How to work with Millennials: The truth from Tunheim staffers

by Tunheim on February 26, 2014

By: Natalie Wires (@NatalieWires) and Alyssa Bennett (@Bennett335)

We’ve all heard tales of the narcissistic, non-committal, me-me-me generation known as Millennials. It’s rare for a week to go by without an article hailing Millennials as the next great generation or blaming them for the world’s problems. “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy,” “Millennials: The Next Greatest Generation?,” “I want to be a Millennial when I retire,” and “F*** You. I’m Gen Y, and I Don’t Feel Special or Entitled, Just Poor,” to name a few.

But what do Millennials actually expect from their careers and should companies evolve their cultures to adapt the workplace environment to accommodate the youngest, newest working professionals?

To tackle these questions, we conducted a roundtable discussion with a few Tunheimers of various generations, ranging from Generation Y and X to Baby Boomers. Team Tunheim discussed how Millennials are changing the workforce—hitting upon the good, the bad, what’s working and what just isn’t.

Meet the panel, from left to right (and no, we aren’t sharing ages): Natalie Wires, account manager; Darin Broton, account director; Alyssa Bennett, account executive; Drew Henry, account manager; and Debbie Estes, ACE panelist.

Generational work styles: 9-to-5 routines vs. results-driven cultures

(Watch video to hear Natalie kick it off with some initial stats about Millennials in the workforce.)

DE: I think when you say “I want to set my own hours” it’s a little broader than that. Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation, so they feel that if they are remote and have the tools to get the work done, it shouldn’t be a problem. Whereas, I feel like other generations are more dependent on face-to-face interactions.

DB: It’s a generation that is a lot more driven by result rather than process, which can be challenging for a lot of folks. It also can be an opportunity. A recent study stated that 74 percent of non-Millennials said that the work habits and styles of Millennials is actually a good thing for the workplace. It’s probably true, but there is a huge learning curve for a lot of people, especially in Generation X. We all need to figure out where [Millennials] fit and how we can work together.

DH: There’s definitely a spectrum among Millennials as to what extent they buy into the “Millennial mindset”, and that can be a challenge in and of itself. Trying to adapt to the spectrum of Millennials and how to adapt and work with both the extremes—people who think they should be able to work “when I want and how I want, as long as the work is good,” as well as someone who is more focused on the traditional way of doing business.

Millennial values: Career-focused, team work, and meaningful responsibilities

NW: Do you think that it’s important for a company to make concessions and to allow flexible schedules and a relaxed dress code, for example? Is it something a company should be taking a look at?

(Watch video to hear Darin’s answer to this question and learn one of his pet peeves.)

DH: I would say that a company has to decide what culture it wants and what culture is appropriate for its business. And it should hold to that. It shouldn’t make exceptions and change its culture because it wants to attract Millennials. At the same time, if it wants to tap into that generation and the talent that it has, the acknowledgement has to be made to understand how they want to work.

(Watch Debbie’s perspective about how Millennials view their careers differently than previous generations.)

Feedback and affirmation: What do Millennials really expect?

(Do Millennials require constant positive affirmation? Watch the video to hear what the group thinks.)

DE: If there’s a person who always needs positive feedback, it’s like, “you’re probably doing no different than last month!” It does get exhausting. I always say, you were hired because I thought you were the best person for the job, I expect you to do a fabulous job. That’s why you were hired. If you deviate lower than that, you’re probably going to know. If you far exceed, you’re going to know. But you were hired to show up every day to do the very best you can.

DH: I wonder if the constant-affirmation generation stems from not so much needing a constant pat on the back but the expectation and mindset that “far exceeds” is the only acceptable level. And that probably is a challenge for the other generations, because you can’t constantly be telling someone “yeah, you’re doing great.” You can’t give positive feedback in tiny little drops.

NW: I think you can give positive feedback in tiny little drops.

DE: Yes, and you also can give positive feedback in ways besides having the conversation. By giving more challenging assignments, for example. You wouldn’t be getting those assignments if you weren’t doing a fabulous job.

Retaining a non-committal and mobile workforce: The Millennial employment conundrum

AB: What is the one characteristic of the Millennial generation that you see all the time?

DB: My comment would be forward mobility. This desire to constantly keep moving whether it’s moving jobs or careers, it’s not hanging your shingle…

AB: …Non-committal.

DB: Yes, non-committal. There’s this expectation that we need this fast-forward mobility upward that is both fascinating and challenging at the same time. As someone who leads teams and has done talent retention and recruitment, it is exhausting. It’s a challenge. It’s about setting reasonable expectations both on a corporate structure, but also in employees. Determining what is the appropriate level of advancement. How much should we be investing in retention? If the expectation is that Millennials will leave the job within five years, how much do you invest in retaining that talent if you know no matter what you do, the employee is going to leave?

DE: And being patient to get a depth of experience. And gaining experience in several different categories instead of staying narrow and focused. Now it’s looking at the broader spectrum of skills and the horizontal landscape of experience.

DH: I will agree with Darin in the need to drive things forward and when he says that I know he’s talking about me. I think it’s a balance. The challenge is it’s a tough personality to lock into because there is a sense of uncertainty about job security. There is the fear that if I’m not moving forward, then how secure is my job? And the feeling that I need to continually move forward because I need to demonstrate to my employer that I am not content to just sit—that I always want to move up and onward for the good of the company. It’s also a challenge as the job market opens up and jobs come back because if companies can’t manage that, then you run the risk of losing talent because they’ll go find something else to feel that mobility.

NW: Yes, and not just where they internally feel like they are growing but where they can show their friends—we are the Facebook generation after all—and family that they are succeeding at life. I think that’s very important, and an easy way of doing that is to get new jobs and to continue moving and trying new things. I think a more challenging and potentially better way is by finding ways to grow within a company. To make smart, deliberate choices on how you want to grow.

DE: Yes, growing and feeling valued and feeling like you’ve really contributed.

What do you think? Do you agree with Tunheim’s point-of-view on working with Millennials and mixed generations? Has your company made changes to attract Millennial talent or to encourage better collaboration across a multi-generational workforce?

Leave a comment or start a discussion on our Facebook page.

Natalie Wires is an account manager who helps her clients determine the best communications strategies to meet their goals. In particular, she specializes in digital, traditional media relations, video production and events. She always wins two truths and a lie because she has lived in a bus and was an extra in Grumpier Old Men. For more from Natalie, follow her on Twitter @NatalieWires.

Alyssa Bennett is an account executive who knows where her clients are, where they want to be and shows them the best way to get there. She specializes in digital strategy, branding, visual presentation and communications collateral creation. When she’s not at Tunheim, she’s reading, cooking or crafting. Follow her on Twitter @Bennett335.

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