Last week I received the following email:
We are a small company with a diverse workforce and recently hired a team (4) of recent college engineering graduates as Sales Engineers. The generational differences are creating challenges that are affecting productivity and morale and we are searching for ways to help all of us to overcome these differences with better understanding and support.
Workplace challenges amongst the generations continue as they have for the past twenty years. I see no slack in the demand for solutions. And the solutions vary depending on the size and ability of the employer. For example a fellow panelist at an event this past spring listed the things that the Millennials want in their workplace: Mentors, meaningful work, flexible schedules, newest technologies, planned and predictable career paths, predictable bonuses and raises, and the freedom to work on things that interest them. “It’s simple,” he said. “None of this is hard.” Maybe not, but are these reasonable things to offer a new-hire with no track record? And only the largest workplaces with ample HR budgets can afford to offer these things.
The vast majority of workplaces are like the writers of the email above – small companies where workplace disruptions impact lots of people. The audience that day listened like I did with a perplexed look on their face, saying, “Yeah. You’re right. It’s easy to understand. But who is going to implement all this? And change the way we currently do things? And smooth it over with the old-timers who have been loyal and received none of this treatment? And where is the budget going to come from? We’re small and need people who want to fit in, not disrupt.” Easy to understand? Yes. Realistic? I don’t think so.
Today’s workplace has gone from a place where a new hire sought opportunities to prove themselves to a place where new hires say to their employers “Make me happy or else…” From “give me a chance” to “you get one chance.” My assessment may be harsh but my employer clients seem to agree with my description. As a society we have promised today’s youth that someone else will make them happy; that their happiness is not up to them. In their workplace they want to be made happy, not to be happy. So all the things today’s workplace trends highlight – from mentors to workplace buddies to Ping-Pong tables – are to make employees happy, especially the youngest ones. Maturity will ultimately teach them that their happiness is their own job but until this maturity sets in, the job is the employers. It’s evident in the way we raise children today – from rewarding participation vs. results – to the way we talk about the purpose of education – “do well on your tests so that someday you’ll find a good job that makes you happy”. It’s become a part of our culture.
So what do you do?
- First, there is an undeniable corollary between age and turnover: the younger they are the more likely they are to leave you to find another employer who they hope will make them happy. From now on, hire youth at your own risk. Buyer beware.
- Next, don’t let “short timer’s disease” deter you when you’re hiring. If you see a number of different jobs and your applicant is nearing their late twenties or early thirties they’re now become a more predictable person and are likely learning that no employer, job, title, or Aeron chair is going to make them happy. They’re at the age to realize that they want a good job and are willing to invest their efforts into making it a good job. They’re also at the age where they realize that happiness is their job, not yours.
- Next, communicate interpersonally frequently. Set the devices and the emails aside and look your people in the eye and talk. The screens in our life prevent meaningful interpersonal connections. Talk, show interest, and relate – old school stuff.
- Finally, where you can provide anything off the list from above that the Millennials want, do it. But don’t alienate your loyal workers in the process. Explain that these new workplace offerings are designed to benefit everyone, not just your youngest employees.
Ultimately word will get out that you’re a good, fair employer and they’ll come looking for you with their resumes in their hands.