Category Archives: Workplace


Searching for role models, Millennial women still come up empty

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made big waves with her book, Lean In. But a recent study of Millennials, conducted by Bentley University’s Center for Women in Business, seems to agree with her assertion of an ambition gap among female workers.

According to the study, while nearly 20% of Millennial women seek to emulate women leaders in their companies, another 20% have “no interest in becoming a leader at my current company.”  Of course that leaves a good majority floating somewhere in the middle.

It’s even more interesting when you apply the assumptions these Millennials are making about the women CFOs in general:

  • More than 60% believe women leaders have to hide their femininity to fit in
  • Roughly 50% believe women leaders are less likely to have children AND probably do not have time be as good a mother as they could be

With Millennials’ strong sense of self, and wanting to be accepted for who they are, it’s not surprising that these assumptions would make Millennial women less interested in becoming leaders. The challenge for companies – at least those that want to encourage women leaders – is to create an environment where these assumptions are refuted.


Truth in advertising vs. telling them what they want to hear: A recruiter’s dilemma

The Millennial workforce rivals Boomers in size, but not necessarily in availability. This creates an interesting conundrum for recruiters. While there should be more supply than demand (and in some industries there certainly is), companies are still competing hard for the best talent.

Those with traditional business models, such as public accounting, are particularly at odds with the Millennials’ more relaxed approach to work. How do you entice with promises of work-life balance in a business with a “busy season” that has young employees averaging 60+ hour work-weeks? Very carefully.

Maybe the balance isn’t about the number of hours worked each week, but rather about the flexibility of time within the parameters of the job all year. What does work hard, play hard mean? Have you created an environment where someone who wants to come in early can also leave early (or vice versa) in order to fit personal commitments in with job requirements? Campus recruiting should use such concrete examples. Generic terms such as “work-life balance” are apt to be interpreted quite differently by someone who has been in the 9-5 workforce for decades and one who has only lived a student life. Bold promises may bring them in the door, but if the reality doesn’t match, they’ll be scheduling an exit interview before too long.


Is health insurance still an attractive benefit?

With the recent Supreme Court decision excusing Hobby Lobby from providing certain birth control options in its employee health plan and the goal of Obamacare to make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans the employer-assisted health plan is getting tons of attention. We know costs keep rising and many employers are passing more and more of that cost on to employees. And with the rise in part-time and contract workers, employees are finding themselves increasingly ineligible for employer plans.

Will all these trends converge to make employer-provided coverage a relic? I don’t see it happening right away, but I can’t count it out. As the nation gets less healthy and the need for insurance rises, one would think employer-supplemented plans will continue to be highly desirable. But with the younger generations’ affinity for “jobs with a purpose,” which often means being one’s own boss, the availability of individual policies at more affordable price points could take one away from the “pro” column for traditional jobs. If this comes to be, employers will need to be looking at more creative and distinct ways to demonstrate their commitment to employees. Might I suggest underwriting financial advisory services?  While that can be seen by some as a blurred line, the fact remains that many of today’s Millennial and Generation X workers are not good with personal financial planning. Helping them budget and manage debt can yield to less stress and better overall work product. Something to consider.


The science of “fit”

It is fairly common practice for companies to hold team or peer-to-peer interviews for incoming employees, in addition to traditional human resources and manager interviews. The goal, of course, is to make sure that a candidate who looks good on paper is a good fit for the proposed peer team. And since we know that employees are more likely to stay OR leave a job because of the people than because of benefits or pay, this peer interview approach is important. But it is still based on gut feel, a hunch. And let’s be honest, one’s hunch can always be wrong and can shift with the mood of the day.

Some would advocate for a more scientific approach. As Fast Company reports, today’s data-driven society allows for companies to go way beyond Myers-Briggs to understand who their prospective and current employees really are…and how they will best fit. This could be especially useful for Millennials as they have strong innate desire for a sense of belonging and purpose in their work. And while I do believe in data, those personal discussions shouldn’t go away. Science is precise, but it isn’t perfect. After all, the algorithms behind behavioral DNA are similar to those that populate your advertising options on the internet. Sometimes they are eerily spot-on (I was just thinking about buying new running shoes) and other times they are laughably off base (single seniors anyone?).


Out of the mouths of baby boomers. Or is that Xers?

I was scrolling through the online news when this caught my eye “I think (Generation X) is the last hardworking generation[…]Generations after us have become more spoiled. Kids aren’t disciplined.”

And if it weren’t for the parenthetical I would have drifted right on by, expecting yet another complaint from a Boomer against the Xer work ethic. Except perhaps we’ve outgrown that one. Apparently the  Xers are claiming a spot on the “back in my day” soapbox. Was it only a matter of time?

The quotes are from an article discussing the Pew Research Center’s series “The Next America.” That series spans several studies and uses historical trends to predict where we are headed as it relates to societal norms, including economics, social values, family structure, gender and religion. The very real shifts in these societal norms underscore why generational perspective is so important. At the same time, now that Xers, who were once the “kids these days” with no work ethic, are now looking at Millennials and shaking that same finger, it does make you reinforce how the line between generation and age is often rather blurry.


Snapshot of the generational gap: Humans of New York

Have you followed Humans of New York? Photographer Brandon Stanton takes portraits of random individuals and asks them a question or two. The answers appear at the photo captions. It’s utterly captivating art and social commentary. Every so often an image will strike a nerve with HONY followers as with this recent portrait. Or more accurately, the caption that accompanied the image. “I’m a little headstrong at work, which can get me into trouble with my manager. But if my way works just fine, why do I have to do things his way?” The generational gap in two sentences.

The responses on the HONY facebook page are textbook, neatly divided by “because he’s the boss” to “she’s got a point.” I would bet money that the profiles of the responders would reveal a generational divide as well. Pragmatic or insolent? Depends on whether you are bringing Boomer or Gen X/Y values to the conversation. Not surprisingly, an internet discussion among strangers didn’t resolve this one!


Part-time nation

For better or worse, the American workforce is increasingly focused on flexibility. Some workers want the flexibility to work on their own time, often in their own environments. Some want the flexibility to pursue personal passions outside of their 9-5 jobs. Some companies want the flexibility of hiring and firing at will, with minimal HR administration. Some want the financial flexibility of limiting employee benefits.

No matter which side of the conversation you are on, there are serious conversations happening about flexibility in the workforce. In “Rise of the ‘flex’ economy,” Christian Science Monitor writer Simone Baribeau provides a 360-degree view of the way flexibility helps and hinders employees and employers.

Baribeau spoke with Gen X and Millennials in a variety of industries and a range of salaries and the results are fairly consistent: they want to find balance between personal and professional, stability and monotony, autonomy and security. What stands out in this article is how most, though certainly not all, of the interviewees made flexibility work for them, even if the original decision was not theirs.

By its nature, flexibility is flexible. Not every program or approach fits every industry, company or person. But it can be a valuable tool for attracting and retaining younger generations of workers, and in some cases, can also help a business control its bottom line.


Is customer service a lost art form?

Much time is spent lamenting the work ethic of younger generations in the work force—they are disengaged, too attached to their social networks, not focused on the needs of their coworkers…they just don’t understand the way things work in the real world. And for years my argument has been you have to teach them.

The same may be said of customer service. News stories and personal anecdotes tell a disturbing tale, especially in the professional services industry. Where Boomer and Mature workers valued and relied on face time and relationships, today’s workers value efficiency and technology. As a result, they aren’t picking up the phone, or the lunch bill, with clients nearly as frequently as their predecessors did. They are doing the work without building the relationships. And my answer is still the same; you have to teach them.

Customer service, like work ethic, is part nature and part nurture. Younger generations have a tendency to be less intimidated by titles, which may make you assume they will be comfortable taking on a client advisory role as they grow in their careers. But there is a great difference between being willing to email a CEO to ask a tactical question and being able to talk to one about their business strategy.  The first only requires knowing who you are; the second involves trusting your commitment to his or her success.

To help your younger team members build those important skills, find ways to include them in meaningful meetings. Alternately, or in addition, hold internal meetings and have your younger employees set the agenda and run the meeting. Provide feedback.

More tactically, coach them to talk to clients more frequently. State communication requests explicitly “Call ABC Company tomorrow and let them know the order will be delivered Tuesday” requires a two-way discussion with the customer, whereas “Contact ABC to let them know the order status” can, and likely will, be handled with email.

In most cases, the perceived decline in customer service is not about bad attitudes, but bad habits. As a boss, you have the opportunity and obligation to teach better habits.


Millennials march to a different beat, or is it different beats?

In a recent meeting, a high-level leader lamented the conundrum of managing the younger members of his team: “They want everything done so differently.”

Same complaint, different person. But then he continued…“Each one of them wants to be dealt with differently. So I can’t have a way that I manage; I have to have a way that I manage him, a way that I manage her, and another way that I manage the next person. It’s exhausting.”

And it can be. There are some similarities that cross personalities, and leaders certainly have the right to lay down some ground rules, but this individual hit on something true about the Millennial generation. They are very connected, but also very detached. They embrace individuality to a degree that no generation before them ever has.

While they do want to be liked and appreciated—these early adopters of social media crave peer validation—they want to be liked and appreciated for who they are, without labels, and without expectation. According to a March 2014 Pew Research study, they don’t readily choose political parties (50% are independents) and are increasingly non-committal about religion (30% are unaffiliated). They are also less committed to one another, with only 26% of Millennials married, compared to 36%, 48% and 65% of Gen Xers, Boomers and Matures when they were the same age (18 to 32 years old).

This desire to stand for themselves rather than follow status quo makes it difficult for traditional managers to find their way with Millennial employees. But, as I told the gentlemen at the meeting, ultimately they want to feel good about themselves and their contributions to the team. Figure out a way to do that in a way that is also authentic to you, and you’ll make the connection that makes everything else a little easier.


Older and younger workers have similar interest in workplace flexibility

Technology has enabled a virtual world that Boomers and Matures never imagined, and one that Millennials and Xers have come to expect–especially in the white collar workplace. Why should someone be tied to a desk all day if their peers are not in the same office, or even the same time zone?  What difference does it make if I work from 7-2, take a break to handle afterschool duties, and then resume working at home from 8-10, as long as I meet my deadlines?

This unorthodox balance of the personal and the professional, and the underlying message that time has its own value, has been central to the expectations of younger generations in the workplace for years. In recent years, it is becoming increasingly important to older generations as well.

Whether due to financial need or simply a desire to stay active and involved, Boomers are working longer, but are increasingly seeking more flexible work options. A recent New York Times article, The Age Premium: Retaining Older Workers, shares the stories of Boomers and employers that are seeking to create balance for older workers. One of the most interesting approaches is that of CVS’s “snowbird” program that allows employees in northern climates to transfer to stores in the south during the winter. The program allows CVS to place its mature employees where their customer base is also largely mature, creating a benefit for the business as well as the employees. Other companies offer reduced schedules for semi-retired employees, allowing them to serve as mentors to rising leaders.

And that may be the critical thing. With Generation X such a small workforce compared to Boomers and Millennials, businesses may be facing a knowledge gap. Looking outside the box and considering flexible employment scenarios can help bridge that gap while also helping hesitant Boomers ease into their retirement years.

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