The Care & Feeding of your Millennials

The addition of the Millennials to our workplace and learning places has been interesting from my perspective, primarily because I am solidly part of Generation X- down to having read and loved Douglas Coupland’s novel that gave us our generational identity.  We were fundamentally different from the Boomers who preceded us, described by movies like Richard Linklater’s “Slackers”- which contains one of my favorite quotes that summarizes why we were perceived as such a challenge:

“It’s like you just pasted together these bits and pieces from your  ‘authoritative sources.’ I don’t know. I’m beginning to suspect there’s nothing really in there.”

We were children of divorce, children who came home to our parents being at work, children who questioned everything because we had no reason not to.  We work well in groups but don’t rely on anyone but ourselves.  We work hard but we do it on our terms.  We innovate but we may not want to define things as they are defined for us- in other words, we don’t think outside of the box.  There is no box.

As Gen X, though, we haven’t been able to be terribly disruptive to existing paradigms, particularly in the workplace.  There simply aren’t enough of us- 51 million, versus 75 million members of the Boomers and more than 75 million Millennials.  Now the Millennials are our medical students and residents, and their generation has many characteristics that challenge both my generation and the Boomers.  Interesting times.

To get a better understanding of who Millennials tend to be as a group (I write that sentence knowing that a defining characteristic is their individualism), this quiz is worth taking.  I’ll admit that I was quite millennial (score of 78), which I largely attribute to my electronic communication habits. As millennials become more incorporated into our workplaces, we’re going to see lots of transitions in the work environment– many of which are likely long overdue since they focus on productivity and talent.

I’ll be honest- I’m not here to complain about millennials.  I spend too much time with them to even consider that, and I value what they bring to the table for us.  I find that they are thoughtful idealists who have enough realism to understand it’s not all rainbows, sunshine, and bunnies.  They don’t place great value on traditional “pedigrees” for leadership, focusing more on talent.  They expect transparency from organizations and leadership- and tend to strongly value leaders who are engaged and honest.  Many like being “coached” or mentored on a routine basis, expecting feedback in realtime rather than at a quarterly or annual review. One of my very favorite millennials leaves every one of our meetings reminding me, “If you hear of things I’m struggling with or people are concerned about, I want to know right away.  Please don’t wait.”

Are millennials really that different from those of us going before them?  Yes, and no.  Yes, because their style expectations are so different in terms of how we do business.  Not good, not bad, just different.  And no, because they really just want to do work that matters in a place they feel good about doing that work.  That’s a quality I can both respect and value- and the details of how we get there ultimately become superfluous.