I have been immersed in the Millennial (M’s) discussion for a few years with business and non-profit leaders. The general consensus is these people, who are mostly from the Baby Boom or Gen X generations (the over 35 crowd), have much to say about this young generation now maturing into our workforce, and most talk is negative. My sense is that, like human beings most often do when confronted with an unknown or something new, we shift blame to those causing us the discomfort, in this case onto the M’s.
Yes, we say they were coddled, given much more attention from their parents, and were given trophies for just showing up to their soccer, baseball or you-name-it-any-other activity their parents over-booked them in while growing up, and a lot of that is probably true. Yet, as I reflect on my own generation growing up, my parents and millions of others, were hell bent on giving us kids much more than they were given. Indeed they did, yet I can still hear the words from adults while I was a coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s complaining about people my age (now 62) not wanting to work, being lazy, or with our long hair and burning bras causing mass confusion and disappointment in so many of our elders back then. We represented change and we shook their cages, causing many realities to go out-of-business.
Blame, shame and ignorance is no longer a strategy for dealing with what is already upon us, and that simply is that the system the traditionalists, boomers and X-ers have been life-supporting throughout our lives isn’t really appealing to these young people, who were raised with parents who told them, “You can be anything you want,” or “Go follow your passion and interests.” The M’s have been hitting corporate America and for the most part finding it unfulfilling, confining, unsupportive or uninteresting.
I take a viewpoint of leadership that goes deeper under the surface of how issues seem to appear. If we have young people viewed as apathetic or indifferent, maybe it has something to do with the fact that we leaders haven’t created cultures that are open to change, nor created workplaces where people can grow, or don’t have purpose-driven cultures (beyond making the boss happy and the company money) that give these M’s the deeper connection to their work and themselves they earnestly desire. If we say they have a sense of entitlement, maybe what is going on is that we haven’t created workplaces that have ample and constant communication with them, or we haven’t offered enough coaching (versus telling), or we don’t know or don’t allow them to play full out to their natural gifts and strengths.
The most disturbing data that has been tracked by The Gallup Organization for decades is on employee engagement. This is the metric that each month is gathered by Gallup and the sad fact is that the numbers have remained fairly stable overall for dozens of years. Look below and see for yourself how low overall employee engagement is noted by generations.
|Millennials||Gen X||Baby Boomers||Traditionals|
From Gallup we see that no generation is that enthusiastic about their jobs, and as we look at the younger generations we see significantly diminishing numbers. This is appalling given that work takes up more time than all other aspects of our lives, and for most people is the number one indicator of our overall well-being in our own lives.
A question I can offer to all of us boomers and X-ers is, if we are so unengaged with our work, why do we want our kids to follow suit? If we can’t find work interesting, challenging, pulling at our passions, inviting us to play full out, how can we expect our kids to do the same?
Rather than chirp from the bleachers, or turn my head and hope it gets better, I have come to a few commitments I am willing to make.
1. The M’s now outnumber the Boomers as the largest number of people in our U.S. workforce. They are a force to be understood and embraced.
They are inheriting the big challenges created by previous generations and need every ounce of support, wisdom, coaching and direction the best of our generations can offer.
The way I see it, if I want to be a force for good in this world, I must, and I am now committed to doing everything I can to make them the most self-aware, self-motivated, self-responsible, successful and significant people our society has ever seen.
2. The Boomers and X-ers must take time to get a deeper understanding of what M’s really want, how they tick, and where they are looking for help beyond what their parents or our education system offered.
For example, I find they have a huge fear of failure, and will procrastinate and not be timely with projects, so can we realize that possibility exists and create cultures where failing isn’t feared?
In fact, the most interesting places to work share a similar motto, “fail fast – learn faster.” We can either understand them, or we will lose.
3. The M’s are being sandwiched into a world of work where they are getting the life-force squeezed out of them.
We overlay hiring practices that don’t ask enough questions and hire too often from resume, pedigree, or our need, rather than fit for them and our cultures. We use antiquated performance reviews that sparingly offer needed feedback, or worse, suck the life out of all of us who do them and have them done to us. We have job descriptions that come from a time where management didn’t trust people, or just felt the need to control, and the M’s feel limited and then become disillusioned, disinterested and leave.
I / we in leadership roles must look at our own systems and cultures and be ready to lead necessary life-enhancing overhauls to make our workplaces come alive, foster trust, respect, teamwork, collaboration and higher levels of productivity.
4. M’s are more ‘world-aware’ and connected that any other generation, and yet are exposed to the same world and upbringing we all were.
I see all of us adult humans struggling from the various cultural conditionings we have undergone since birth, where beliefs, biases, fears and norms of others seep into our consciousness, steering who we think we are and what we think we should/have to do to fit in. In our heart-of-hearts we sense we can and want to be much more, more happy, fulfilled, effective, useful, valued, loved, successful, or significant, but don’t know how to fully self-actualize. I for one want to help as many of them re-connect with their own authentic essence, building on the promise of their youth to find their passions, set their own values, uncover their innate strengths and gifts, and build a life of purpose.
I commit to be of service helping as many see that “connection” goes far beyond what technology provides, where true connection comes between healthy, trusting, caring people working together for a common cause.
By the way, when you really look at what the M’s want from their work, it’s so very similar to what everyone of us boomers and X-ers want – interesting and meaningful work, be able to grow and improve oneself, to tap all available talent and skills, feel like we are contributing and are valued, be respected and involved in necessary communications, and feel like our work enhances our lives, relationships, health and well-being.
I have decided that for me I want to be the change I wish to see by helping this new generation be far more successful, significant, and prosperous and full of well-being that any before it. I welcome leaders in every sector, and who are in for-profit and non-profit organizations to see the value and the potential this generation offers the world. If we can be more conscious leaders, see what’s really going on, and then step forward with all our employees, we can literally solve any problem that comes our way and create a better future for us all and those coming after the M’s!
Now is the time to open our eyes and see all the potential, the possibilities that the human spirit unleashed can deliver! Bring on the Millennials! I Am a Millennial!