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How to Connect with your Millennial Workforce

Millennials have entered the workforce. They’re buying homes, starting families, and chances are, they have integrated into your workforce. Continuing a long tradition, Millennials have been labelled lazy, rude, impatient, narcissistic and a gaggle of other terms that have been both proven and disproven statistically. Many of the labels being thrown around are the same labels that were once applied to Gen X, and the Boomers before them.

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise
[disrespectful] and impatient of restraint.”

Hesiod, 8th century BC
(As quoted by Bradley Truman Nobel)

These labels are rooted in a fear as old as time itself. Youth behavior, as seen through the eyes of the aged reigning group brings with it the rally cry of ‘Us vs Them’. While we continue to weigh the validity of the Millennial plight in the media, the fact remains that many Gen X and Boomer leaders are struggling to connect in a meaningful way with their younger cohorts.

5 Ways to Reach Millennials

Get Over the Technophobia
One criticism that seems to come up, time and time again, is that Millennials are always on their phone. They are addicted to screens and are incessantly glued to them. Throughout time, we have always demonized the new and different. The waltz, the bicycle, jazz music, and even the umbrella were once viewed as instruments of evil. We live in an age of rapid technological advancement. Screens are everywhere, utilized by a wide demographic of people. Millennials are not the only ones addicted to screens, and blame for an ‘inability to unplug’ cannot rest solely on their shoulders.

Resist Surface Trends
Nothing makes Millennials more squeamish than pandering. Throwing emoji and selfies into your communications may work once in a while, but it will begin to feel like a cheap gag on a long enough timeline. If you are having trouble connecting, try a more universal approach. This is a generation raised to believe they could be anything, just in time to be hit with some very harsh realities. (This is not seen as the first, nor the last example. It is worth noting that each generation has carried the burden of some form of crisis.) They have less faith in the lip service doled out by political leaders and major corporations, and to this group, sincerity is a form of currency. Be genial, authentic, earnest, even vulnerable –  and your message will resonate better than any emoji could.

Provide Security
Millennial values have not wandered as far from the previous generation as one may think. Being famous is not on the agenda. A recent poll (Pew Research) suggests that Millennials value many of the same things as those before them – good parenting, success in marriage and career, home ownership, etc. Balance that desire for the picket fence with higher tuition costs, a higher cost of living, lower wage growth and the rise of unpaid internship, and you are left with a group actively, anxiously seeking financial stability. They are saving more, but still struggling as a whole. If employee retention is an issue you are facing, the problem may not be flighty Millennials, lacking loyalty. More likely, you are running in opposition to the stability they need to live a balanced life.

Treat Them with Dignity
Millennials (and most employees) need to feel that they are a valuable member of the team, and that their opinions matter. Painted as a generation with increased dependence on parental support, and a delayed start on life, they want to make to make their mark. The recent surge in young entrepreneurial start-ups no doubt follows this deep-set need to be respected and make a difference. While some individuals may desire respect without earning it (no more or less than any other generation), the majority are well aware of the fact that they must put in leg work to earn their spot at the table. As the most educated generation, it may prove useful to get their perspective.

Don’t Call Them ‘Millennials’
Generational designations vary depending on source, and bring with them sweeping generalizations and prejudices. Look at their situation on personal terms. How well do you identify with people in your own age demographic? Did you share the same set of beliefs with all the students in your yearbook? Millennials feel the same way about their generation as you do about yours. Apart from some unifying elements of history and nostalgia, they do not think, feel, or act as one collective mind. They align with people who share their interests far more often than those who share their age. Treating them as representatives of their generation will not help you to gain their trust. Instead, treat them as individuals. North American Millennials are the most diversified demographic yet (see ‘most educated’ link). One of the few true defining characteristics of this broad group is the fact that they are all very different.

Follow these guidelines and connect with your employees. A little respect and security can go a long way, and a flexible, intelligent, loyal, engaged workforce could be the not-so-secret weapon your company comes to rely on in an age of rapid change.

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