Uncertainty. If you ask Millennials how they feel about life and their future, and if they are honest, they will answer with this one word. Some will also say maligned. They feel maligned. Gen X-er’s and Boomers have painted a picture of this generation as narcissistic, self-absorbed, and, in the workplace, needful of constant feedback. And the need for constant feedback, say these older generations, is the result of the first two traits.
Perhaps it is the time that we take a look at why there really seems to be this need for feedback (and maybe why millennials don’t really want it like we think they do).
- Uncertainty About Their Futures
This generation has witnessed the largest terror attack of this century on 9/11. They have been a part of a huge global recession brought about by risk-taking venture capitalists. There have been record-low approval ratings of political leaders the world over; they are now living in an increasingly global environment in which terror attacks and human suffering are a daily worry; the planet is being destroyed. They have quite honestly assessed that they have no reason to trust institutions. And that goes for businesses too. When there is no trust, there is no loyalty. As the survey says, even 67% of millennials that apply the universities for MBA scholarships in US are unsure about their future. And perhaps this is a part of the reason why millennials change jobs so often or long to be entrepreneurs.
And they see all of these worries as having been brought about by the same older generations that now criticize them. When they were recently characterized as untrusting, cynical and mercenary by a Gen-Xer journalist, their response is this is what they have to be in order to survive.
- Uncertainty About Themselves
Perhaps millennials haven’t yet figured themselves out yet, in career terms, that is. When others seem to think that they need continual feedback, it may be that generalized uncertainty has carried over into their workplaces. They do ask if they are good at what they do and they do ask if they are meeting expectations of their employers. They ask themselves what their strengths and weaknesses are. And it may have nothing to do with narcissism or self-absorption at all.
- Conditioned to Expect Feedback
Many millennials grew up with high expectations on the part of their parents. They were fed the notion that success was to be that unique individual with high test scores, and they got continual coaching and always feedback. And they expect this nurturing to continue in the workplace as is has all of their lives. Is it sometimes unreasonable? Yes, but consider the sources, and they not looking a lot like self-absorption. Baby boomers rather created this dependency of nurturing, praise, and feedback, and it is up to them and Gen X-er’s to be a part of the solution.
And from some recent studies, there are indications that occasional coaching and encouragement, if even just a few minutes at a time, is proving to be effective. Millennials may indeed be able to adjust.
- Bombarded by Negative Press
At least once a week there is a news article somewhere maligning millennials. A couple of years ago, Rick Newman, columnist for Yahoo Finance, reported that mainstream media all characterizes millennials as “narcissistic, godless, precious, lazy and probably much worse.” Millennials hear these words; they read these words. They “get” the antipathy that older generations feel toward them.
What Can Be Done
Older generations in the workplace can begin to mentor individual millennials. In this mentorship, they can provide coaching and feedback, but it doesn’t have to constant.
Consider that millennials are the most highly educated and tech-savvy generation thus far. They are needed in the workplace, but what they sorely lack is experience. 72% of college graduates are actually optimistic, although uncertain, about their careers. They believe they have something of value to offer.
And here’s the other interesting statistic: When making decisions about where to work, they rank mentorship and training among the top three factors in that decision.
So here are the things that managers of millennials can do to mentor and to coach them and to make them feel a part of their organizations.
- Foster collaboration. When there is collaboration, there is less need for individual feedback. Team members will reinforce and support one another – a much better atmosphere overall. Take it from Google – a team atmosphere reigns both within and across teams.
- Relevance is Key. Millennials want to know the relevance of the training they receive. How will it benefit them in practical ways over the long-term of their careers?
- Give them a “seat at the table” by asking for their opinions and ideas. This fosters greater independence of thought rather than just a need to perform assigned tasks and get feedback.
- Encourage with short, quick pieces of feedback, perhaps once a week.
- Managers must be consistent
- Become mentors as much as coaches. Mentoring means that you take a personal interest in their career goals and provide good advice that leads them to achievement. Feedback may be a part of this but focus on the mentoring.
- Millennials do not have the strict social boundaries that previous generations have had. This is a generation that is as diverse as they come and that is used to open communication on social media without much “filtering.” They must be coached in the “culture” and the boundaries of your workplace. Don’t just condemn them for not knowing the “when” and “where” of appropriateness.
Millennials have so much to offer a workplace. They are smart, savvy and trying hard to carve a future for themselves. Yes, they are a different breed of cat, but their upbringing and their world have made them so. With the right coaching and mentoring, their uncertainties (and need for constant feedback) will dissipate, and employers will have valuable, productive employees.
Neighthan White is an HR specialist and a coach. In his late twenties, he is a regular member of Montessori techniques for children under 10 seminars, an HR manager, a volunteer at Education without Borders and LDS, a startup inventor, a language learner, a writer and a happy husband.