The United States is beginning to see a new an emerging workforce showing up to work and the corporate world is being forced to learn how to manage this new force. The Millennial Generation, Generation Y, the Nintendo Generation and the internet Generation are all names for this generation born between 1981 and 1994; however they are most commonly referred to as the Millennials. Whether a business is international and multi-billion or a simple local small business they are all beginning to take a look at how one should hire, train, manage and retain the newest workers to show up at their doors.
According to the US Bureau of Statistics, the average job tenure is currently at four years, this is compared to an average of fifteen years in 1980 (Fink 2008.) The idea of working with one company for one’s entire career is foreign to most new workers who come into a working situation with “what’s in it for me” attitude (Smola and Sutton 2002). Millennial workers are looking for a position and company that can offer a flexible work schedule, personal benefits and a sense of community within their team. The Baby Boomers that are the current executives, managers and leaders have become adapted to more conservative work policies and must now reconstruct their concepts of what beginning a manager means. Might it mean being that mentor, friend, confidant to a new employee, offering child and elder care services on property and completely restructuring reward and recognition programs?
Another area of interest that pertains to the subject of Millennials entering the workforce is how Millennials are learning. Today’s children are being raised and taught in a very different world than the generations that precede the Millennials and this is sure to influence their overall understanding of learning and relationships (O’Brien and Bauer 2005). Children raised in a wired world with video games, computers, cell phones and “helicopter parents” that hover over the child’s development (Fink 2008) are going to enter the workforce with different expectations and understandings of what it is to work, be managed and eventually manage others.
While it is important to look at the generational differences in today’s workforce, it is also important to discuss the idea that each generation enters the world with a different set of values and ideas, and then perhaps they have some of these values and ideas change to ones of more conservative views over the decades of work. Baby Boomers grew up in the 1960s and 1970s being very politically active, distrusting authority and ready to bring change to the world; while they did live most of their ideals, they have also changed as a generation into much of what they parents were when the Boomers entered the workforce (Smola and Sutton 2002). It is important to study the new generations as they enter the workforce, but it is also important to view how they change as they grow into the leaders of the workforce. Each generation will bring with it change, but are the core values of business still the same?
There are many different concepts about how to manage this upcoming generation are beginning to arise, however there is a simple trend that can be seen through all of these concepts, mentor, train and use technology to ones advantage. These are three simple concepts that are being revisited over and over by Human Resource Managers, Operation Managers and researchers in the field. Mentoring, training and utilizing technology are nothing new to the workplace, but will require new ways of completing these to reach the Millennial Generation.
As stated before, the average tenure of a job is currently four years where as almost thirty years ago the average tenure was fifteen years. CEOs generally quit or are fired from a company after three years and many even change companies every year. What can a company do to minimize this extremely high turnover rate? Learn to manage the Millennials. Sharon Birkman Fink theorizes that there are two main imperatives to retention, number one is personality assessment and number two is leadership development programs (2008). By conducting personality assessments a manager can assess the right fit for a position, placing a person in the right role will cause them to feel more fulfilled with their role and allow them to be a happier, more productive worker that is likely to stay with the company for a longer period of time. Millennials are used to receiving consistent and positive feedback, for this reason it is important to develop effective mentoring and leadership programs. A leadership program will show the Millennials that the company cares enough to invest time and money into the individual’s personal and professional development, this will help to create a sense of loyalty to the company as well as allow the company to promote from within its own ranks and possibly save money on leadership recruitment and on boarding costs.
When looking at the leadership programs, as well as overall managing of this generation, it is important to note that this generation has been coddled and looked after more than any previous generation, the enjoy the feedback, work best in collaboration with others, thrive on speed, customization and interactivity (Fink 2008). Millennials have grown up with a wired world that does not require them to wait for much, the libraries of the world have been at their fingertips and mom and dad were never for than a speed dial away, speed is important to them, being stagnant is the ultimate sin. The Video Game Generation is another name for this group of workers, they have grown up with Nintendo, Play Station and computer games, they know how to live in a virtual world and know how to learn in a virtual world. The development of a Millennial is important to them and can be easily added to by allowing opportunities for to learn in a virtual classroom. Investing in a learning program that allows Millennials to access and control their development from their desks or laptops at home is going to be a huge win for any company.
To look at how Millennials will perform and learn in a business environment, it is important to first evaluate how they learned in school and their childhood. David O’Brien and Eurydice Bouchereau Bauer have researched the new institution of learning and spent a good deal of time discussing James Gee, a researcher who discusses what video games have to teach about learning and literacy (2005). A successful video game is successful because it allows its players to learn the game and rules quickly, keeps the gamer engaged and provides challenges to overcome. Video games allow players to have a defined smaller world (comparable to a business unit), understand how members of their group think, act and what they value; all of these are highly beneficial in a corporate environment where a group of diverse individuals will be asked to work together and think on the same playing field.
The concept of insiders and outsiders is also discussed by O’Brien and Bauer. In a learning situation, and soon corporate situation, there are insiders or people who have grown up with the technologies of today living in a virtual space and outsiders who are people who have grown up in a book space and have seen these technologies develop over their lifetime. As schools and businesses become more inhabited with insiders it is very important to take the insiders learning and leading skills and apply them to everyday operation (O’Brien and Bauer 2005).
Managers are being encouraged more than ever to deal with generational differences to avoid misunderstanding, miscommunication and mixed signals (Smola and Sutton 2002). Understanding these differences and how to manage them may be able to create higher productivity, innovation and corporate citizenship. In their research, Smola and Sutton also noted that while there is definitely a difference in generations, there may also be a difference is age development. It is noted that Baby Boomers were a generation who protested against power, lived through the sexual revolution and fought for civil right, while many of their cultural values have remained the same as the national value of sexual and civil right have changed, Boomers have evolved into a more conservative generation as they have aged and entered into the power of the corporate world. Each rising generation is said to be challenging and headed to turn the corporate world topsy turvy, but somehow that does not occur, there are cultural changes, but many of the core work values stay the same.
With the Millennial Generation it is to be seen what work values change and what work values are altered. Millennials do have a different set of expectations as they enter the corporate world. Historically the goal of the organization has been the primary focus of the workplace, however with the influx of Generation X and now the Millennial Generation there is more of a concurrent focus of personal goals as well as organizational goals. WIIFM (what’s in it for me) has become a much more popular phrase than ever before and is becoming a focal point at the office (Smola and Sutton 2002). Managers are beginning to focus on maximizing individual’s goals again through training and mentoring. People no longer live to work, but are now beginning to work to live and are seeking a work-life balance that allows them to be a family man (woman) rather than company man (woman). Over the last twenty-five years people have become less convinced that working hard makes one a better person and are beginning to look for a workplace that enables them to work and still have a fulfilling personal life (Smola and Sutton 2002). Employees now want to be treated as a valuable part of the organization rather than the disposable asset; they are looking for company that will work to balance their professional and personal goals by offering services such as flexible work schedules, on-site child and elder care and quality of life programs. Companies and managers that fight to offer such personal programs are more likely to recruit and retain the Millennials (Smola and Sutton 2002).
Along with valuing an employees personal life, the manager of a Millennial need to make sure that they value the person as an individual. Since they were babies, Millennials have been told how special they are and that they can be anything that they want to be, do anything that they want to do, they have gown up being friends with their parents and teachers. Millennials are looking for a manager that will work on building relationships, be open to suggestions, collaborate whenever possible, be respectful and focus on their professional development (Arterberry 2004). Millennials want to be treated as individuals and have managers who get acquainted with their personal interests, hobbies, and professional goals. This generation has grown up with consistent, positive feedback and likes to reciprocate the feedback, they want their suggestions to be valued and considered so that they feel like a valuable part of the process. Little league and soccer helped to form the very team oriented way of thinking for Millennials and this is how they like to work now that many of them have grown up. Collective decisions have been made at home and they come to the workplace with a similar expectation. Millennials want to be treated as peers, given direction and feedback precise and clear to the point, with respect (Arterberry 2004).
Again, one sees the theme that mentoring is important to this generation. Each researcher has talked about constructing a mentoring program and/or leadership development program. The Millennials want to know that you value them and that you want them to develop professionally. Mentoring will be a positive for both the mentor and protégé (Arteberry 2004). The mentor will gain a new set of eyes and ideas looking at how business is done and the protégé will be able to learn both the job and the corporate culture; in many cases the corporate culture could be just as important as the mentoring for the position.
To answer this call by the Millennials, companies are beginning to form formal, structured mentor programs for these young professionals that include identifying skill assignments, providing insight on assignments as needed, and ultimately provide overall feedback on how the protégé completed the assignment. This work coach is great for their professional development in the office; however there may also be a need for social mentoring (Crane 2008). Crane discusses three main informal issues that are important for informal mentors to consider, she labels these issues “food for thought,” “formally informal,” and “break the Myspace syndrome.”
“Food for thought,” many Millennials have had little or no table etiquette. This generation was brought up eating where and when it was convenient, often never using a knife, fork or spoon to eat a meal. Informal mentors can help Millennials feel more comfortable in a business lunch or dinner setting but teaching them what each utensil is for and which glass is theirs. The next issue discussed by Crane is being “formally informal.” Wandering onto any college campus today, one would find coeds dressed in pajama bottoms, tank tops and flip flops. The term business casual is completely foreign to most Millennials who will tend to venture from one extreme to another in this area. An informal mentor can help clarify dress standards and explain that when meeting with clients it may be appropriate to wear a full suit and tie while at the office slacks and a button up tops will suffice. Finally, “break the Myspace syndrome,” this emerging workforce brings an amazing knowledge of technology and is more than comfortable communicating through these means; however they sometimes lack the interpersonal touch. A Millennial Mentor should encourage their protégés to use technology where appropriate, but not under estimate the importance of face time. A few moments of face time with senior management can pay off more in ways that an email chain never could (Crane 2008).
The Millennials are the newest members to the workforce and have been cared for and treated differently than any previous generation. This means that corporate America is going to have to manage these workers in a new way. It appears that mentoring is the most sought after solution by all of the researchers discussed. Mentoring the Millennials will give them the personalization that they so desire and also allow them to adapt into the formal corporate world that they have never before been exposed to.
This generation expects to be treated with respect, trained in the media that they are most comfortable 9the virtual world), mentored, collaborated with, valued as a team member and developed as a leader if they choose to be. It is up to the managers of today to develop the managers and executives of tomorrow. Managers must consider flexible hours and life accommodating programs at work if they want to be successful at recruiting and retaining the Millennial Generation. The corporate world will become a friendly, more open culture as it welcomes the Millennials and begins to work in the way that this generation was raised and to live by the standards that were put in place for these individuals.
Fink, Sharon Birkman. (2008) Getting to Know-and Train-the Next Generation. Retrieved July 8, 2009 from Training Magazine. Website: trainingmag.com/msg/publications/training.jsp.
O’Brien, David and Bauer, Eurydice Bouchereau. (2005) New Literacies and the Institution of Old Learning. Reading Research Quarterly, volume40, number 1, pages 120-131.
Smola, Wey and Sutton, Charlotte. (2002) Generational Differences: Revisiting Generational Work Values for the New Millennium. Journal of Organizational Behavior, volume 23, number 4, pages 363-382.
Arterberry, Christopher. (2004) Managing Millennials: Learn What Makes the Newest Generation in the Workforce Tick. IDEA Health & Fitness. March 2004 pages 37-41.
Sawhill, Isabel and McLanahan, Sara. (2006) Introducing the Issue. The Future of Children, volume 16, number 2, pages 3-17.
Crane, Mary. (2008) Mentoring Millennials. Retrieved July 2, 2008, from Training Magazine. Website: www. trainingmag.com/msg/publications/training.jsp.