Millennials often get a bad rap, described with adjectives like entitled and narcissistic. But those born between 1981 and 1995 are tomorrow’s leaders, and workplaces need to figure out how to help them —for everyone’s benefit.
The fastest growing segment of Canada’s workforce, now at 29 per cent, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers as of next year. By 2025, they’ll represent 75 per cent of the global workforce.
“We’re right on the cusp of a change in the workforce makeup,” says John Wright, president of the Canadian Management Centre. “It’s a major shift. For the past 10 years the majority of the discussion of the Millennial generation was how to accommodate these people coming into an organization … That’s not the issues anymore. Now it’s ‘How do I set them up for success to be leaders in my company?’
“Some have been in workforce for 10 to 13 years,” he adds. “These people are really quite rapidly starting to take over managerial roles and managing different age cohorts.”
There are not only Boomers and Gen Xers but also members of Gen Z, digital natives who are just starting to enter the workforce. “For the first time in Canadian history, we have these distinctly different age groups in the workforce and that leads to a lot of complexity,” Wright says.
So what do businesses need to do to meet Millennials’ needs?
For starters, they need to understand the group’s key values. According to Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management, five values in particular define Millennials:
“Collaboration for this age cohort is like breathing,” Wright says. “They just do it naturally.” In the past, people typically had to “earn” a spot at the table; Millennials, meanwhile, focus on the network and connecting with it.
Gone are the days when life was compartmentalized and work took place from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Millennials’ various roles and responsibilities in life are all integrated.
“Because of technology, everything they need to do work is largely accessible 24 hours a day,” Wright says. “They want flexibility. Boomers are used to structure, but rigidity causes problems for this cohort.”
In other words, the where, when, and how don’t matter as long as the work gets done. Don’t let the process interfere with progress.
“In the past, access to information was more rigid; organizations operated on a need-to-know basis,” Wright says. “That doesn’t work for this generation.” It’s not that they expect to hear secrets, however, they want to have all the information they need to get the job done. When it’s shared openly, that makes it easier to collaborate.
More workplaces are adapting to this concept, whether it’s ditching the dress code to making interactions between different levels of staff more relaxed. “They want to be respected by being involved,” Wright says. “If they want to talk to a more senior person they shouldn’t have to go through a couple of chains of command.”
Work-life balance is the core thought of integration. “Let me decide how to structure my week,” Wright says of Millennials’ mindset. “Be clear about what you expect from me but don’t constrain me on the how.”
To be an employer of choice, organizations must embrace the way Millennials think, work, and live.
“If companies take time to understand those values, they’ll be able to engage Millennials in their workplace and get them involved,” Wright says. “You need to attract them to your organization. If you’re not thinking doing things to create harmony, you’re not making it as an attractive place to bring people to.”
And while they want to progress in their careers, members of Gen Y also need to be prepared for what’s ahead. Career-path advice from mentors helps. “If you’re going to make them a leader we need to give them training on how to lead others,” Wright says.”
Millennials also need to understand that a year on the job does not necessarily mean there’s a promotion in store.
“There’s a very distinct difference between doing the job and having mastery over the job,” Wright says. “It’s only when you master the job, when you have full set of skills and experience that you can then take on more work and more supervisory roles. It’s not just about the job but about the experience.”