Online Sidebar: Developing Millennials

By Kathryn Tyler Oct 1, 2013
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Some people call the youngest group in the workforce Generation Why instead of them Generation Y because Millennials “really want to know ‘why?’ It helps them to be more motivated,” says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. “But, you can’t always take the time to explain why. I gave a talk to a bunch of Coast Guard employees and one of the junior officers said, ‘I want to know why I’m doing it. Motivate me.’ The senior officers said, ‘This is the military. When we say we need boats in the water, we don’t always have time to tell you why.’ ”

How else can managers meet the needs of Millennials who thrive on attention? Experts recommend providing frequent feedback and establishing clear expectations around communication and dress code, for example.

Give frequent feedback. Have conversations about Millennials’ goals and “tie them to their success,” Twenge says. “Find out where they want to be going.”

Twenge recommends using objective data to quantify comments whenever possible. “Use anything that is reasonably objective. Also, use peer feedback, as well as feedback from a manager. If the judgment comes from more than one person, it is more likely to be believed.”

Without continuous feedback, Millennials’ morale can drop. About a year ago, author Brad Karsh, a member of Generation X, was conducting training for Millennials when he heard something interesting. “Millennials said if they don’t hear from their boss about how they are doing, they assume they are doing something wrong. That’s a shift from my generation, who thinks ‘No news is good news.’ If I don’t hear from my boss, I assume I’m doing something right,” Karsh says. Millennials “have lived more-structured, praised lives—a little Pavlovian almost—and when they don’t get praise, they think they are doing something wrong.”

Use informal communication to deliver real-time feedback. Consider quarterly reviews or weekly recaps, Karsh says. “I can see a world not too far off when annual reviews are replaced by real-time performance tweets.”

Establish clear expectations. “Every policy needs to be spelled out,” Twenge says. And communication guidelines should set reasonable expectations. “Millennials have a shorter time frame for responding to texts and e-mails. If a manager doesn’t text back within an hour, they think the answer is no.”

Dress codes are important, too. “In the past, you might not have had to spell out how to dress appropriately, but now you do,” Twenge says. “For this generation, individualism is the theme. ‘I am one person; I am the same person at home and at work.’ That is why this generation believes showing up to work wearing flip-flops is OK. They think that if they are a different person at work and at home, that is inauthentic.”

Kathryn Tyler is a freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Mich.

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