How to work better with millennials

Millennials are taking over the business world. This isn’t hyperbole, nor is it meant to be flattering or fearmongering; it’s just a simple demographic fact. By 2020, almost half of your coworkers will be millennials. For those on the other side of the divide – and, depending on the business, it really can feel like a divide – how will this shape your business culture? How will it impact the ways you collaborate at the office? Will you have to awkwardly deploy unfamiliar slang in an attempt to build rapport?

The first rule is that there are no rules

I’m the father of a toddler and even she doesn’t like strange people making assumptions based on her age. An extremely high-level perspective on millennials may very well help shape your general management approach, but it’s next-to-useless on an individual level. Some millennials are vapid; others are brilliant and complicated. Some expect a flexible work environment; others take comfort in the routine of a 9-to-5.

The experts, predictably enough, don’t always agree on the defining characteristics. Collaboration is the source of one of the most notable divides. Some pundits say that millennials are typified by a me-first attitude, while others mention their enthusiasm for collaboration as a big asset.

Don’t blame millennials for wanting the things that everyone wants

Millennials are linked to some of the surging trends in the workplace – e.g. much greater flexibility in terms of schedules, remote work, BYOD, etc. – but they’re far from the only workers requesting or taking advantage of these changes.

“If you got rid of millennials in your company today, you’d still have employees that care about meaningful work,  want workplace flexibility, want to have their values aligned with their employer,” author and collaboration expert Jacob Morgan told us earlier in the year.

One possible distinction: older employees may think of flexibility as a perk, while younger millennials may think of it as a given.

“This is a generation of employees that doesn’t know what it’s like to sit in cubicles, to get 200 emails a day, or use legacy technologies,” said Morgan. “So when the majority of the workplace is completely the opposite of the way most organizations are structured, that’s a big concern for companies, and that’s what they need to realize: there’s a gap between how they are working and how they should be working.”

Pick your battles

Maybe your business was established in 1814 and you’ve prided yourself for centuries as a flip-flop-free work environment. But why? If there is real value to a tradition, hold on to it and stand up for it. If you catch yourself saying or thinking the phrase “That’s just always how we’ve done things,” it may be time to launch a new investigation.

Combat entitlement by providing a clear course for advancement

A common complaint about millennials is that they want something for nothing; they show up, swivel around a few times, text someone about the final season of Pretty Little Liars and expect to magically receive a golden ticket to join the C-suite. That hasn’t been my own experience, but if a good preemptive move is to be transparent about advancement; learn how your team members hope to progress, then provide a loose road map. Try to channel the entitlement into ambition.

In one recent survey, 65% of millennials cited “the opportunity for personal development” as “the most influential factor in their current job.” According to another study, 70% hope to someday work for themselves; that doesn’t mean they don’t want to do great work for you today, though. To help facilitate this growth, your business – or you personally – may want to consider a mentoring program.

Don’t tolerate jerks

A strong office culture should help smooth the edges of surly colleagues and demanding divas. Generations have butted heads with one another since the beginning of time, and a little conflict can actually be productive for a business. Compromise is necessary – but putting up with incivility is not, regardless of age or technical proficiency.

“There is no doubt some people tend to be a bit more predisposed to boorish
 and uncivil behaviors than others,” says organizational psychologist Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D. “However, the environment and culture of 
your office have a lot to do with dictating which behaviors are acceptable 
and which are not.”

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Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.