A new huge divide is gripping corporate America, including the fast-paced world of digital marketing and advertising. What is this “divide” you say? I call it the millennial chasm: it’s named for the generation born between 1977 and 1992 and the chasm between what they expect from a job/career versus the workplace realities. I’ve been observing, if not working smack in the middle of this dilemma for the past five years and thought I’d share some insight. One caveat: I have not have found the silver bullet, so read with caution.
Whether you are a manager at a digital agency, brand, or small business or a 20-something “millennial” in the first years of your career, you must try to understand each one’s different perspective. Perhaps managers and millennials need a translation guide, so I figured I’d have some fun and come up with one.
|Translation Guide for Managers and Millennials|
|Manager translation||Millennial translation|
|Career opportunities||In a few years, you really can go places here.||Show me how you’ll help me and my career; I’ve been here three months and deserve better.|
|Hard work||Dedicated consistently day in and day out, month in and month out, putting in the hours, the effort, and the thoughtfulness to get things done.||I busted my butt last week. See, I’m a hard worker.|
|Integrity||Do what you say you’ll do. Live up to commitments regardless of personal desires to build unshakable trust.||What does that mean? Not sure what to do. Um, OK, I’ll try.|
|Loyalty||Sticking with what you started. Having an affinity for the company or boss and defending it/them in trying times.||I have to do what’s best for me.|
This table does not apply to all managers or millennials. In fact, none of these items apply to a millennial who recently left my company. But for the other 80 percent, well, we all have a lot of learning from each other.
Lesson for Managers: Be Patient
As the boss, we must take the time to explain things to the newer generation. We must be patient, giving a little piece of advice at a time. One big lecture does not do the trick. Patience is key. What’s more, the millennial must understand that back in the day, if someone barked back at their boss or ignored his instructions, one would get the proverbial smack down. That would range from: getting yelled at behind closed doors, getting fired, or getting more mundane work.
Lesson for Millennials: Don’t Blurt Out What’s on Your Mind
Because millennials are growing up on Facebook, they are used to expressing their opinion on their “walls.” Because they are used to sharing their feelings, they now believe that what they “think” is important to “say.” Millennials must understand that is far from the case in the business world. And managers must help millennials understand that, if invited to a meeting, they should share their thoughts about the topic at hand or when asked. But sharing their thoughts in general will just make them look bad. Advice for millennials: choose your comments wisely, write down what you are thinking to get it out of your system, then reread those notes. If something still feels important, send an email to the proper person and don’t Cc the entire team. Managers, it’s a whole new world out there, so we must groom the next generation and not expect them to know what we knew about the “pecking order” and protocol at meetings.
Lesson for Managers and Millennials: Now Is Never Good
Millennials have short attention spans as a result of texting, IM, TV, and all the other noise in their lives. They constantly seek out new things. That’s brutally frustrating to the rest of us. For millennials, this translates to “wanting it now” for career opportunities. Managers must be aware of this and set expectations. After a quarterly or annual review, managers may think that all is well and everyone is working on the same page. But I can tell you from personal experience, millennials’ feelings and expectations vary week by week and sometimes, day by day.
So managers must check in on a regular basis to ensure that what was said and agreed upon is still the case next week. Remember, patience will help. On day-to-day matters, we still have massive attention deficit disorder issues to deal with. Productivity tools have become distractions. Instant messaging and Skype should be set up on computers for business use only (for instance, set up separate business accounts and IDs for use in the office). Friends, boyfriends, and parents ping us all the time. I’m as guilty as the next, and think: less instant access, more concerted thought, and focused time is key. I’m convinced the number of hours millennials work is more, and they are willing to work, but productivity is cut down dramatically in the stop-start world of instant distractions.
The perfect example is when the message “Hey Babe!” from an employee’s boyfriend popped up in the Skype account on a computer being used for a team meeting. Harmless, right? Wrong! We know that’s only part of a long string of text messages. Even I got sucked in to 20-30-minute conversations with one of our newer employees. It’s kind of fun, yet terribly unproductive. So I think we all (managers included) need to grow up a little and get some policies and procedures in place.
All in all, millennials are smarter, faster learners than other generations. They are more fun to work with and are hard workers. So the gaps and challenges I outlined should not be interpreted to avoid hiring them. It’s just about understanding where each side is starting from. And millennials, don’t take offense: getting this stuff out in the open is what needs to be done. It will help to understand how you are being perceived. Again, not one size fits all. Some managers are really good at all this already and this advice is just a reminder. Others need a big wake-up call that we have to look at this generation differently and work differently. Same goes for millennials. There’s a wide range of personalities: some are snot-nosed brats who have no idea how the world really works and others are hard working, conscientious, and just need a little nudge in the right direction to understand expectations.
Regardless, there’s a chasm that must be crossed. Managers and millennials alike must communicate regularly to ensure we don’t fall into the chasm, but instead cross it together.
Related reading: Study: Millennials Value ‘Social Economy’
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