Editor's note: This article written by Ty Kiisel originally appeared on Forbes.com and is being reprinted with his permission.
About this time last year, I stumbled upon some data collected for Workplace Options, a North Carolina consulting firm. The study suggested that 77 percent of workers believe the millennial generation has a different attitude toward workplace responsibility than other age groups. “Furthermore,” writes Ely Portillo, the reporter who introduced me to the study, “68 percent of respondents said they think millennial workers are less motivated to take on responsibility and produce quality work than others.”
At Lendio, I work with a team of young people. They are anything but lazy. They are different than my friends and me when we joined the workforce 30 or so years ago.
The young people I work with are more empowered and tech savvy than any other generation I’m aware of. They’ve been taught since they were children not to accept everything they’re told simply because it comes from someone in authority. And, they don’t want to spend time doing mindless things that appear to be a waste of time. What’s more, they’ve been successfully collaborating together in teams since elementary school and are native to the technologies we are trying to leverage within the workplace to be more productive.
It’s far too easy for us “gray hairs” to misinterpret their desire to avoid what they consider busy work as being lazy, but I’m convinced this is not the case. I find this generation to be highly motivated, very ambitious, and if anything, unwilling to patiently wait until someone deems them to have paid their dues. Most of my older friends and I believe that our younger colleagues keep us on top of our game. The luxury of sitting back and resting on our laurels just isn’t an option.
Saying that, I don’t think they are any smarter than we were (or are), however, the paradigm they work with is based on a mental model that allows them to take the work of previous generations and extend it in ways us old fogies might not recognize because our mental models don’t make the connection. We should be looking for ways to give them opportunities to make leaps forward based upon the new paradigms.
For example, I often find myself looking at old-school solutions to technological problems. It’s not that I’m a Luddite and don’t trust the technology, but I often notice the same technology to which my younger colleagues naturally gravitate for solutions is often not even on my radar. Not too many months ago, resulting from some advice of a younger colleague, the way I approach something as simple as taking and keeping track of meeting notes has evolved from reliance on my Moleskin to utilizing the power of a free App like Evernote. Scenarios like this are happening regularly in ways that help our team be more productive.
Pointing fingers and calling this generation “lazy” or “entitled” is nothing new. In fact, it’s become so cliché that claiming, “They don’t want to pay their dues,” is a waste of breath. For crying out loud, I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 years ago our bosses were saying the same things about us.
When I joined the workforce, there were seasoned colleagues who took me under their collective wings to mentor me and help me find my place. Instead of whining about how they are different, I think we need to pay more attention to how our businesses can leverage their talents. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Square pegs don’t fit into round holes: I don’t believe a heavy-handed, command-and-control management approach ever worked, but it will not work with this generation. If you work with millenials, be prepared to explain why you’re asking them to do what you’re asking them to do. Nobody wants to waste time, and these people just won’t. They want to contribute to something meaningful and don’t want to waste time doing anything that appears to be busy work.
Empower them to do more: Once they understand the big picture, they can wrap their heads around the context of what they’re doing — which enables them to step up and contribute at a higher level. It’s not about controlling the chaos. It’s about leveraging their unique skills and making our companies stronger and more capable.
Feedback, feedback, feedback: These young people have been on the receiving end of feedback since they were very young. What’s more, if social media has taught us nothing else, it’s taught us that the millennial generation responds very well to positive feedback. We need to build organizations where everyone’s accomplishments are transparent and recognized. Taking queues from social media just makes sense to me. This engages employees and ultimately makes our businesses more profitable and successful.
I’ve taken some heat from the “geezers” who don’t want to adapt how we lead and communicate with our younger colleagues. “Ty, you’re pandering to the millennials,” they say. I disagree. Our responsibility as leaders is to adapt our leadership and communication styles to maximize the value of our workforce. Otherwise, we would still be working under the lash and drawing pictures on cave walls with rocks.
What are you doing to engage your younger workers? What’s been successful and what’s done nothing but cause a lot of grief?
As a Main Street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for Lendio (www.lendio.com).