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Managing the ‘Millennials’

This Generation Has Some Different Views — on Work, and the World
Jeanie Forray

Jeanie Forray, professor of management at Western New England College, says Millennials sometimes lack certain skills, but are very strong in terms of technology and innovation.

The ‘kids’ aren’t so young anymore. The first wave of the so-called Millennial generation is now a major force in corporate America, and soon, even more members of this large age group will be ready for entry-level positions — and some will be managers. There are several challenges for employers when it comes to this generational shift, among them work habits that are very different from those of older managers and co-workers. But many local experts say it’s less about ‘conforming’ for either party, and more about meeting in the middle.

“Does a BlackBerry come with this job?” “How about a company car?” “Will they make me take out my eyebrow piercing?”

These are questions Jennifer Brown has heard from recent college graduates as part of her work with Staffing Now, an employment agency with local offices in West Springfield and Easthampton.

“We don’t always see that,” Brown, a branch manager, cautioned, “but we are witnessing it more. Even more often than that, we’re seeing some high expectations regarding salary among new graduates … some expect the best, because they’ve been provided with the best.”

But the questions about high-tech perks and meaty paychecks comprise just one aspect of a larger phenomenon many employers are taking a close look at lately — the effect the so-called Millennials are having on recruitment, retention, and overall management in the workplace.

“Millennials may come into the marketplace with high expectations, but if we keep the communication lines open and mentor them as well as learn from them, I think companies will find themselves enriched by their ideas,” said Brown. “This is a very smart group of people, and one that is very sophisticated. They have been shaped by things like Enron, handheld communication, and the effect of the media on American business. We shouldn’t be afraid of recognizing some of the things they have to say; that’s what will keep them in a position, and keep them creative, challenged, and happy.”

Frank Lovelock agreed. He’s an internal organizational development consultant with Baystate Health who told BusinessWest that many organizations are taking a closer look at employees of all ages, in order to better manage them and their strengths.

“I think that one of the biggest things going on now is an effort to be aware and really learn about each generation,” he explained, “but the Millennials are a special focus. There’s a move to try to provide awareness to managers and employees in general so people can learn to work with them without misunderstanding what they do and why they do it. If we understand a behavior and where it comes from, it’s easier to work and cope with it.”

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Millennials, why they are the way they are, and what managers can do to ‘adjust’ — that’s the word HR professionals use — rather than ‘cater’ to this generation.

Meet the Millennials

The Millennials, formerly referred to as Gen Y, is the collective name given to the generation born roughly between 1982 and the present. The group, nearly 80 million strong, is quickly surpassing the Baby Boomer generation in size — most Millennials are the children of Boomers — and the oldest members of this group are now in their mid-20s and beginning to make a significant impact on the American business community through both their size and their habits.

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding all of the five generations present in today’s society of late, and how each group works with others. The ‘G.I. Generation,’ those born between 1901 and 1926 or so, have the smallest impact on the workplace, due to their advancing age and dwindling size. The ‘Silents,’ born between 1927 and 1945, come next — most of them are retired — followed by the Boomers, previously the largest generation in existence, and Generation X, a relatively small group.

While Boomers and Xers in particular remain a hot topic in terms of management, marketing, wealth transfer, and other areas, Millennials are receiving particular attention because they represent the future of the workplace, and also tend to live life and do business in ways that have never been seen before.

This generation has been influenced most by the events spanning from the mid- to late 1980s to today, and as such are strongly motivated by technology, environmental issues, and education. It’s an ethnically diverse generation, and one that has been influenced by major events, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

It’s a generation that effectively multi-tasks more than any other, values flexibility and work-life integration, and, in general, has been raised by involved parents, which can sometimes make navigating the choppy corporate waters alone a challenge for this set.

Jeanie Forray, chair of the Management Department at the Western New England College School of Business, said that while not everyone who falls into the Millennial category will display these traits on the job, the trends are no less important to study as a means of better understanding this large generation. This summer, she and Marketing professor Janelle Goodnight will pilot a course called “Professional Presentation” that will speak to many of the areas in which some Millennials need assistance.

“There are some lessons that other generations have learned that Millennials haven’t,” she said, noting that these lessons include appropriate dress and voice-mail, E-mail, and meal etiquette, as well as acceptable questions or challenges within meetings, for example. “As a college, we focus on career preparation, and as a faculty, we’ve noticed this. We want to teach these people some of the basics that they will face in the workplace, but at the same time, we don’t want to constrain their strengths.”

As much as most Millennials have yet to learn, said Forray, they also comprise a generation that is not shy about sharing opinions and ideas, and this is where she said their impact will likely be felt most strongly in the future of the corporate sector.

“It doesn’t have to be seen as catering to them; that has a somewhat negative connotation. But if we look at it as ‘adapting,’ then it’s something we can embrace. It becomes one more aspect of organizational life.”

Raised to Rebel?

Lovelock said many ‘Millennial behaviors,’ as he called them, stem from one’s upbringing, generally speaking, as well as from the technology-saturated years in which this group has come of age.

“A lot of habits spring from what they’ve grown up with. For instance, communication is constant for them. This is a group that multi-tasks; they can work and communicate with friends at other companies via instant messaging, E-mail, and cell phones.

“Companies have to think about that,” he added. “There are some things you can’t do at work, but there are other areas in which an employer might be well-served to step back, ensure that an appropriate level of productivity is being achieved, and meet halfway.”

Lovelock added that flex time is another attractive draw for Millennial job-seekers that could help businesses attract and retain young, quality employees.

“There’s a strong need for flexibility,” he said, noting, however, that this isn’t the first generation to foster change in the workplace. “Gen X came into the marketplace touting work-life values in a big way. But Millennials take it further. They look for flexibility as a requirement.”

Gen X factors into another variable that is causing managers to take a longer look at their younger Millennial counterparts; because ‘X’ is a small generation, there are too few employees in this age bracket to fill vacancies left by retiring Baby Boomers.

“The Baby Boomers generation is huge, and X is small, so as Boomers retire, we have to be aware of the Millennials and work to make a bridge to them,” said Lovelock. “Part of that means understanding how they behave in the workplace, and how managers have to be, too.”

To help foster that understanding Lovelock says is integral, Baystate has developed courses for employees in generational diversity and generational competency that focus on all four generations. These voluntary classes offer training in how to deal with younger employees and, conversely, what younger employees should understand about their older co-workers.

“These courses have generated a lot of interest, as well as lively discussions,” he told BusinessWest. “The topics also continue to evolve — most Millennials in our organization are still too young to hold management positions, but courses in ‘Millennials as managers’ are coming. I think when that hits, it’s going to stir up a whole new set of comments and questions.”

He said it’s important to note that Millennials should be involved in those discussions, not just analyzed from afar.

Questions and Answers

“Millennials must change and conform to some things,” said Lovelock. “Often, rules and regulations have been put into place after much research and careful thought. I really think that Millennials are not so much resistant as they have a need to understand why things are the way they are. Once they do, they jump to be part of the team.”

Brown agreed, noting that while she occasionally gets an off-the-wall question from a young job-seeker, more often than not these young employees, like all professionals just starting out, have a burning desire to be heard and to contribute.

“It’s very possible that they’ll have to modify their behaviors a bit to fit the company culture,” she said, “and it’s just as possible that managers will have to change with the times, too. It’s about moving forward together, in the right direction.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at

[email protected]

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