This demographic cohort, widely accepted as people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, has been studied and discussed since the term "millennial" was first coined in 1989 by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss. But the surge of research, articles and reports about millennials over the last decade — mostly published by Gen Xers and baby boomers — all seem to draw a lot of the same conclusions: Individuals of this generation are immature, selfish and don't want to work as hard as their parents and grandparents did.
Of course, the inherent problem with making broad generalizations about a young generation is that they grow up. The "selfish" and "delusional" characteristics millennials may have exhibited can very easily be attributed to the naivety of youth. Now that the youngest millennials are college-aged and the oldest ones are more than a decade into their careers, it might be time to revisit the common wisdom about how to manage and engage with this generation in the workplace. [See Related Story: Don't Buy Into These 4 Millennial Myths]
The evolving millennial mindset
It makes sense that millennial mindsets are shifting as they age and move into new stages of adulthood, said Sherry Dixon, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA.
"Like the generations before them, millennials are not exempt from growing up, taking on more responsibilities and experiencing new ambitions," Dixon said. "For example, they may be focused on getting a promotion, or they may be looking to buy their first home. These types of big life events come with unique hurdles that can bring about self-reflection and understandings that lead to new attitudes in and outside of the workplace."
It's also worth noting that this generation grew up in a completely different world and job market than their predecessors, which has tremendously impacted their views and attitudes, said John Covilli, senior vice president the Americas for Dale Carnegie Training.
"We must remember that most millennials were forced to navigate the first stage of their professional careers during the Great Recession of 2007 and 2008, a time when hiring was at an all-time low in the United States," Covilli told Business News Daily. "That's a tough way to start a career, but it helped millennials develop a resilience that is crucial in the professional world."
Covilli believes that as millennials have continued to grow and experience the "real world," that resilience has shifted into pride and commitment to their work.
"This generation knows their skills, understands the value of work, and embraces the importance of technology to a level that is critical in every profession," he said.
Why should we still care about millennials?
With the oversaturation of articles and studies about millennials in the workforce, employers may be feeling some fatigue over the suggestions to bend over backwards for this generation. It's true that you shouldn't only craft your workplace around millennials: Jason Liu, CEO of sales enablement software company SAVO Group, noted that adjusting management approaches is more about adapting to overall shifts in work style and culture, rather than catering to a generation.
"The way we work today is significantly different than 10 years ago, and 10 years prior to that," Liu said. "The ideas of open concept offices, working from home and agile transformations across … an entire organization have an effect on how managers and employees work together. As the way we do our work transforms, the way we manage needs to transform as well."
Although practices like flex hours and remote work policies do align closely with young people's workplace preferences, it behooves employers to offer these types of perks to compete in today's increasingly tight job market, said Dixon.
"Taking time to understand what motivates employees at all career stages — and refining management practices accordingly — is key to the success of an organization," she said. "It would be a mistake to overlook the needs of a group with as much influence as millennials will have in the years to come."
To Dixon's point, millennials are the largest living generation in the country, and their numbers will continue to grow in the workforce in the coming years. However, no matter what your company's demographic makeup is, you do need to pay attention to what your employees want — especially those who currently occupy or will soon be assuming leadership positions.
"A company cannot grow and prosper if it employs management techniques that are outdated and obsolete," Covilli said. "It's important to listen to your employees, no matter if they're 20-years-old or 50-years-old, and embrace their views on how a business is run. A company is only as strong as its employees, so if they're unhappy with the way your business operates, it's going to be difficult to motivate them to go the extra mile for you."
"Millennials bring both desire and skill to working collaboratively, sharing insights, gathering feedback and management will miss out if it fails to harness the power of these skills and interests," added Liu.
Managing your millennial employees
Smart employers have learned that company policies and management practices need to be flexible enough to adapt to the individual needs of employees. If your workforce is millennial-heavy, here are a few tips to help you connect with this maturing generational group.
Communicate often. One persistent stereotype about millennials is that they crave constant praise and attention. While it's true that this generation still wants open and frequent communication, it's not necessarily for the sake of their egos: Dixon said millennials look for this because they are concerned with growth at work.
"They are looking for honest and consistent feedback from their managers to help them improve and develop their skills," she said. "Employers might consider taking it a step further by laying out a long-term plan for advancement within the company, or offering annual training opportunities."
Embrace change. In the business world, you have to be ready for change, and that couldn't be truer than when you're discussing the millennial generation, said Covilli.
"They live in an era that offers instant gratification, instant information at the touch of a button — that's not the world that many of us in management positions have lived in before," he said. "To [retain] a generation that sometimes has a short attention span, it's important to keep things constantly changing and evolving."
Foster a strong sense of mission. Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications for e-commerce software provider ePages.com, noted that many millennials value a shared company mission, and for some, that sense of mission is even more important to work satisfaction than money or material perks.
"It is so important to discuss the mission as work and processes develop and arise, so that younger team members remain motivated and empowered as to how and why their contributions are valuable to the business," Stevenson said. "It is absolutely worth investing in this process."
Try to learn from them. Above all else, be open to your millennial workers' insights and perspectives, said Liu: You just might learn something that can help your business.
"Like every generation, [millennials] bring their own worldview — but the pace of technology advancement is at an unprecedented level, so this is the first generation to also bring such a formative shift in technology usage," Liu said. "We need to look for how we can learn from the ways millennials naturally relate outside the enterprise, as these are the communication channels and behaviors they will bring with them."