Employers! Does iGen Require Parenting?

Yes, you read that question right. In her brand new book, iGen, San Diego State University psychologist and author, Jean Twenge maintains that, “Maybe today’s teens and young adults have an underdeveloped frontal cortex because they have not been given adult responsibilities.” The brain’s frontal cortex, of course, functions as our center for reasoning and judgment. (iGeners, by the way, are defined as those born 1995 and later, making the oldest 22 this year. Others have labeled them Nexters and Generation Z.) While this is a rather explosive hypothesis, Dr. Twenge has the research to back it up. Historically employers have assumed that young applicants arrive with basic life skills, this is no longer the case for many.

Teen participation in the workforce is also at a fifty-year low, meaning that the majority of new high school and college graduates applying for jobs have little, if any, understanding of the rigors and rhythm of full-time work. If you hire them, anticipate another level of complexity to your already busy days.

A business owner recently told me he started a newly-minted engineering graduate on a Monday. The next day was a payday for the organization. This young man asked why he didn’t get paid. The owner explained that payday is every other Tuesday and if he completed his time sheet every day, he would be paid in the next cycle. After two weeks, this young professional complained he still hadn’t been paid. Upon investigation, the owner discovered that no time sheet had been submitted. “Why do I need to complete a time sheet?” this engineer objected. “You see me in the office every day.” Does this sound familiar? Brace yourself. It will become more widespread.

So what should you do? Here are three quick and easy suggestions:

Send them an orientation video before their first day. Assume every new hire possesses little, if any, work experience. Include items like, what to wear, what time to arrive, where to park, where people eat lunch, what to expect the first week, and so on. Need ideas? Ask those hired the past six months what they wish they would have known beforehand. By the way, the video should “star” one of their age peers, not the HR manager or a top exec.

Be extraordinarily specific in your instructions for the first 30 days. The nature of communication has become more transactional. This means that many young people struggle understand nuance and are uncomfortable inferring what to do from off-handed instructions. Simply saying, “figure it out” may result in an employee who fails to act and is afraid to ask for clarification. This doesn’t mean you have to conjure up your inner control freak. As employees assimilate, back off from these specific instructions when they become more comfortable thinking for themselves.

Buddy them with a recent newcomer for the first few weeks. Those who have joined the organization within the past twelve months still possess empathy for those new to the job. Not only will this provide a bit of aid and comfort to the new contributor, but it might also give you a quick look at how the buddy coaches and trains others.

The iGen experience has been significantly different than that of previous generations, including the Millennials. Take time to get ahead of the attitudes and practices of this new cohort before they become a force to be reckoned with.

Stay Interviews from the Millennial Point of View

One of the more recent fads in HR circles has been the so-called stay interview. In other words, meeting with top performers to discuss their concerns and aspirations in an effort to keep them on the job. As the economy gains momentum and the skills gap continues to grow, employee churn is becoming a significant cost. But I have to wonder about the value of this effort.

On one hand, anything an employer does to build connection and trust can’t be a bad thing. On the other hand, shouldn’t managers maintain enough of an on-going connection with their people that they can detect restlessness and discomfort as it begins to fester? Why make a production out of it?

Some managers will complain that it’s tough to stay in touch with everyone these days and offer a litany of reasons – too much on the plate, off-site employees, the transactional nature of today’s communication and so on. But isn’t taking the time to stay connected with your people the key role of supervision?

There is also a congenital urge on the part of most organizations to systematize everything. Stay interviews are no exception. If the firm is losing top performers maybe interviewing the ones that are left is a good way to find out what’s wrong. Create a set of forms. Conduct a training session on what questions to ask. Analyze the metrics. Hmmm.

Examine this from the Millennials’ skeptical point of view. This generation has always looked at employment relationships as contracts, as in “This is where I happen to be working right now.” Millennials see work as one slice as a larger life.

They are also uber-connected, meaning anything you explain to one will be posted to others almost immediately, probably with their own take. You don’t want your retention efforts to be reduced to a joke – “I have my stay interview today. What do you think I should tell them?” I’m kind of surprised that we haven’t seen a parody of stay interviews go viral on YouTube.

Millennials are also focused on fairness. If you select only “top performers,” how are you defining that? Isn’t everyone a top performer? How will the top performers who weren’t selected feel? Maybe this discriminatory process will drive those people away or, worse still, they will tell their friends that the firm isn’t a workplace focused on fairness.

As with many other similar efforts, the effectiveness of stay interviews comes down to corporate culture. It’s been said forever that employees join companies and leave managers. If you have to implement stay interviews to address employee retention, you might have a more systemic problem.

Generation Z — What a Crock!

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Fortune Magazine is out with an article this week based on a Monster survey that claims to identify the future expectations and work habits of a generation that has yet to be clearly defined. They interviewed a selection of youngsters, ages 15-20 who “who pre-qualified themselves as either employed or, among younger teens, planning to work in the future.” These, they claim, are members of Generation Z whose membership, according to them, is 60 million teens, pre-teens and toddlers.

The research, conducted by TNS, included 2000 people across four generations, including this supposed cohort. If you assume that their sample included 500 of these young people, they surveyed .000008 percent of possible respondents. I wouldn’t have been able to get this kind of survey design past my undergraduate behavioral stats professor.

I’ve been asked for the past five years what the next generation will be like. I’ve always demurred by saying no one knows yet. Firstly, they have barely entered working age. Secondly, their consumer habits have been based primarily on the money they’ve received from parents. This fact, by itself, should give competent people a reason to withhold judgment. But not Monster. In a transparent attempt to get a step on their competitors, they’ve released some shallow findings that were picked up by the erudite editors at Fortune who are, as well, anxious to remain ahead of the curve.

So what are employers to do with this “research?” Ignore it. It’s easy to become intoxicated by all the new, new, new “findings” out there. While the media, and others remain desperate to capture your attention, this cohort will not be relevant for another several years unless you employ teens. Even then, this sample lacks adequate veracity due to it’s tiny size and self-reporting data collection.

With a workforce of transitioning Baby Boomers and Millennials who are reaching critical mass, you have better things to do than worry about the expectations of today’s teenie-boppers. And remember, just because a big magazine published it doesn’t mean the research is holds water.

Managing Millennials in the Midst of Hyperbole

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This past week, Shane Ferro of the Huffington Post, published an article entitled Cranky Employer Blames Texting Millennials For Economic Problems. The inspiration for this simple-minded title was one comment made by an employer in the Dallas Federal Reserve’s Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. (Nothing like some cherry-picking journalism to guide a writer’s focus.) Aside from Ms. Ferro’s failure to perform professional research, however, she illustrated the fundamental challenge of managing across the generations – Few of us can resist the temptation to jump to uninformed conclusions.

There is plenty of responsibility to go around, of course. On one side of this disconnect, we have employers who still cling to some version of “My way or the highway.” It’s bee a while since I’ve heard one of these Neanderthals say that Millennials have no work ethic. But actions and off-hand comments are always more indicative of what’s thought than what is said in public. The plain truth is that many companies don’t do an effective job of integrating these eager young souls into the workplace.

To be fair, there are plenty of managers who do work diligently to on-board and develop the Millennials joining their organizations. They take time to explain the business, model behaviors, and adopt practices that work for both impatient young contributors and the firm itself. These leaders are rewarded with longer retention, more enthusiasm and better results, at least most of the time.

Then we have the Millennials. In the comments section of Ms. Ferro’s article, I was amused to see Damian Diersing’s insight that “We (Millennials) are the most educated and diverse generation, EVER. We have more critical thinking skills than any other generation.” It is ironic that the silliness of Mr. Diersing’s comment undercuts the very point he is attempting to make. This is not to say that most of this cohort believes their own press clippings. But between mainstream media, social media, the experts, and the advertisers, it’s hard not to lose perspective when you’ve been called “the next great generation.”

Is it any wonder, then, that many Millennials arrive at the employer’s front door with a vision of how things need to be without regard to the firm’s practices and traditions? Ask Millennials to explain the business model. Most can’t. Ask them to discuss the company’s role in the marketplace, industry and among its competitors. Most will fumble for an answer. Ask Millennials to place themselves in the shoes of those making the tough decisions. Most will give you a blank stare. There are exceptions to this of course. Those are the young contributors who can address all the questions I just posed and will be the first to say that entitlement has nothing to do with the equation.

So, what to do . . . Here’s a bit of advice for both groups –

Employers: Begin by doing a better job of hiring. Yes, there appears to be a talent shortage right now. But that does not excuse impatient or, dare I say, desperate selection. Continue by ensuring that every employee, regardless of position can answer the questions I posed above. Finally, set and enforce clear expectations. Successful managers will tell you this is harder than it sounds. But Millennials need to know that while you are invested in their success, you are more invested in the firm’s success. When the two coincide, everyone wins.

Millennials: Learn to look at your job through the employer’s lens rather than your own. Will you be able to effect change, make contributions, and develop the work-live balance you do desire? Yes, but over time. In spite of numerous attempts to change the inherent structure of organizations, the vast majority are still pyramid-shaped. Learn to work within it. Emulate the leaders you admire. They will tell you that working your way to a meaningful position requires the age-old attributes of patience, grit, resourcefulness, an element of risk, and an element of luck. Sure, you can express your discontent with the present state of affairs. But that’s more likely to harm you than help you in most organizations. Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger.

Sadly, the workplace and society in general have become so sensitized to the possibility of hurt feelings that we’re losing the value of the frank communication that may result in momentary discomfort, but long-term respect and growth. Enough with the blaming and generalizations!

5 Things to Stop Doing When Managing Millennials

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The blogosphere has been rife with experts, many of them Millennials, advising people about how to manage . . . Millennials. As with the Baby Boomers of fifty years ago, they’ve been hailed as “the next great generation.” But in spite of their demographic size, the Millennials are no more special than any other group. As with each cohort, they’re just products of the times in which they’ve come of age. So rather than the five things you should do when managing Millennials, how about the five things you shouldn’t do? Here goes:

Number one, stop thinking of them that way! They are not the next great generation. I don’t say this to disparage them. I’ve been researching and writing about Millennials since the leading edge entered the workplace in 1998. But I’ve always tried to keep all the generations in perspective. Each has its own proclivities, its biases, and makes contributions that the others have not. The big difference now is technology. The Millennials have had a digital bullhorn. The Xers, Boomers, and those that came before did not give advice about how they should be managed. They just worked and learned how to fit in. Did they force transition? Of course. But employers didn’t have twenty-somethings trying to advise them how to manage . . . twenty-somethings. Maintain your perspective.

Number two, stop assuming that they know how to think on the job. This may sound harsh, but consistently more than half of surveyed employers say many Millennials have trouble with critical thinking. I could spend ten paragraphs postulating why, but that’s not the point. The key here is to assess problem solving during selection. Assign tasks. Place them in uncomfortable situations. Pose problems that require judgment and see how each applicant comes to resolution. I may still hire newly minted college graduates who don’t possess work smarts. I just want to know before they come on board.

Number three, stop comparing them to your kids. Most people don’t do this consciously. But when the teenager behind your counter behaves the same as your teenager at home, it’s tempting lump them together. We want to assume that the values will be similar, the family structure the same, the beliefs about money, faith, politics, entertainment, and social issues on the same plane as ours. And when they’re not, we instinctively think “Why not?” Countless employers have complained to me over the past several years that “These kids have no common sense.” The first thing I do is remind them that they’re not kids. They are the people upon whom we depend for our livelihoods.

Number four, stop lumping them all together. In recent decades, one in four workers has graduated with a four-year degree. Yet those are the only ones studied and surveyed for the most part. What about the other 75%? Do you manage the 27-year-old engineer who’s earning $52,000 a year the same way you manage the 27-year-old tradesman who’s earning exactly the same thing? Do you inspire the middle class clerk from Minnesota the same way as you inspire the first-generation clerk from Ecuador? Today’s Millennials are extraordinarily diverse, even compared to those coming of age 15 years ago. When some Millennial expert says “always” do this or “never” do that, ignore them. Take time to examine the bigger picture. There’s so much more to each one than just age.

Number five, stop getting angry, frustrated or indignant about the time being consumed by managing and leading these eager young contributors. Instead, shape them. Show them how the firm really makes money. Be specific. Explain the organizational structure and it’s reasoning. Explain your firm’s role in the marketplace and industry. Introduce them to mentors who will light the way but also help them understand that promotions don’t happen every six months. Encouraging their passion is good, but so is finding ways to help them channel it so that both they and the firm thrive.

These are not the rantings of a bitter Boomer, just observations of someone who talks day in and day out with employers who are struggling to manage the ongoing transition within their workforce. The Millennials are here, but so are the rest of us. Let’s learn, grow and thrive together.

Teach Millennials Work Smarts Using These 5 Keys

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Lonnie works as an analyst at a financial services firm. He graduated with a finance degree and a 3.35 GPA. But in spite of his training, Lonnie feels like he’s in over his head. It dawned on him a few days after starting that the recommendations he makes are the real deal. The firm could lose big money if someone follows his judgment and it doesn’t pan out. That really unnerved him. So he’s made a practice of checking in with his boss on anything he’s unsure of. But this week his boss took him aside and said, “You’ve got to think on your own. If I have to review every decision you make, I might as well do the work myself.”

In the past several years, I’ve heard countless employers complain that the Millennial generation struggles with making decisions. While this perception is may be unfair, the constant “checking in” they are known for contributes to this belief. One source of this behavior is the difference between what I call “book smarts” and “work smarts.” For most college graduates, the road to a full-time professional job has consisted of 16 years of formal schooling. They’ve learned to study, take notes, write papers, take texts and work on small group projects. The ones with the highest grades got this down to a science. But decisions on the job are far different than those in the classroom.

One of the elements missing for many Millennials has been the experience of working in the marketplace. Those in past generations found themselves working one or more jobs while in high school and college. These positions ranged from delivering newspapers and waiting tables, to mowing lawns and working in factories. While these jobs weren’t glamorous, they provided two things, spending money and experience in what it takes to navigate the work world. Sadly, many of these jobs have disappeared due to technology or assumed by older individuals trying to support a family on these traditionally part-time or seasonal positions.

The result is a generation of college students largely lacking in work smarts. I’ve had more than one manager lament that many new professionals don’t know what work “looks like.” When they enter the marketplace, they possess the academic skills but not the experience in discernment and problem solving required to thrive in the uncertainty of everyday business. So what can you do to help these emerging professionals adapt? Here are the five keys for doing so:

#1. Help them understand the context. Ask most Millennials to explain their employer’s business model and they’ll be at a loss for words. If you teach someone the big picture, they will naturally look for ways to solve the problems around them. Explain the larger context from the first day on the job. When young contributors see how their work affects the whole, they will begin to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own.

#2. Share your experiences. The experience of trial and error marries book smarts to work. Every well-placed example helps emerging professionals understand and accept that all decisions are based on judgment and calculated risk. When they understand that you’ve been willing to fail in order to succeed, they will be emboldened to do the same.

#3. Compel them to make judgments and decisions. The potential consequences of a business decision can be intimidating. But at some point that decision has made. Provide a strategy for making these choices. Help Millennials consider the options and possible outcomes. Have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Whatever you do, compel them to act.

#4. Process what goes right and wrong. Millennials lead the pack when it comes to impatience. There is great value, however, in taking time to consider the outcomes of decisions made. Make it an expectation that decisions of substance be discussed. What went right? What could have gone better? What’s going well? What can be improved? What specific steps can be taken? What does success look like?

#5. Celebrate the good outcomes and commiserate about the bad. It is human nature to remember more of the failures than the successes. Take time to consider both with your people. Failure inhibits the urge to take future action. Success sometimes emboldens carelessness. An effective decision maker maintains a balance between the two. This comes through discussion, reflection and experience. Little will build the confidence of Millennials more than knowing that you’re in their corner when making decisions, regardless of the outcomes.

Don’t Hire Top Performers

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Don’t hire top performers! Sounds like the reverse of what you should be doing. But it’s not. Twenty years ago, the recruiting leader for a large retailer told me he never hired the top people from a college class. When I asked him why, he said, “They get restless immediately. They spend more time dreaming than doing, and they’re a bad training investment. Besides, everyone’s chasing them and we end up paying more than we need to.”

So what was his strategy? He said, “We look for sustainers, people with solid grades who have demonstrated diligence and longevity in one area of interest. I look for the student who excelled in one thing throughout high school and college, not the kid who lettered in five sports and starred in the spring musical. Our people manage floors and stores for five years at a time. Top performers go nuts doing that.”

This is not, of course, the only way to hire people who stay. But this conversation has stayed with me for two decades because of its wisdom. It is human nature to want “the best.” But “best” doesn’t necessarily equate to grades. Seasoned managers know that book smarts is only one part of the equation. A lot more of a good match relies on grit, flexibility, perseverance and the qualities not taught in a classroom. If the applicant is not the right energy for the job, move on to someone else.

Are you committing a variation of this same mistake? The truth is grades and the college a person graduates from become irrelevant within weeks after they’re hired. They either perform or they don’t, depending on how well they adapt and you develop them. Don’t make the mistake of chasing the fairy dust top grades from top schools when the hard worker with grit will perform from the get-go.

Why Restless Millennials Lose Out in the Workplace

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Society has sold the Millennials a bill of goods. They’ve been told that they’re special. They’ve been told that their influence will run the world. They’ve been told that work should fit into the rest of their lives. For the statistically insignificant few, this all may be true. But for the other 99%, becoming special will requires hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, and more than a bit of luck.

I am both amused and saddened every time I see the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Serge Brinn and Marissa Mayer on the covers of Fortune, Forbes and Time. These individuals are remarkable, but they are also anomalies. Even with their hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance, they happened to be in the right place at the right time. At one point or another, every one of them has admitted as such.

But here’s the thing – When an ambitious twenty-two year-old sees an image of these tech titans, he or she is inclined to think, “Wow! He’s 32, I’m 22. That gives me ten years to get there. But I’m not going to do it by working in this lowly job.” And so the restlessness begins. Many in every generation enter the workplace with that kind of exuberance. But any seasoned contributor will tell you that success is the product of grit, strategy and patience. That doesn’t mean you need to wait six years to get promoted, but you do need to wait six months.

Yes, a degree of impatience keeps you motivated. But when it drives you to jump jobs, strike out on your own prematurely or cut corners, the success is liable to take longer. Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert. Whether it takes ten thousand, eleven thousand or nine thousand, it takes more time than many Millennials think they have.

Then, of course, there is the structure of most organizations. As much as much of society has come to believe in the benefits of an egalitarian way of working, most businesses remain meritocracies. That means lots of people at the bottom and fewer and fewer opportunities as you rise within the firm. There’s only so much room.

Finally, there’s perception. More than one Millennial has shown up on day one with a belief that he or she is just humoring the boss by doing the grunt work. They “know” that within six months their brilliance will have earned them a place “at the table.” But having experienced the same desires decades before, seasoned managers recognize impatience when they see it and are likely to dismiss this behavior as immaturity than as a new brand of acumen. Millennials who are perceived as restless and impatient do themselves a disservice.

So what’s the wisdom here? Number one, act strategically. Get to know lots of people, not for the purpose of positioning yourself, just for developing relationships. Do this face-to-face. Arrive five minutes before the meeting. Hang around a bit afterward. Shake hands, make eye contact, remember names, ask questions and listen three times as much as you talk. Be genuine. Seasoned contributors can detect a “positioner” a mile off. After a while you’ll be come known. When you are invited to the table, observe. Opportunities to participate will come over time.

Number two, be curious. Asks lots of questions. Know more about the organization than the people around you. Connect with people in other departments and get to know what they do. Read industry blogs and magazines. Read the Wall Street Journal, even if you’re three thousand miles from New York. Know how your employer compares to its competitors. Know how the industry is evolving. Become a student of the business you’re in. Moral? People who ask intelligent and thought provoking questions get noticed by those who count.

The days of waiting ten years to get promoted are long gone. The era of the six-month promotion is never going to arrive. Strategy and curiosity always win the day.

How to Torpedo Your Job Prospects with One Poor Decision

I spend a good deal of time researching the myths and stereotypes about Millennials. Some are fair. Some are unfair. Some are accurate. Some are just plain stupid. In reality, no one perception can be representative of all 81 million people. It is rare, however, that I come across the writings a Millennial who seems to reinforce what many of her age peers desire to dismiss. But that happened last week.

Erin Heilman, writing a guest editorial in the Baltimore Sun, proceeds to lecture employers on her generations’ expectations for a working relationship. She writes in part, “We are the generation rising. And soon we will be the VPs, the CEOs. And you’ll see a new kind of workplace, where family comes first. Because when you think millennials are the ‘me’ generation, you miss the point . . . think what you might about millennials. We are the optimistic future. While you ponder the good old days and tell me ‘that’s what’s wrong with the world today,’ I will continue to make the world better.”

My first reaction was shock at her arrogance. But I concluded that this is more about her ignorance of the corporate world. Every firm knows that employee expectations are changing. But young people who use a battering ram to effect this change simply polarize the workplace. Perhaps she should study the context of today’s workplace before attempting to singlehandedly overhaul it.

It’s been said, unjustly so, that the Millennial generation is a cohort of entitled do-nothings. Ironically, Ms. Heilman appears to be leading that charge. I’ve thought about the disservice this young woman is doing to her generation by reinforcing these misguided perceptions. But in a laughable sort of way, what she wrote just demonstrates how out of touch she is with her age peers. (It also proves once again that editors will put most anything in the paper regardless of its accuracy, just to attract eyeballs.)

Out of curiosity, I searched for Ms. Heilman on Linked-In. She’s a graphic designer who graduated from a college in Pennsylvania and has held four jobs in the past seven years. As an employer, I would be reluctant to hire her no matter what her qualifications, just because of her seeming restlessness. I, like most small employers, can’t afford to hire people like her for a period of months only to lose them because my firm doesn’t live up to their expectations. She should remember that this emotional outburst will follow her around. Pretty much every company conducts an on-line search on all applicants. This editorial is sure to come up. She might want stay with her present employer for a while and learn how to work and play well with others.

The Millennials are NOT taking over!

In a Linked-in article this past week, the author claimed that by 2025 the Millennial generation will represent 75% of the US workforce. This is simply not true. It’s not the first time, I’ve seen some exaggerated statement about how the “next great generation” is taking over. In fact, the estimates seem to get higher by the month. Having spent the past 20 years researching generational demographics and characteristics, this makes me a little nuts. So let’s set the record straight once and for all, at least in round numbers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be approximately 164 million members of the civilian workforce in 2020. (It hasn’t published an estimate for 2025.) According to the US Census, the Millennial generation resulted in 81 million births. (1981-1999) Now, we could add to this number those who have immigrated to the US, legally or illegally, who are this same age. Then we need to subtract Millennials who have died, are serving in the military, along with those who have never entered the workforce or who have left for a variety of reasons. (I could spend a few days with government estimates and my calculator, but you get the point.)

But, if we generously assume that all members of the Millennial generation have joined the workforce (81 million) and we even add ten percent (8.1 million) to this number due to immigration, that gives us with a total of 89 million members in the civilian workforce in present terms. Of course, this number will diminish over the next five years due to deaths and those who leave for other reasons. So if seventy-five percent of the 2020 estimate of 164 million is 123 million, that will leave us with a gap of at least 34 million. Hmmm . . .

We have all seen a continual stream of stories coming out of the media, consulting firms, and independent writers claiming that the Millennials are taking over and the rest of us should step out of the way and learn from these digital wizards. Some of these are written by Millennials who happily believe all this clap-trap. So why don’t we all take a deep breath and embrace a little perspective. The Baby Boomers and Xers have a lot to learn about Millennial learning styles, desired approaches to work, and attitudes about life in general. But the same should be said of the Millennials. Enough with the wild-ass estimates and claims. Let’s just get to work.