These 4 Underappreciated Traits of Millennials Can Help Businesses Thrive

By Alison E. Curwen Dec 29, 2016
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​Much has been written about Millennials in the workplace, and not all of it is flattering. They are sometimes said to be lazy, entitled and in need of hand-holding. But some Millennial traits should be viewed as a boon to the workplace, according to workplace experts.  

The Pew Research Center's 2010 report Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next noted that "this generation has many personalities," and like generations past, Millennials' characteristics may change as they mature. A 2015 follow-up to that report from Pew reached similar conclusions.

"Young people are the canary in the coal mine," and they are shaping the mindset of all generations, said Bruce Tulgan, founder of the consulting firm Rainmaker Thinking Inc., a management research and consulting company in New Haven, Conn.

Here are a handful of characteristics of Millennial employees that can, with guidance from management, benefit the workplace:

Aspirational

The authors of the Pew report wrote that Millennials "are on track to become the most educated generation in American history." College has been a critical part of their education, and millions of these young people are getting master's degrees.   

[SHRM members-only Express Request: How to Engage and Retain Millennial Workers]

Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, said that 33 percent of Millennials have a bachelor's degree, while Pew reported that more than half (54 percent) had some college education.

Millennials have often been educated in a collaborative fashion—meaning they have learned to approach classroom problems and projects as a team. As a result, they possess a collaborative nature that can be used to bridge the gap between different generations of workers.  

At 80 million strong, Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, and they are motivated by different factors than older generations. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Winning over the Next Generation of Leaders reported that 64 percent of Millennials expect to leave their current job by 2020.  "[Seventy-one] percent of those likely to leave in the next two years are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed," wrote the authors.

Lindsey Pollak called Millennials "experience-hoppers," and said this is a positive trait. Pollak—a spokeswoman for The Hartford, an insurance and investment company that's creating a 2020 Millennial Action Plan to help train this generation to be leaders—said that because Millennials have access to so much information, they see opportunities everywhere and want to keep moving forward. Managers can help retain them by creating a variety of experiences and development opportunities within the company.  

Confident

Millennials were educated in a way that taught them to vigorously defend their ideas. Hence, they appear bold and confident, and they're likely to challenge the status quo. While this can come across as conceited, their determination helps them excel in the workplace, particularly when working on something that matters to them.

Pollak said managers should assume that these younger employees have good intentions and simply want to succeed, grow and develop. Still, she said, they are teachable and shapeable, which requires some time and effort from managers.

Connected and Tech-Savvy

The Pew report affirmed that Millennials are history's first "always connected" generation. Steeped in digital technology and social media, "they treat their multitasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part—for better and worse." Hence, they tend to remain connected to a company on and off the clock, Schawbel said.

The Pew authors noted that 24 percent of Millennials say that their use of technology is what sets them apart from other generations. Businesses can use this to their advantage. Millennials can help develop digital marketing that is less expensive and more efficient than traditional marketing, and Pollak said they can also help older generations master new technology.

Open to Change

The authors of the Pew report wrote that Millennials "are more ethnically and racially diverse and tolerant than older adults." Millennials are made up of a higher percentage of black, Hispanic and female workers, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning workers, when compared to older generations. This translates into greater tolerance and a knack for getting along with others. Such diversity, Schawbel and Pollak agreed, leads to teams where diversity of thought and background can produce creative solutions to workplace challenges.

Schawbel said that Millennials are also more diverse in how they approach their work, with many of them choosing freelance jobs or careers that allow great flexibility. That approach is transforming the traditional workplace, Tulgan said.

Alison E. Curwen is a freelance writer based in Mercersburg, Pa.

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