I admit it, I am a Baby Boomer. Part of the cohort of people born post-World War II. Subsequent to the Boomers came Generation X, Y, and then the Millennials. Depending on the source, Generation Y are sometimes referred to as Millennials as well. According to The White House, Millennials are the cohort of Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000’s. Also, according to The White House, in 2013, Millennials represented one-third of the total U.S. population. The cohort after Millennials is usually referred to as Generation Z.
The first of the baby boomer generation are now in their 60s and as such have begun to retire. On the other end, early Millennials are well into the workforce. In fact, for the foreseeable future Millennials will continue to launch careers, progress up the “ladder” and represent the bulk of workers in need of management and leadership. But how do we, of earlier genesis, lead and inspire this generation with its unique reality and in an environment that is ever-changing at an accelerated pace?
To begin, some details about Millennials:
-Probably most significant is that fact that while not technically a native of the digital era, they came of age in a digital world. They take for granted the availability, actually the ubiquity, of technology.
-They are more diverse than previous generations. The 2013 White House report referred to earlier stated that “many Millennials are immigrants or the children of immigrants who arrived in the United States as part of an upsurge in immigration that began in the 1940s.”
-Whether it be the rise of social networks or simply learning from the burn-out of their parents, Millennials value communities and relationships in their work.
-Further, their concept of work is not driven by lifetime employment. In fact, it may not be driven by employment at all. The ability to contribute in a meaningful way and to participate on teams that may be fluid is another significant characteristic of this generation.
These are certainly not all of the particularities of this group but enough to understand that business leaders must adapt to the “new normal.”
In leading this generation, one must assume the assimilation of technology everywhere. What this really implies is that work is not limited to sitting at a desk in an office. It can be done anywhere. It can also be done at any time and more and more often, it is. This compounds nicely with our increasingly global business environment and the accordant need to work across time zones.
The universality of technology in the hands of Millennials also means that traditional time lines are no longer accurate. Work happens instantaneously and in real-time. We no longer have to wait for the fax to come through (I don’t dare even mention mail), or even to get on a flight when Skype can often suffice.
In leading Millennials, managers can avail themselves of all of the benefits of the diversity inherent in this cohort. Diversity in a workforce offers the ability to obtain numerous approaches and options which leads to better decision making and increased creativity. Diverse work groups may be somewhat slower at decision making because they are creating in each other awareness of issues and angles that might not have otherwise been considered. Any leader in this situation must be appreciative of these nuances and must also become mindful of their own perhaps unconscious biases and work to neutralize them.
In seeking to maximize the value of the millennial employee, companies need to continue to habituate and prepare for contract or contingent workers. By 2020, contingent workers are projected to account for 40% of the workforce. When asked why they selected to work independently, 25.9% said “flexibility of schedule” and 21.4% said “follow my passions” (per Mavenlink.com.) This clear trend can be viewed as an impediment to productivity, or for the forward-thinking leader, an opportunity to redesign work and continue to motivate employees albeit in a changed manner.
No one said leadership is easy. There is a constant need to evolve. Understanding your team, employees or even contingent workers will go a long way towards results. As you digest and try to understand and assimilate Millennials, do not get too comfortable because Generation Z is looming!