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Millennials may be out of touch with the basics of workplace behavior.
Newly hired millennial employees at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Va., were creating an impression, and it wasn't good. Some were showing up for work in "flip-flops and revealing clothing," says Lori Ann Roth, Ph.D., director of training and development. "The gentlemen were wearing jeans with boxers showing; the ladies were wearing lowcut jeans with thongs showing and spaghetti strap low-cut tank tops." As a result, Roth continues, "we received many requests [from managers] for a class we call Professionalism at Work. One of the issues covered in the class includes dressing as an office professional and not as a student."
GMU took a proactive approach to integrating millennials into its workforce, an approach that other HR professionals could adapt, if necessary, for the younger employees in their organizations. The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y and the Net Generation, consists of 80 million people in the United States between ages 8 and 29. They have been exposed to more technological advances than any previous generation. Most do not remember life without pagers, cell phones, computers or personal electronic entertainment.
As millennials flow into the workforce, they present HR professionals with unforeseen training needs. Unlike new hires of previous generations, who may have benefited from training in diversity or technical matters, experts say, millennials need other types of training-- in professional behavior, for example, or in basic writing, confidentiality issues, critical thinking, or how to give and receive constructive criticism.
Millennials generally account for the majority in a group of new hires, so training in the ways of the workplace during new-hire orientation can be useful for such groups. Among the topics:
Delivering the Training
Techno-savvy millennials seem like a natural fit to train via e-learning methods such as podcasts or Internet streaming video. However, experts warn, this decreases the HR professional's ability to demonstrate desired behaviors. Harber says, "We have chosen to use face-to-face training because we can model behaviors and have our participants practice, review and practice again. We ask many questions and give our participants opportunities to voice their thoughts."
Janice Smith, HR development specialist for Ernst & Young, a professional financial services organization with 114,000 employees worldwide, agrees: "It's best to deliver [millennial] training in person to take full advantage of the interactive dialogue."
Moreover, in-person training allows HR professionals to control the learning environment. Otherwise, a millennial may be listening to the training podcast while trolling the Internet and IM-ing a friend. "The danger of doing it online is the message isn't received. If it's not a real person, they will be doing something else," Twenge warns.
Kathryn Tyler, M.A., is a Generation X freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Mich. She may be contacted via her web site at
SHRM articles: The Tethered Generation (HR Magazine)
The Ideal Workplace for Generation Y (SHRM Online Diversity Focus Area)
SHRM toolkit: Generations
Training and Development
Web survey report: Are They Really Ready to Work?
Web site: The Pew/Internet and American Life Project
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