Y Managing Millennials Treatise on Modern Generational Management
Generations In The Workforce Today Traditionalists (born prior to 1945) Baby Boomers (1946–1964) Generation X (1965–1979) Millennials / Generation Y (1980–1999)
WHY - Y - ? Why bother with generational analysis at all? Well, as with any other facet of diversity, you must recognize that our unique life experiences forge the schemas upon which we view the world, conditioning us to see similar situations in profoundly different ways. Because members of a single generation have lived through the same times and shared many formative experiences, common themes tend to emerge in how they behave. As you may already know, this shows up acutely in the workplace.
How should you approach this issue and what actions should you take to align your workplace for the next generation? These are the questions this paper attempts to answer. But first, before you read on, you must acknowledge that these differences are real and do, in fact, exist. Have an open mind and invest the time necessary to truly understand this dimension of your workforceâ€”indeed, the future of URENCO. Only then can you execute the preemptive strategies necessary to bridge the generation gap.
Generational Tsunami Managers around the world have been perplexed, to say the least, by the influx of a new breed of worker. Commonly referred to as Millennials or Generation Y1, this cohort, born between 1980 – 19992, does not seem to respond to the tried-and-true management techniques of the past. It’s an issue that’s impossible to ignore—at three times the size of Generation X, they are a force to be reckoned with. While only a trickle now, Millennials’ entry into the U.S. workforce will soon turn into a flood. Nuclear Industry: The Labor Pool Has Gone Subcritical3 Today, Baby Boomers are in the process of retiring en mass, forcing many U.S. nuclear plants into a conundrum. As time passes, the nuclear industry teeters closer and closer to the edge of an increasingly ominous “retirement cliff,” in which large numbers of personnel are eligible to retire within a short period of time (IAEA). Industry-wide the numbers look bleak—more than half of all nuclear workers are over the age of 48 and are eligible for retirement within a decade. Sound daunting? The situation is actually worse and more urgent than many realize—within five years, 35% of the nuclear workforce could be lost through retirements alone (Nuclear Energy Institute). Gen X, pruned by the emerging popularization of birth control and abortion in their formative years, may not be large enough to shoulder the human resource responsibility alone. As a result, it is predicted that the Millennial generation will enter the work force with a vengeance, accounting for nearly half the employees in the world by 2015 (Meister and Willyerd). In fact, URENCO is at the forefront of this trend.
URENCO USA: Nuclear Workplace of the Future, Only Now As a manger, have you felt any generational tension in your office? If you said “yes,” just glance at URENCO USA’s generation breakdown and there’s no wonder! (see figure 1) Millennials comprise just 15% of the U.S. workforce yet make up an astounding 26% of URENCO USA’s employees (UUSA HR). If we used the most liberal definition of Generation Y, as those born after 1977 vice 1980, the results are even more eye-opening: a staggering 35% of our site today are members of the Millennial generation, a virtual army. Take it as a compliment, URENCO USA skews young—especially for a nuclear facility—with Generation X and the Millennials more than taking up the slack left by the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers (see Figure 2). Indeed, we work in the nuclear workplace of the future. What we are seeing now, others in the industry will experience over the coming decade. 1 Generation Y is a marketing term which dates back to an August 1993 editorial in the magazine Advertising Age to describe the emergence of a distinct successor to Generation X (Wallace). The other popular reference for Generation Y is the Millennials; this is because some sources consider the end of Generation Y to coincide with the end of the millennium. This cohort has been subjected to severe “name inflation”, with a myriad of other lesser known names used in an attempt to brand this nascent group: Echo Boomers or Boomlets because they are the children of Baby Boomers, Generation Next, Nexters, Digital Generation, Gaming Generation, Baby Busters, I Generation, and Netizens (Deloitte). All this naming seems quite fun, but alas, going forward we will use the more accepted monikers Generation Y and Millennials, and not attempt to formulate our own more fitting, perhaps more cynical, sobriquet. 2 For our purposes, we will define Generation Y as those born between 1980 – 1999, however, you should know that there is a spirited debate among generational experts as to when the Millennial generation actually started, with estimates ranging widely from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s. 3
k<1; k= New Entrants to Industry / Retirements
Figure 1 Generational Mix of UUSA versus U.S. Workforce
30% URENCO USA U.S. Workforce
Generation Y / Millennials
Figure 2 UUSA Generational Variance versus U.S. Workforce 15% +11% 10%
5% +2% 0%
-4% -8% Traditionalists
Generation Y / Millennials
Peering Through the Millennial Monocle On The Origin Of Generational Species Each generation has a collective memory and a unique set of values and beliefs. These were largely shaped by events and trends that transpired during the group’s formative years, usually defined as the ages between five and eighteen. Hence, Millennials as a group have a common lens, shaped by shared experiences, through which its members view the world. To take a glimpse through the Millennials’ generational lens is to understand their perspective and what it takes to change or modify their behavior (Quinn). What were the contributing factors that went into forging their seemingly distorted mental model of the world? The answer to this question is a decade or two old, rooted deeply in the Millennials’ key developmental years.
A Function of Your Parenting Dysfunction Blackhawk Down, Blame the “Helicopter Parents” Overparenting has been around long before the term “helicopter parent” came into the popular lexicon. However, sometime in the 1980s something dramatic happened. From a back drop of relative peace and prosperity, fear and anxiety strangely started to permeate the air. Crime went down significantly, yet parents stopped letting kids out of their sight and started worrying about trivial matters that used to be just a part of being a kid. A quick look at some numbers told the story—the percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Among 6-to-8-year-olds, from 1981 to 1997, free playtime dropped 25%, while homework more than doubled (Gibbs). Exploring outdoors? Riding bikes in the neighborhood? No way. That only risked a possible pedophilic attack, or an all too common kidnapping. “Why risk leaving the protective confines of your mother’s embrace when the world is such a risky place?”, or so went the logic. Nevertheless, the culture had shifted—now kids could be kids no more. Empirical evidence of this sad shift in parenting was everywhere. A personal favorite of mine are “Kinder-cords”—leashes really—that were (and still are) omnipresent on city streets, with poor Timmy’s eyes often bloodshot from yet another morning filled with mind-numbing Baby Einstein videos. Keep in mind, this wasn’t nefarious behavior on the part of the Millennials’ parents; they were just overcompensating in their attempt to give their children what they perceived they never had. Indeed, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions; it’s just that now this road was a superhighway. Rather than leaving their children to play informally with neighborhood peers, the omnipresent parents of Millennials focused on having their children in a broad range of highly structured activities, many of which were team-oriented and emphasized achievement (Eiser). Parents became virtual executive assistants, scheduling their children in tight 30 minute time blocks to ensure their learning was “optimized”. In effect, raising Millennial children became a form of product development, with their parents as the engineers. These uber-OCD parents are a function of the change in societal trends in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They are part of a new generation of parents that waited longer to marry and had fewer children. As a result, families today are among the smallest in history. Since many families now had fewer children and, thus, greater resources per child, parents could afford to invest more in their children in terms of money and attention (Glass). With their genetic eggs in fewer baskets, parents now protected them all the more zealously. Ergo, the millennium generation has been brought up in the most child-centered generation ever.
These overscheduled grade-schoolers became overcommitted teens, with the emphasis on achieving, frequently as a group. But there was a catch. Upon graduation, it turned out that a lot of coddled Millennials hadn’t learned much about struggle or sacrifice. In the Millennials’ hypersensitive world, everybody was a winner. As a consequence of being sheltered from real-world risk and independence, a disconnect was formed between expectations and reality. This Millennial delusion is ultimately projected into the workplace as brash overconfidence and narcissism—behaviors that have become common stereotypes of this generation (Twenge).
Free Advice Worth the Price Manager: “Would you like some professional advice?” Millennial: “…um, not really” For their entire lives Millennials have been invited to interact on a near-peer basis with their parents and their parents’ friends. Everything they uttered was praiseworthy and encouraged by their teachers and parents. Millennials have been taught that they are special little “snowflakes” and should be the center of every one’s attention. They’ve been coached to speak up, challenge authority, and to become “self-advocates” (Erickson). This has had the effect of conditioning Millennials to expect credibility despite their young age and lack of experiences and to believe older adults actually want to hear what they have to say (Myers and Sadaghiani). Add to this the fact that Millennials have grown up with a Web 2.0 mentality that the world is a fair and equitable place. In effect, they have come to believe that “If everyone has access to the same information, then we’re all equal, so I know as much as you do even though I’m in my 20’s and you’re in your 50’s” (Wayne). As a result of the above reasons, Millennials are not intimidated by individuals who are more senior, either in age or status. Millennials will freely espouse their opinions at work, while simultaneously discounting any advice given, much to their managers’ chagrin. These verbose behaviors, when superimposed from parents in the Millennial household onto managers in the workplace, are sure to conflict with traditional corporate norms.
Gen Y2K The Millennial generation benefited tremendously from modern technologies, with access to computers as early as elementary school. Millennials find information “on demand;” they gather it as they need it rather than memorizing and storing it away. For as long as they remember, they’ve relied on the ubiquitous crutch of Google, where almost any fact can be found in seconds. Gen Ys’ ability to “find it and figure it out” is a key strength of this group (Erickson). Another effect of being raised in the 24/7 era of technology has been an expectation of immediacy in communication and feedback. This may present an asymmetric expectation between managers and Millennials that must be addressed. The above influences have molded the Millennials’ perspective of the world and put them at odds with the incumbent generations in the workplace. The most significant characteristic of the Millennial generation is that, despite all their acknowledged idiosyncrasies, they are unapologetic. From how they look, to how spoiled they are, to what they want (or demand) from their employer, they have been raised in such a way in which they genuinely believe they are special, that everyone wants to listen to what they have to say, and that people will hold their hand to help them along the way.
Inelastic Scattering In the Office
Demographic Metabolism, A Peculiar Snapshot The ebb and flow of new and old generations, a phenomenon described as “demographic metabolism”, is a natural process which drives change in society, including the workplace. What is unique about the situation today is that the age continuum of workers is far greater than ever before. For the first time in U.S. history, four generations of employees will coexist at the same time (Artley). This confluence of generations has immediate consequences for managers. As mentioned earlier, everyone’s life experiences shapes who they are. It is no surprise, therefore, that employees who grew up in different time periods would have different world views, expectations and values, resulting in preferred methods of communicating and interacting with one another. Consequently, there are recurring themes that repeatedly surface pertaining to these dislocations. Though it is clear that employers should not make too many generalizations about members of certain generations, it is helpful to categorize some aspects of each group’s behaviors, needs, and working styles. It is important that managers from older generations interact with Millennials with a desire to understand, rather than with an aim of criticizing how they are different (Myers and Sadaghiani).
Gen Y and Work, an ALARA approach
Millennials, much like Generation X workers, are on the far opposite end of the spectrum from Boomers on the beliefs and values spectrum. Work isn’t an inherent part of the Millennials’ self-identity and building a career is not a primary motivator (Marston). In fact, to a Millennial mind, work should be kept “as low as reasonable achievable”. To a Boomer this is absolutely absurd. They have embraced competitiveness throughout their careers, a necessity due to their large numbers, and have focused intensely on climbing the organizational ranks (Gursoy). Boomers are the original workaholics who, even as young adults, had no concept of Work–Life balance, which just so happens to be the Millennials’ primary concern (McGuire). To a Millennial, Work–Life balance4 is crucial and something to be preserved at all costs. This strategy has been known to meet strong resistance from the Maginot Line of Boomer and Gen X leadership. In particular, Boomer co-workers, who are often in management positions, may question Millennials’ commitment and dedication to the organization. Boomers don’t think Millennials work as hard as they do - Millennials tend to not like “punching the clock” and putting in “face time” from 8am to 5 pm every day, instead they are more concerned about outcome than process. Much like Gen X, they are resultsoriented, and do not focus on the method used to achieve results (Glass). Millennials, more so than any other generation, multitask and view time as a valuable resource that should not be squandered (Deloitte). This outcome-based work ethic is an essential component in their quest to maintain a positive dichotomy between their work and personal lives. Millennial demands for Flex time or alternative work hours are viewed as odd by Boomers, and believed to be unproductive work arrangements. Millennials can go either of two ways as a result of this intergenerational conflict: they can adapt quickly and start behaving more like Boomers once they become committed to particular projects and goals or, like the Maginot Line of yore, they will find a way to go around their managers to force their Work–Life ratio back into balance.
Boomers would say unbalance.
Paying Dues—Can I just write a check?
Another common complaint is that Millennials don’t want to pay dues over time, as Xers were forced to do with a sea of Baby Boomers blocking their path forward. Gen Y workers tend to look for instant gratification rather than long-term investments of time and effort. In addition to demanding immediate rewards, Millennials are likely to prefer special projects and resist menial work and other “dues-paying chores” (Ng).
Teamwork or “Me”work Millennials prefer to work in teams, finding excessive comfort in team-based direction, oversight, and decision-making. What is surprising is that this preference for team work may not be because of a genuine affinity for collective effort, as commonly believed. Research has shown that the Millennials’ team-focus may actually be an attempt to avoid the risk associated with independent thinking and decisions (Alsop). Whatever the reason, the Millennials’ group orientation is perceptible and puts them at odds with their older coworkers. Baby Boomers hate teams—they want to be in charge; they want to stand out as being special. The skeptical Generation X hates teams as well—they prefer to work autonomously and notoriously abhor meetings and group work (Martin). This is most likely a consequence of Gen X being the first demographic group to be parented “inabsentia,” thanks to the mass popularization of divorce and single parent working households. Consequently, this gave Gen Xers an increased sense of independence and self-direction not typically seen in members of other generations (Lander). Regardless of their motive for team–based work, the only “real” team players in the organization are Millennials. Their lives have been a PTA-sponsored, team-centric event ever since their childhood. They grew up in highly structured team activities, they did school projects in teams, they interviewed for jobs in teams—they often quit their jobs in teams as well (Trunk).
Anti-Social Skills Due to their overbearing parents, Gen Y workers may lack skills in dealing with difficult people, and may be impatient. Their strong technical skills are not balanced by strong soft skills such as listening, communicating (especially face-to-face), independent thinking, and time management (Pekala). Millennials are demanding and they question everything, so if there isn’t a good reason for overtime or staying late, don’t expect them to want to do it (Hira). Compared with other generations, Gen Y also tends to have less respect for rank and more respect for ability and accomplishment (Eisner).
(Mis)Communication—Management Firewall: Access Denied While Generation X favors a hands-off management style, Millennials desire a strong connection with their boss and want open communication on a wide range of business issues. Millennials expect communication with supervisors to be frequent, positive, and more affirming than has been the case with employees of prior generations (Deloitte). This may feel burdensome to many senior organizational members, but as mentioned earlier, this need for affirmation is derived from the Millennials’ formative years in which they received a constant flow of supportive messages from parents, teachers, and coaches (Alsop). For Millennials, information should be kept free and accessible to all, in a Net Neutrality kind of way. Millennials are unlikely to accept an organizational policy that information is communicated on a “need-to-know” basis. Regardless of their position in the hierarchy, Millennial workers want to feel “connected” and expect to be kept in the loop. Empirical research indicates that supervisors today are surprised by Millennials’ expectations that supervisors freely share information such as strategic plans while they are being formulated by upper management (George). Moreover, Millennials have a reputation
Darn Kids These Days “Think it possible you may be mistaken.” –Oliver Cromwell Older workers consider Millenials difficult to interact with and entitled. However, much of the complaints are just a symptom of, what I call, the “Darn Kids Syndrome.” What may be surprising to these Boomers is that their generation was described in remarkably similar terms when they were the same age (Rukeyser) (Seligman). Therefore, it is clear that trying to pigeon-hole the character of a generation is a controversial and, some say, presumptuous exercise. When making observations about the younger members of the workforce, many people fall into the trap of mistaking life cycle differences for generation differences between people. Managers can confuse age attributes, which change over time and are a part of every generation, with generational traits, which don’t change and are truly and meaningfully different. For example, impulsiveness and egotism naturally peak in young adulthood, not because of generational changes but because of age-related developmental trends (Carey). Of course, that doesn’t mean that tangible differences do not exist between generations. They most definitely do, however, the challenge is finding a way to distinguish between these normal life cycle stages and the ones unique to a specific generation. The reason for the contradictory assertions about Generation Y is that the majority of generational research available consists of cross-sectional studies of one or more generations with very few studies looking at matched samples in a longitudinal perspective, i.e., over a period of time (Boston College). In other words, the vast majority of research on generational differences does not compensate for age-related differences. Instead, it draws faulty conclusions based on a one-time sample of generational members, each at different life stages: 50ish Boomers, 40-ish Gen Xers, and 20-ish Millennials. For the data to be statistically significant, in my view, it must be taken from a matched sample over time. It is from this odiferous pile of faulty data from which the media makes its provocative claims. Throughout this paper I have referenced the more rigorous articles and academic studies relating to the Millennial management issue. I have attempted to filter out, as much as possible, the sweeping generalizations proclaimed by many authors, assertions usually made with few referencing citations beyond the author’s perceptions and observations. I narrowed my focus on the research that employed the highest standards in order to spare the reader from the misinformation onslaught spewed by the popular press.
for making their expectations known. This lack of formality regarding status and structure may cause senior level workers to feel disrespected by young workers whom they believe have not yet earned these considerations. Communication modalities also pose problems between generations. Baby Boomers, and Xers to an extent, highly value face-to-face communication, and have no problem walking to another office location to ask a colleague a question. Millennials, however, overwhelmingly tend to favor instant messaging, text messaging and emails. Many are much more comfortable sending a quick email than having a face-toface or telephone conversation. These digital forms of communication are overtly declared by Millennials to be more efficient. Yes, this may be true, but another explanation of the popularity of digital communication is that these methods align well, and may be the cause of, the Millennials’ notoriously undeveloped social skills. The Millennials’ over reliance on email can also be a source of workplace conflict. As we all know, email is not always the best mode for conducting business, especially if a quick decision is needed or bad news needs to be shared. Email is inherently slow and, without the subtleties of inflection and body language, can be dehumanizing and cause offense. Furthermore, the exclusive use of email as the primary means of communication can have an insulating effect by not allowing younger workers to develop more personal relationships with colleagues and managers. Clearly, Millennials can be a source of consternation for today’s managers; however, keep in mind that some of Gen Y’s characteristics may make it easier to manage than commonly thought. Gen Y tends to value teamwork and fairness and are likely to be more positive than Gen X on a range of workplace issues. Gen Y workers are inclined to be motivated, hopeful, collaborative, and inclusive. In addition to being well educated and technically savvy, they also tend to be open-minded, achievement oriented, and able to work on parallel tasks. So do not despair, there is reason for hope. Next, various strategies are proposed on how to effectively integrate, motivate, and engage your Generation Y workers.
Are you running to or from the challenge?
Millennial Management Strategies Is “managing Millennials” an oxymoronic exercise?
Not so if managers are willing to re-evaluate and refine policies as necessary to adapt to the
changing generational mix in the organization. Managers can’t expect Millennials to adapt 100% to a Boomer engineered workplace—a foreign construct a million miles away to a Millennial mind. Finally we reach the section where all the pieces come together and executable strategies emerge, not to forget the requisite eye-rolls expected from skeptical Gen X managers. However, to be successful, leaders must remember to be flexible and keep an open mind. The following tactics represent the essence of how to motivate and engage today’s Millennial worker. Instead of thrashing about in a sea of conflicting information, I hope to help managers identify the areas that produce the most leverage for positive change. Now, it’s time to get to work.
Work–Life Balance Mining For Unobtainium Research continually shows that maintaining a healthy balance of work and leisure is the biggest issue for Millennials. Unfortunately, in today’s competitive landscape it’s a challenge to achieve. Work–Life balance is a zero sum game—there are only 24 hours in a day and the more you work, the less personal time you have available to pursue other activities. As a manager you have direct control of your subordinates’ “work” commitment, but you must be aware that indiscriminate excesses on this side can have caustic effects on the opposite “Life” end of this delicate balance. A good place to start addressing this issue would be to compress the work week if possible. Compressed work weeks offer employees the opportunity to complete their 40 hours of work in 4 days or fewer per week, and flextime provides employees with the choice of when to start and stop work. These alternative work schedules provide workplace flexibility and have a positive impact on employee motivation, satisfaction, and organizational commitment (Sorensen, Ng and Eby). Admittedly, this won’t be possible for everyone, especially shift workers. However, shift schedules can and should be written with this issue in mind to keep this sacred ratio in balance. Another possible idea is to incorporate time off into URENCO’s reward system by giving out extra PTO in lieu of money. Another area to explore is to try and build enjoyment into the workplace: “Life is short” is the principle many Millennials live by. They’ve witnessed natural disasters, terrorist attacks and school shootings as a part of their formative years. Millennials seek employers who can provide them with fluidity between work and play. What we do at work is serious business, and not to be taken lightly, but there are some missed opportunities for making URENCO an enjoyable place to work. Managers should take a look at companies that consistently rank high on Fortune Magazine’s Best Companies to Work For survey, such as Google and SAS. Google, offers free gourmet meals, free transportation to work, “surprise” bonuses, and has a on-site masseuse in order to keep their workers happy (and working late into the night). Jim Goodnight’s SAS is a consistent standout as well for providing such things as a 66,000 square foot fitness center, a library, and even a natatorium5 . There is most likely a causal relationship between these benefits and the low turnover these companies experience—SAS has a stellar 2% turnover rate, the lowest in their industry.
5 A structurally separate building containing a swimming pool, according to Wikipedia. Sounds nice.
The companies which make the coveted Best Companies list are also known for having “destructured” work environments that allow self-directed work and opportunities to alternate between work and leisure. Given budget constraints in today’s harsh business environment, your organization may want to focus on these simpler, less expensive policies such as offering your employees the option to allocate 20% of their work day for personal projects, a work practice originally pioneered by 3M and later popularized by Google. An interesting note is that some major innovations have come about by using this practice - the ubiquitous Post-It note was developed during this unstructured “free” time at 3M as well as Google’s extremely popular email service, Gmail. Another avenue to explore is to facilitate structured internet or game breaks to allow younger workers to alternate some play with work without compromising their worker responsibilities or nuclear safety.
Give Frequent Attention, Praise, and Recognition Foster Managers, Meet Your New Office Children Give Generation Y public praise whenever possible. Millennials grew up receiving constant recognition from teachers and parents and expect frequent public acknowledgement of their achievements (Corporate Leadership Council). Management should value ideas over experience and recognize and reward good ideas wherever they come in the organization. A more excessive, perhaps uncomfortable, method for managing the Millennial generation comes from Jennifer Myers of Profit, a trade publication. She proposes a “secret” to managing Millennials may lie in using the same strategies their parents used to raise them. This may mean providing them with lots of support, coddling, and a sense of belonging, but without turning the workplace into a “daycare.” As abhorrent as it sounds, a word of warning: Ignore Myer’s suggestion at your own risk. Given Millennials’ need for frequent praise and recognition, one way to keep them satisfied is to pay them a 1% increase three times a year, rather than giving them a 3% raise at the end of the year (Corporate Leadership Council). Basic “time value of money” calculations can ensure parity between the two scenarios. This may transform the raise into something meaningful, instead of an afterthought, and actually increase Millennial engagement at no cost to URENCO.
Engage Them Early Through Ownership and Accountability Millennial Training Wheels A successful strategy for engaging Millennials consists of giving them ownership of some small unit of work as soon as possible. The essence of the strategy is to delegate responsibility to Millennials fairly quickly, allowing them the flexibility to do the job their own way, while holding them accountable by expecting results (J. Myers). For instance, supervisors can start small and let their younger workers set up and facilitate a pre-job brief or shift turnover meeting. As their confidence grows, more complex assignments and responsibilities can be given. Millennials have been raised to believe they are special and want something they can call their own and be proud of (Fallon). They thrive on knowing something has their name on it such as a procedure, database, or a section of the plant so, managers, don’t horde all the responsibility! Freely exploit this aspect of their nature and give them something they can be personally invested in.
Solicit Their Ideas Ignorance as an Asset Want engagement? Hold brainstorming sessions with your Millennial workers and try to incorporate their ideas. Millennials have a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective from more seasoned workers and
can offer surprising insights. They are so vocal and inexperienced that something outside-the-box is bound to come out of their mouth sooner or later. Be there to catch it and help them implement it. If Millennials feel that their viewpoints are valued, they’ll step up to the plate more often.
The Why? Before The What? Help Them Understand Their Place In the Big Picture Explain, explain, explain. Explain your reasoning for decisions—Gen Y can be called Gen Why because they need to know the “why” before the “what.” We saw earlier how Millennials were conditioned from early childhood to question everything and challenge authority. Managers should get into the habit of explaining their decisions from the outset to break down any resistance the Millennials may offer. Managers, do NOT fool yourselves into believing that the militaristic, top-down leadership style of the past is still relevant today. It is not, at least as far as the Millennials are concerned. A comprehensive 10-year study of the contemporary corporate workplace recommended that, in order to remain competitive in the 21st century, “managers will have to discard traditional authority, rules, and red tape, and become highly engaged in one-on-one negotiation and coaching with employees to drive productivity, quality, and innovation” (Tulgan). Reluctance by Millennials to do entry-level, menial tasks often stems from the perception that the tasks have little value. More so than with any other generation, managers should explain to Millennials how each assignment, no matter how small, helps move the organization closer to a stated objective (Society For Human Resource Management). Millennials desire to understand precisely where they fit into the big picture, the URENCO “collective” per se. This knowledge satisfies the intense craving they have for meaningful work, thus fulfilling the highest level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: self-actualization. A strong supervisor/Millennial relationship can be a big help in achieving this understanding. First, help Millennials grasp how their job drives company productivity, however indirect it may be. Next, connect the dots and show them how this increased productivity then helps URENCO USA achieve its goals of safe, cost effective, and reliable uranium enrichment services which, in turn, contributes greatly towards America’s energy independence.
Mentoring Forward <—> Reverse In order to ease tensions between the groups, a mentorship program should be set up to help facilitate the transfer of institutional knowledge and to teach Millennials the lingua franca and other essential social norms of the workplace. The most effective way to impart standards and expectations on Millennial workers is for leaders to model expected behavior and interact directly with them (Eisner). Managers must be cognizant of the fact that you cannot fake genuine caring! A good mentor honestly believes the best part of a mentor-mentee relationship is helping other people, and that this opportunity is a privilege. Therefore, it is important to solicit volunteers and not blindly assign this crucial role; a productive mentor relationship cannot be forced. The mentor shouldn’t necessarily be a supervisor, in fact, it is better that they are not. The mentee needs to feel free to ask “stupid” questions that may otherwise cause alarm or panic. This relationship can also have the serendipitous effect of a reverse flow of learning from the Millennial to the Boomer or Gen X mentor. This reverse mentor relationship allows the Millennials’ technical skills to be recognized and shared (Eisner). By giving Millennials the opportunity to provide older workers with their technological expertise, they may feel they are making a unique and significant contribution to the organization (Corporate Leadership Council).
Teamwork Smells Like Team Spirit Encourage teamwork—Members of Generation Y grew up working within the protective confines of teams and want to continue working with highly-motivated groups of committed people. They thrive on group collaboration and enjoy learning from colleagues they respect. The human interaction aspect of work helps make a job engaging for Millennials (Workforce Management). On the other hand, competition, either between shifts or against members of the same crew, may frustrate Millennials. Millennials have been raised to value collaboration over competition. Managers should try setting some goals with rewards for everyone in addition to individual rewards (Sujansky).
Offer A Variety of Opportunities Keep Them Riding the Learning Curve Providing a diversity of learning experiences is essential to keep Millennials motivated and committed to the organization. Members of Generation Y are constantly looking to enhance their skills and knowledge, especially since they are not prepared to lock themselves into one job or company for their entire career. A major reason Millennials job hop so often is to keep their learning curve high. When the learning curve flattens, Millennials jump (Trunk). URENCO should help Millennials have their “career changes” within the organization. Encourage lateral moves within the firm, even if temporary, so that employees are less likely to become bored and leave. URENCO may also want to create rotation programs for Millennial workers. Many leading companies, including GE and Proctor and Gamble, have programs that introduce young workers to many departments in the organization over a period of time. These programs help Millennials gain a greater understanding of the company and industry within a framework of relative stability (Trunk).
Microfeedback, Micromanage “I’d like to give you some feedback” This phrase is unlikely to inspire great feelings of warmth for most people. For Millennials, however, feedback is different. They learn through trial and error and interaction. A Millennial who asks for feedback is asking for a suggestion, a way to proceed more effectively and efficiently. Feedback to them is associated with positive feelings: with teaching, coaching, and opportunities to improve (Erickson). Millennials are a generation adapted to a hyperactive world of instant messaging and multitasking. Managers have to recognize how to give feedback in a more modern, proactive way. The old school phrase of “no news from the manager is good news” does not make sense to Millennials. They need to know how they are doing on a continual basis in order to feel grounded and secure. The faster the feedback loop the better because it allows Millennials to course-correct much quicker (Marketing Magazine). Managers should develop short term goals with Millennials and provide feedback on their progress in real time, not at the end of the year, or even quarter (Kodatt). An idea is for managers to use “microfeedback”- short, concise, timely, digestible, and actionable advice and suggestions for improvement. Think a Twitter-sized performance review (Meister and Willyerd). Don’t forget to give rewards in the form of positive feedback. This seemingly insignificant and underutilized gesture can reap large returns in engagement and motivation. As repulsive as it sounds, another proposed idea is micromanaging, which seems to align well with the Millennial temperament. The later the birth date within Gen Y, the more they tend to actually want to be micromanaged. Millennials seek out and desire the perpetual feedback and attention they received during their formative years. They expect to be important wherever they go and, in a significant
departure from previous generations, may view micromanaging as a positive. While some managers do not need any help in the micromanaging department, some pointers are to check in with your Millennial workers multiple times a day, and give them daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Members of the earlier generations were often thrown into a new job without much guidance. This “sink or swim” approach will not work for Millennials (Sujansky and Ferri-Reed). Millennials feel confident and empowered to do a good job when they are given detail-oriented instructions. Roles and responsibilities likewise should be thoroughly defined for Millennial workers. What we are most likely witnessing here is the collateral damage of heavy parental direction, protection, and involvement when they were children. Thus, Millennials expect to be successful in everything they do and they will demand the support necessary in order to reach their goals. A little hand holding may be in order.
Workplace Design and Technology Release the Millennials Into Their Native Habitat Office spaces for Millennials should be set up to optimize the exchange of ideas with others (Eisner). Cubicles are too isolating and foreign to Millennials since they may impinge the free flow of information amongst the group. An “open office” setup found in more creative industries would work well with this group. Management may want to consider new products that are available which tie collaboration and teamwork into the workplace. These are “cloud computing” software-as-a-service offerings such as Google Docs, Microsoft Live, and Adobe Buzzword that can help Millennials stay connected with their coworkers in real-time. Best thing: they are free. The technology used in a workplace tells a lot about the culture (or budget) of a company. Cutting edge technology is very important to Millennials. URENCO still uses Office 2003 which frustrates many Millennials who have been using more current versions of Office for years. Many Millennials complain that their home computer and software are much more powerful and capable than the one provided by their employer. URENCO managers should make the business case for a software upgrade or find a way to allow Millennials to install their own work appropriate software. The potential productivity gains of this decision may surprise you. Freedom and equality of information is a Millennial mantra and should be embraced by URENCO, national security concerns permitting. Sharing information that is presently locked away behind restricted corporate databases is a positive first step in building trust amongst the Millennial workforce. Set free the detailed strategy and business plans for all levels in the hierarchy to see. A seemingly odd restriction that ought to be lifted is junior members’ restricted ZIA access that prevents them from running detailed reports, in turn, leaving them impotent in compiling truly useful information. Another small but beneficial action would be granting all members full access to the Z: drive. “Read only” restrictions can be vexing and are perceived as unnecessarily constraining workflow.
Corporate Communication Speaking In The Millennial Mother Tongue Millennials will see through sterilized, prepackaged corporate propaganda. Ensure leaders “walk the talk” because Millennials will not tolerate inauthentic leadership. Instead, managers should ensure they are candid, talk without hype, and use humor to reach and truly communicate with Millennials. Honesty is key. Be truthful and don’t promise things that cannot realistically be obtained, as doing so will leave the more sensitive Gen Y worker feeling disappointed and deceived (Loughlin and Barling).
Since Millennials were raised on a multitude of diverse media, it is important for an organization to provide information, whenever possible, in compelling, multisensory messages, such as podcasts, video, or other digital formats. Messages can have an even greater impact if they are available for viewing on demand and not subject to strict time–place requirements. An example would be making minutes from All Hands meetings available not only through email, but also as a downloadable podcast. Additionally, messages from the CEO could be made more effective if communicated via video rather than with the written word.
Earn Their Respect To Maximize Engagement The Velvet Sledgehammer Millennials have no problem questioning authority and don’t automatically respect a leader solely due to the leader’s position in the organization (Kodatt). It may seem like it should be the other way around, but the stark reality is that managers will have to earn the Millennials’ respect. You can’t talk down to young people and expect them to perk up their ears. While Xers will just quit to get away from poor leadership, Millennials are known to first identify, confront, and challenge the leader, then leave (Lander). In other words, it could get messy. Therefore, Millennials’ relationship with their supervisor is particularly important and a fertile area for increasing their motivation and engagement. Managers at The Best Companies to Work For are frequently cited as being laid-back, empathetic, and supportive. URENCO management could make an effort to increase their EQ by a point or two by becoming more mindful of their behaviors when interacting with younger workers, again at zero cost but with the potential for significant returns. Managers should foster a bond with Millennials by genuinely investing in their development by using some of the techniques described in this paper. Empirical research has shown that young employees’ commitment and loyalty is determined far more by their feelings than by rational and deductive thought (Lander). Managers can further strengthen this bond by sitting down with their Millennial subordinates to talk openly about their similarities and differences. As a learning organization, URENCO should keep its eyes open and steal (blatantly!) the effective generational practices employed at firms in other industries. Particular attention should be paid to those companies who, like URENCO, are also in the later stages of the demographic shift towards Millennials. An apropos case study is L’Oreal Canada which has created and actualized, to great effect, an intergenerational training program that brings together employees of different generations to devise ways to bridge any generational gaps that may exist (Watt). This direct emotional appeal to the Millennials’ is what, in the end, will foment a healthy managersubordinate relationship and ensure mutual respect on both sides. It is within this type of framework where the Millennial will thrive and intrinsically reach their highest potential, accomplished not by brute force but with the gentle impact of a “velvet sledgehammer” — a softer, more humanistic approach to managing that inspires maximum performance from your team.
Epilogue, Epiloog, Schlußrede Millennials are certainly complex- they are young, headstrong, and carry all the stereotypes inherent at this life stage, both the good and the bad. As much as managers hate to admit it, they too were very much like them many years ago. This is true, yes, but only to a degree. The Millennials are genuinely unique, with many perplexing attributes that make them difficult to understand without first acknowledging the historical context in which they came of age. As we saw earlier, Millennials were forged in the suffocating cocoon of their early childhoods and shaped by the socioeconomic forces that surrounded them. These very real, tangible events imparted lasting impressions on the Millennials’ disposition and worldview. Today, armed with these idiosyncratic inclinations, Millennials around the world are storming the corporate gates with force. The Millennial onslaught will be a challenge even for the most seasoned leader—they are diametrically opposed to traditional corporate protocol in ways heretofore never witnessed. But, of course, we already knew this. In the dusty southeast corner of New Mexico lies a demographic experiment, well underway, whose reluctant subjects unknowingly participate. URENCO USA is, in effect, a generational pilot plant, a prototypical representation of nuclear facilities to come. As we commence operations and mature as an organization, latent generational differences may surface as the pace slows down. These challenges should be expected and embraced as the necessary growing pains of one generation handing off the baton to the next. Fortunately, I anticipate this transition will be rather smooth and painless. Millennials are thoroughly entwined in URENCOs’ DNA and will continue to make up a greater proportion of the organization as time goes on. While Millennials are the future of our industry as a whole, they are the current reality at URENCO USA. Take notes for our nuclear brethren, for we are deep in the generational trench warfare that is coming to all.
If you have any questions, suggestions, comments, or complaints regarding this paper or any other aspect of intergenerational management, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Patrick Brown Operations
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Managers around the world have been perplexed, to say the least, by the influx of a new breed of worker. Commonly referred to as Millennial...
Published on Nov 1, 2010
Managers around the world have been perplexed, to say the least, by the influx of a new breed of worker. Commonly referred to as Millennial...