If I had a quarter for every time a millennial I know was deemed “lazy,” I’d have enough quarters to do laundry for the rest of my life. Just the other day, I was talking to my mom about a millennial family friend who isn’t exactly sure what to do with his life. While my mom used words to describe him like “lazy” and “misguided,” I knew he wasn’t any of those things.
In fact, he's probably the opposite: overambitious and overly confused. Like many millennials, he probably feels so paralyzed by the number of career options to choose from these days, thanks to the advancement of tech—office job? Entrepreneur? Instagram influencer? All of the above?—that he's choosing right now to just...take time to choose.
So, yes, millennials are often misunderstood, and they're especially misunderstood in the workplace. Some millennials are quitting their jobs at record rates, but as Deloitte research shows, others are staying put and looking to their bosses for answers on creating more diverse and flexible workplaces.
It's my belief that Gen X women in senior management positions can help their millennial employees. But in order to understand how they can, we need to take a look at why there’s such a disconnect between the two generations of women in the first place. And it all has to do with Industry 4.0, AKA the future of technology.
The Technological Gap is Creating a Rift Between Employees and Management
While opposites may attract sometimes, studies actually show most people are drawn to other people that are like-minded. However, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College Angela Bahns says the downside of only talking to people who are just like you is “limited exposure to different ideas and beliefs.”
At work, we want our bosses and colleagues to be on board with everything we’re thinking and doing. But it’s when employees think and act differently from their bosses that friction is created.
One way millennials and Gen Xers differ is in the way they communicate. Because millennials grew up during the tech boom, millennial employees actually prefer to communicate via email and text, according to Forbes, and we've been bred to hate phone calls. Compare this to our Gen X counterparts, who most likely prefer in-person meetings and phone calls because, well, that’s what they grew up with. This vast difference in preference of communication often leads both employers and employees to feel disconnected from one another.
And Industry 4.0 is Also Challenging the Standard 9-5 Work Structure
It isn’t naïve to blame cross-generational workplace tiffs mostly on technology. Millennial employees and their seniors respectively grew up in entirely different eras, both technologically and culturally. The world is changing rapidly, and if the structure of the workplace fails to keep up, employee-employer relationships will continue to flounder.
The world is changing rapidly, and if the structure of the workplace fails to keep up, employee-employer relationships will continue to flounder.
Here’s the thing: The 9-5 structure simply doesn’t cut it anymore. The nearly century-old norm of 9-5 feels antiquated in a culture where, according to Randstad’s Employee Engagement Study, 42 percent of employees feel like they need to check on work emails while they’re on vacation. I don’t know about you guys, but back in the days of my parents, vacation was, well, just that: a completely unplugged, no-contact period of time to completely forgo any work duties.
When you really think about it, it’s hard to expect your employees to stick to the typical 9-5 office structure when they’re responding to emails past 5 PM. Many employees don’t get paid overtime for working outside normal work hours, so at the same token, it’s unfair and unrealistic to stick your employees in a dimly light office cubicle from 9-5, sans any flexibility, when they're so willing to be flexible outside of work.
Because technology allows employers the ability to reach employees in any way, at any time, it isn’t a stretch to say millennial employees often feel taken advantage of. And because they’re always expected to be “on,” even while not at work, they expect their employers to reciprocate that flexibility in a way that works for the employee inside office hours, as well.
42 percent of employees feel like they need to check on work emails while they’re on vacation.
How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Millennial Employees
DON'T micromanage. Micromanaging is basically a way of saying, “Hey, millennial employee! I don’t trust you enough to do your work and do it well, so I’m going to check in on you constantly, as if you’re a child.”
If you micromanage, then you lose your employee’s trust. This is a no-no. If you lose that trust, you’ll have a hard time developing any sort of relationship with the employee and, in return, the employee will be less productive.
Imagine you were recently employed: Your employer hires you because he or she trusts you’ll do the job well. By hiring you, they showed they believed in you, but post-hiring, they don’t necessarily continue to demonstrate any sort of belief in you because they watch over your every single move, as if you can’t do the job you were hired for. The end result? A disgruntled and unmotivated employee, an employer that feels disconnected, and work that doesn’t get done.
Micromanaging will be disadvantageous for the employer in the end, so trust your employee; it awards them that workplace flexibility I was talking about earlier. (Then, thank me later.)
DO give your employees credit where credit is due. Our resident expert on all things business, Stephanie Breedlove, wrote in a recent edition of her article series Breedlove’s Briefing that happier employees who are given credit for their performance stay at the job longer. She writes:
“Be business-like about it by making employee performance a business goal. It allows your team to understand that their efforts matter at epic proportions, and it helps them to more easily see the fruits of their labor. This generates pride in the quality and value they create, and when this happens, they want to do it more, and do it better. I call it creating a company of owners, and it’s awesome.”
In short: Employees want to feel like they’re doing a good job. In such a tech-heavy world, tête-à-tête communication gets lost, so a pat on the back, a compliment or a simple “great job!” from an employer can go a long way. By rewarding your employees, they’ll be more likely to take on more tasks so they can continue to be rewarded, thus help you reach your business goals, as well. (See? It’s a win-win!)
DO show that you understand the future of work by learning to adapt. Look, we millennials are not aliens. And while we may be quicker to adapt to technology’s new ways, we’re just as hesitant and unsure about the future of work as anyone else is, including our bosses. (Like, will journalism even be a job in 2030?! Or will the robots have taken over by then and be delivering all the news? Who knows. I’m freaked.)
Gen Xers, we millennials want you to be on our team. Work with us, not against us, and help us adapt to this ever-changing world by creating a workplace that's mutually beneficial for both of us. Grant us flexibility, reward us and give us real vacation time! In the end, it isn’t Team Millennials & Robots vs. Everyone Else; it’s Everyone vs. the Robots. (Dun dun DUN).