How to get the best from millennials in the workplace

Millennials at work
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Anna Czaplewska-Jaffery
Senior Consultant
JCA Global Ltd
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Millennials have an unfair and often unfounded reputation in business.

The generation born between 1985 and 2000 can be described by their more mature colleagues as self-centred, disloyal and disrespectful. Added to this, they may be seen as prone to frequent job moves, have high career expectations and are difficult to manage. 

Unsurprisingly, these negative stereotypes can cause concerns with managers – will millennials coming into the business increase conflict amongst teams or ultimately cost the organisation loss of talent?

So how do you decrease this generational gap, address the negative stereotype and get the best out of millennials in the workplace. Emotional Intelligence (EI) training and development of both millennials and their managers can help.

1. Practice your Regard for Others

Looking through psychology journals for research data on managing millennials, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the questions Generation X are asking about managing (or sometimes more accurately “dealing with”) today’s youth and the queries raised by the Baby Boomers, who were no less critical of the GenXers.

McKinsey’s article, Millennials: Burden, blessing or both? explains that the older generation's disgruntlement with their younger colleagues is hardly a new phenomenon.

It is natural for humans to feel an affinity to people who are like them. But this can often mean we are likely to assume that others should hold similar views and values to ourselves and thus are more likely to respect those who do.

This is often evident in what our EIP3 tool measures as Regard for Others. Ideally, we would have high ‘Self Regard’ as well as high ‘Regard for Others’, resulting in acceptance and value of ourselves and others.

High Regard for Others doesn’t mean we have to love everyone, but while we may not approve of someone’s behaviour, we can still respect them as a person and see them as a valuable addition to our company or society. 

By practicing our Regard for Others, we are more likely to acknowledge that their values are not better or worse than ours. Every generation is influenced by the unique socio-economic forces prevailing in their formative years.

Growing up in the 1950s was different for Baby Boomers than the 1970s were for Generation X, and the reality of the 1990s, with its rapid technological development and emergence of the Internet, was for the millennials.

Coming of age, seeing the impact the global financial crisis had on their families, it is not surprising that the millennials have seemingly less loyalty towards an organisation. With the right attitude however, organisations can retain the talented employees and count on the youth’s commitment.

All young people need is the recognition of their unique contributions and opportunities based on their merit rather than tenure. By appreciating their unique strengths, we are more likely to unleash millennials’ potential and help them develop their talents.

2. Practice your Trust

Due to millennial upbringing, they are less inclined to view age or seniority rank as measures of authority. They are more likely to rate someone’s accomplishment based on their achievements and respect those who respect them.

This seemingly different approach to older colleagues can and has often be misconstrued as being disrespectful. This perceived lack of respect from their younger employees often leaves a person feeling defensive.

When experiencing these uncomfortable feelings some managers may be prone to tightening their grip over a young member of staff and micromanaging them in a failed attempt at changing their behaviour and asserting authority.

However, this isn’t the most emotionally intelligent way to deal with anyone, let alone millennials who are merely looking for leaders who are willing to trust them. They crave a chance to prove themselves and show what they are truly capable of. They are dealing with the struggle in shift from the education system that taught them they can achieve anything they put their mind to, into the corporate world that is telling them it’s all about the experience.

By placing trust in their abilities, but doing so in a careful manner with support in place, managers are more likely to create positivity than negativity.  If you want to encourage your younger employees’ potential, show them you trust them - let them know they are allowed to make mistakes as part of their learning process, and have faith that the supportive climate will breed positive results.

3. Create an emotionally intelligent climate

While the concept of job loyalty is not enough to get millennials to stay, the satisfaction of a positive workplace climate is likely to be a stronger factor. The young generation thrive in supportive and collaborative environments.

In line with JCA research, a study by Chiu et al. 2005 found that employees whose manager listened to their needs and offered support, reported significantly higher levels of work satisfaction and commitment. 

Millennials expect fulfilment and meaning in their work. They want to know the purpose of what they are doing, so simply explaining the reason behind a task or a project rather than just barking an order will help managers achieve better results from their younger employees. You can develop an inspiring leadership climate by sharing the bigger picture and exciting vision for the future. 

While it sometimes seems easier to stick to known behaviours and beliefs, the increasing presence and contribution of millennials in the workforce can be an invitation to revisit the status quo.

It may be tempting to dismiss the ideas of the younger generation as immature or lacking in experience and understanding, but history has taught us that it is often a novel way of thinking that can lead to growth, development and positive changes.

Emotional Intelligence is about choices. Rather than continuing to feel frustrated about millennials, why not choose to give them a chance. Who knows, you will probably be pleasantly surprised.

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22nd Sep 2017 08:53

Great article Anna. Millennials are a vital part of today's workforce in every sector, especially in the ITES sector. Having worked in a supervisory position in various call centers in India, I have learned how to cope with them the hard way.

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