Updated: Mar 10, 2020
[DISCLAIMER: I am a Millennial. I also manage them.]
What makes people born during that 20-year window between 1980 and 2000 so different from the generations that preceded them? (Yes, we are different). Is it because they were promised they can be anything they want when they grow up? No. Is it because they were given participation trophies and told, "it's not about what the scoreboard says, it's about having fun!" Nope. Is it because all Millennials are addicted to the devices in their hands, on their wrists, and in their pockets? Nah. We are different because we think differently.
So what's different about the way we think? We are individualistic. We are selfish. We are needy. We are impatient. Contrary to what you may think, these are all great strengths and assets to a company, not weaknesses. The key is being coached and influenced in the right way.
We are individualistic.
We all want to be unique, and special, and different. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. However, it is an inconvenience for those managing us because you can't successfully manage us with a cookie-cutter approach. Everyone is unique and should be managed as such. Some people are motivated by money while others by a feeling of self-fulfillment. Some people enjoy being praised publicly while others are embarrassed by it. There is no right or wrong here but there is nothing more terrible than a manager who resists adaptation and change. So, what's in it for our managers to adapt and change? By taking the time to understand your team member's goals and aspirations you can more effectively coach them in an impactful way and increase the performance of each individual. Don't forget, as a manager, your success is defined by the success of your team. Also, if you don't adapt and change, we will leave and find work elsewhere.
We are selfish.
Consider the New England Patriots. After his win in Superbowl LI, Bill Belichick is now considered to be one of the best football coaches of all time. Every player he coaches is a millennial. His mantra is, "Do Your Job!" Every part of that organization has a job to do. When everyone's sole focus is internal and on completing the task at hand, the production of the group will soar. We don't bust our butts at work and do well because we want the company we work for to increase profits to shareholders or because we want to help our boss get a bigger bonus and look good. We do well at work because we are selfish. We want to directly see the benefit of our hard work through some form of compensation. We have a professional reputation to maintain and we are constantly building our resumes so we can leave our current companies and move on to a bigger, better opportunity when it presents itself.
We are needy.
And what do we need? Engagement and feedback at work. Don't confuse employee engagement with employee activity. The key difference is that when we are engaged at work we are performing activity towards a goal, task or project that we actually care about. If you don't care about the work, it's just stressful. How do you get us to care about the work? See paragraph 3. Feedback is the most important aspect of improvement. If we don't know how we are doing, how can we intentionally get better? We all want to be better at what we do but we need to be enabled for true success. If we don't get the engagement and feedback we need to excel and improve, we will start looking for a place that will give us what we need to be successful.
We are impatient.
One thing that we have all always been told is that life is short. Why spend time at a job that doesn't challenge us or make us better? Millennials have proven that we would rather control our own destiny than just sit back and wait for something to happen. That sounds like ambition to me, not a lack of loyalty. If we can't get the things we need from our job, we will go out and find a job that does. If we aren't growing as fast as we know we can at our current company, we will look for another company. Of course, success doesn't happen overnight but that doesn't mean it can't be accelerated by rejecting complacency at a job that doesn't fulfill us.
What makes millennials different are the same reasons you may say a member of another generation is wildly successful. Individualistic, selfish, needy, and impatient can also be described as unique, focused, coachable, and eager. So before you paint us with a broad brush, get to know the millennials in your organization. No, we can't be anything we want when we grow up. But we should always continue to search for happiness and fulfillment in a career regardless of social convention or our experience level. If picking up trash makes you happy, then quit your job as a stockbroker and pick up trash instead.