Clearly, a new world order has emerged, the rulers of which are known as the “Millennials”. You cannot go a nanosecond without hearing a soundbite about how they are changing the world.  Millennials, also referred to as Generation Y or Gen Y, are individuals born some time between 1980 and 2000, the cutoff is somewhat of a moving target but their presence is not, it is real, it is big and it is great. Today, this group of “20-somethings”, comprises 60 percent of the world’s population, 36–40 percent of today’s workforce, and will be over 75 percent of your employees by 2025. Think about it, how many of your customers are or will be Millennial?  A whole lot!

Described as text-messaging, multi-tasking, advertising-leery, Attention Deficit Disorder-loving, trendsetting, blog-reading, information-addicted, purpose driven, social-media savvy, tech-embracing, fast-moving, highly-ambitious, quick-talking, well-educated, iPod-listening, authority-questioning, and have the blushing confidence of expecting to go from mailroom to boardroom in one day.  We happen to say, “so what”, because we believe a majority of these characteristics rock.

Until now, prior generations, such as Baby Boomers and Gen X, dominated the workforce. And since Socrates, some X thousand years ago, generations have operated under a completely different set of values and expectations. Today many Boomers, X’ers and certainly plenty of media soundbites point to Millennials with a disdain for their new rules and habits.

Traditionally, managers have used a management style that revolves around commanding the work environment and delegating individually focused assignments to employees. While, instead, Millennials have been raised and conditioned to expect active, involved leadership, that fosters a collaborative, team-based approach to assignments. Moreover, managers have typically looked to create a structured workplace environment, where the flow of information is managed and controlled. But with the advent of social media and the internet, Millennials are constantly connected to information and expect it to flow freely, in a flexible and transparent work environment. These differences create a significant generational gap that if left unaddressed, can dramatically impact today’s workplace.

So, how can managers bridge this gap? Easily, let’s communicate and build relationships by busting some of these bilateral myths.  Let’s focus on the good values Millennials hold dear.

  • Innovation: Millennials are perhaps the most creative and innovative generation yet. Create a work environment that will challenge Millennial employees to be insatiably curious and rewards their risk-taking.
  • Feedback: Millennials expect communication with supervisors to be more frequent, more positive, and more affirming than has been the case with employees of prior generations. So give them feedback, feedback and more feedback, then ask for feedback in return. This creates a collaborative work environment, but still holds them individually accountable.
  • Collaboration: Create opportunities for Millennials to connect, collaborate and network with colleagues, customers and the community. Millennials thrive in an interconnected, team-oriented environment; leverage the collective genius of the stakeholders.
  • Mentorship: A successful manager is not viewed as a “boss” by Millennials, but as a mentor or coach. Share the knowledge, skills and brain trust that managers and other experienced employees have developed and acquired over time.
  • Flexibility: Millennials value the work-life balance. Provide flexible work schedules to accommodate fitness, family and fun to create an enduring brand ambassador.
  • Authenticity: Tell it like it is, communicate with Millennial employees in an authentic and sincere manner. While this should be standard practice for all employees, no matter their generation, Millennials particularly value trust and transparency.
  • Advancement: Millennials crave a work environment where ideas are valued more than experience. In the eyes of the Millennial, the quality of work they produce should be considered more important than the amount of time it took them to do so; reward them as such.

Successful organizations provide a company culture and career opportunities that align with the values of their Millennial workforce. As we enter the Millennial age, focusing on these values will help launch businesses to unprecedented creativity, innovation and profits.  But let’s be clear, relationships are a two way street, while we as managers have a fiduciary duty to manage and teach, Millennials also have a duty to learn, create and yes, dare I say it: work hard. They know that and want to, but how do you effectively manage them to own their side of the street? Stay tuned, both sides of this generational divide are clearly responsible to bridge the gap, or not, you and your company get to decide how to make it happen.