notably, Millennials are looking for the opportunity to prove themselves and for recognition that they are contributing to the success of their team or organization.
I’m getting a lot of those opportunities here at Halogen, and I count myself as lucky. Many of my friends found jobs after graduation in old-school organizations. They’re following the path that was created for entry-level hires decades before them, with no real concept of how their day-to-day work impacts the big picture.
I know that with the work I do, I help my team to meet our goals — and when we reach those goals, we celebrate and are rewarded for the effort.
As kids, Millennials may have received a trophy just for showing up, but we’re not looking to replicate this in the workplace. When a manager gives us autonomy and responsibility over a defined scope of work, clearly defines how this work ties to organizational success, and then recognizes out loud our efforts to succeed, it goes a long way to keep my generation engaged.
Millennials are regarded as having a blue sky attitude, and I think that’s exactly what organizations need to survive these days. Your Millennials want to succeed with you in a big way, and keeping us engaged is the best way to keep us, and our fresh take on your business, around.
For more information on managing the Millennial generation I invite you to read You Just Don’t Get Me, Do You? Managing the Millennial Generation.
About Vicki Foliot
Through her Millennial Musings series, Vicki shares how the attitudes, outlook and expectations of this unique population are changing today’s workforce dynamic.
When not blogging for Halogen, Vicki loves to explore the great, big Internet, bake deliciously unhealthy desserts, and dabble in various arts and crafts.
* The Who album cover image sourced via musicpilgramages.com