Rocking the Workplace: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Way You Do Business

Recruiters at Fortune 500 C.H. Robinson recently found themselves scratching their heads. They’d weathered stormy recruiting seas when sought-after Generation Xers showed up demanding everything from work/life balance to “bring your pet to work day” to casual dress. How hard could it be to adapt to a new generation of recruits – the Millennials? After all, in a soft economy employers should have the hiring advantage. Right?

Sure. Except for a few hiccups. Millennials (born 1982-2000) aren’t behaving the same ways Generation Xers did. They have a whole new set of attitudes and expectations when it comes to the workplace, and managers and recruiters are once again being called upon to see the world through a new set of eyes to get the most out of this challenging and influential generation. Take parental involvement. Instead of bringing their pets to work, Millennials seemed to be bringing Mom and Dad. Carmen Baas, a Recruiter at C. H. Robinson, commented: “We recently had the father of a candidate call one of our sales reps to talk about his son’s job offer so he could make a decision on whether or not his son should come work for us. I’ve also had parents attend career fairs in lieu of their children who had prior engagements.”

[wcm_restrict]New generations bring with them new challenges, but also new skill sets and opportunities. In our new book, The M-Factor, we identify seven trends that have shaped this influential generation and that we believe will reshape the ways in which all of us work. Here are just three…

  • The Role of the Parents. Boomers and Gen Xers have been intensely engaged in their kids’ lives from colic to college, and their consultative role doesn’t end when Millennials transition to work. In a Michigan State University survey of employers, 26% said parents had actively promoted their son or daughter for a position, 31% said parents submitted a résumé on behalf of their offspring, and 41% said parents obtained company materials for their kids. Millennials have figured out they have free access to some of the best and brightest consultants money can buy, and they aren’t afraid to use them. Managers can be caught unprepared, however, when Mom or Dad calls to get more information on the company’s sick leave policy or to ask about a poor performance review. Smart employers are addressing the issue of parental access with policies aimed at protecting employees’ privacy, but also at getting the folks on their side. For example, to cater to the Millennials’ preference to have their folks involved in the job-search process, C.H. Robinson created packets to be mailed to parents simultaneously with their child’s offer letter. The parental information packet includes marketing material on the company so parents can learn more about the organization, as well as information about the benefits package, so parents can review it for their child. By embracing this critical shift in parent/child relationships, C.H. Robinson has created a whole new generation of allies in the war for talent. You guessed it – Mom and Dad.
  • The Search for Meaning. Millennials have been told by their Boomer parents, “If you’re going to work as hard as we have, do something you care about.” They’ve also been imbued with the idea that they really can change the world, whether it was giving blood after 9-11, raising funds via the Web after Hurricane Katrina, or donating to Haitian relief on their mobile phones, Millennials believe they can make an impact. The same is true on the home front. Millennials have been involved in family decision making on everything from technology purchases to where to go on vacation. No wonder they get frustrated when they show up in the workplace and the biggest decision they get to make is egg salad or tuna for lunch. Of course, not every new hire is going to be deciding the direction of the company. But they do want to feel their voices are being heard. For The M-Factor we interviewed a number of Millennials about their greatest satisfactions and frustrations in their jobs. One of our “Millennials on Record,” Dale Till, said this about working at the Institute for International Urban Development at Northeastern University: “At staff meetings I am asked for my opinion, which is great…I see my opinions listened to, considered, and some turned into actions. That keeps me here.” Millennials tell us they understand not all their ideas will be actionable, but they want to know they are making a contribution to the larger goals of the organization. U.S. Bank recognized this need and in 2009 created a new employee engagement project aimed directly at Millennials. The “Dynamic Dozen” is a hand-picked group of twenty-something employees from across all business lines who serve as a sounding board for new initiatives. U.S. Bank’s chief strategy officer Mac McCullough commented, “We are learning about this age group’s expectations as employees and consumers by seeing how they react to the questions we’ve posed.” At the same time they are connecting high potential Millennials to the meaning of what they do for the bank, and building loyalty in the process.
  • The Need for Speed. The Millennials’ ability to master new technology faster than the other generations can master a new blender is legendary. But their need for speed goes far beyond the pace at which they text and tweet. Millennials want more frequent, faster feedback. And they want to progress in their careers at a rate that can make their managers’ heads spin. While the recent recession is buying employers a little time by making it tougher for employees to jump ship, that doesn’t mean Millennials are suddenly becoming the “patient generation.” According to an August 2009 Harvard Business article, a global poll by Catalyst of high-potential employees at corporations and professional firms found that 20% had switched companies of their own accord during the downturn and another 35% made lateral moves within their organizations. This is not a generation that likes to sit still and organizations will be challenged to keep them moving, or at least keep them learning. If you can’t offer a talented Millennial that next promotion right now, you might be able to offer them a new project, a connection to a special mentor, or cross-training in a new skill area. Another answer is to allow Millennials to have more control over the pace of their careers. Marie Artim, Assistant Vice President of Recruiting at the car rental company Enterprise, explained, “For the previous generations, we used to highlight that you would work hard and reap the rewards later… we found that with Millennials we had to talk more about career paths being about performance and not tenure. They seem to be interested in speed, and we tell them there is no set timeline and that it is up to them… .” Empowering Millennials to take a role in the pace and direction of their careers puts the focus more on what they achieve and less on arbitrary timelines, which seems a natural fit for this generation.

Millennials aren’t afraid to speak up and they are bound to challenge the way things have always been done. Or as Dale Till put it: “Our generation will leave its mark by being the generation that grew up with things like the Internet… We’ve gone from 28k to 56k to 128kbs dial-up modems, to DSL, LAN and fiber optics. We’re intertwined with the Web – it influences us, and we influence it – and we’re the next in line in terms of shaping the way the world communicates and does business.”

Whatever generation you’re a part of if you’re working with Millennials you’re in for an exhilarating ride.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Authors

Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman are nationally-known generational speakers, consultants, researchers, and the authors of the best-seller When Generations Collide (HarperCollins), and The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace (HarperBusiness/2010). Through their firm BridgeWorks, Lancaster and Stillman provide organizations with keynotes, training, corporate entertainment, and trainer certification. They have appeared on CNBC, CNN, and the Today Show. Learn more at

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