I’m 30, an ex-corporate executive (at BlackBerry) and now the CEO of a business-collaboration tech startup. I know a thing or two about millennials at work because I am one; and I’ve managed several. If you are struggling with how best to engage millennials at work, read on: This piece is for you.
Throughout my experience, I’ve learned about why, sometimes, our generation doesn’t seem "to care," and I'd like to explain to our elders what's really going on. So, here goes. . .
1. We don’t value 20th century workplace rules.
Rigid office hours? Strict dress codes? Meetings to talk about meetings? The “legacy-effect” of traditions, language that sounds like corporate-speak and outdated practices are all hard for us to stomach. If the only reason why something is done a certain way at work is that “it’s always been done that way,” you'll lose us. We are a generation of hackers, tinkerers and shortcut takers. We want the best, most efficient and logical approach. Does your company have rules and policies “just because"?
What you can do about it. Poll the team: What policies need to go? What processes need to be improved? How can the company improve its culture?
2. We don’t want to be another cog in the wheel.
We’ve been labeled the "entitled generation" and have been called many things, with varying degrees of accuracy. The bottom line, however, is that we don’t have the same value-set as our parents or grandparents. A lifelong career with a work/life balance may have been a goal for their generations but isn't ours. We want purpose. We want meaning.
We want work that does more than pay the bills and pass the time. In a survey by Deloitte, six out of ten millennials said a sense of purpose was part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer.
What you can do about it: Tell us why we should care. Why does your company exist? How does each team member’s role contribute to that purpose? Clearly articulate this and refer back to it in daily behavior and decisions. (See this TED talk by Simon Sinek, Start with Why.)
3. We need to have our voices heard.
Does your company culture allow for anyone to highlight a critical problem? Can the most junior person on the team share an idea to improve a product or process? Most companies fall short of engaging the entire team to solve company problems and improve innovation.
But not all companies: Toyota is famous for giving workers on the assembly line the ability to stop production if they discover a quality issue. Tesla has a “best idea wins” culture. Amazon allows anyone to pitch a new product concept. Is the team encouraged to speak up at your company? Or is it standard protocol to “raise it with your manager”?
What you can do about it: Create a culture that makes people feel safe to speak up. Define a process by which you can uncover the team’s best thinking and make better decisions accordingly. Make this effort easier and more efficient with the right tools. I (with obvious bias) recommend using the solutions of my own company SpeakUp.
4. We don’t like business software.
Many of us cut our teeth on iPhones and Macbooks. But then we got to the workplace and had to use -- still do -- the software that the IT department purchased ten years ago. It’s not user friendly, it’s clunky, it’s not what we’re used to.
We use it begrudgingly, and it drastically impacts our level of happiness (and productivity) at work. Do the core apps at your company require training manuals?
What you can do about it: Business software is going through a renaissance. Take advantage of the latest and greatest tools that focus on user experience. Don’t be afraid of cloud services.
If there are security or industry-specific reasons for not adopting new tech, reevaluate those concerns and see if there are any tools that have cropped up that solve your problems. (Read: Our 7 Favorite Communication Tools at Work.)