An Ode to Millennials in the Workplace

Generation Y is derided in the media and typecast in the business world for its perceived collective traits: A need for recognition, a perceived lack of focus and a lackluster work ethic. But like many of you, I have the pleasure of working with several Millennials. They’re valued members of my team and of our global organization, contributing new ideas, fresh energy and a passion for technology (a benefit for any business, but especially a technology company like ours). Most importantly, Millennials challenge the status quo. Like generations before it, the Millennial perspective on life and work is uniquely individual. Millennials are truly themselves in every aspect of their lives, blurring their personal desires into their professional perspectives. Every business today—B2B, B2C or a combination of the two—can derive value from viewing their customers like Millennials view the world, not as sounding boards or lines on an income statement, but as real people with wants, desires, likes and dislikes.  Millennials are helping us define what it means to be a people-first business.

Millennials are truly themselves in every aspect of their lives, blurring their personal desires into their professional perspectives.

This is an old tale. The business landscape changed dramatically when the baby boomers took over, with their emphasis on merit rather than seniority. Now a new generation is rising through the ranks, and businesses have to embrace the changes Millennials are bringing in order to flourish. Ultimately, it’s the impetuses behind these Millennial traits that businesses and leaders need to identify and take into the heart of their organizations. Instead of brushing these stereotypical “Millennial” traits aside as merely the products of a generation that doesn’t know its place, we should be looking to Millennials as the examples of not only how to shape the workplace of the future, but also of how to communicate with our customers.

The Need for Recognition = A Desire for Meaning

One of the largest complaints leveled at Millennials is that they have a desperate need to be recognized. Any number of snarky articles have been written about how Gen Y grew up getting trophies for everything, complete with the requisite stock photos of participation ribbons. But the fact of the matter is this: We all want to be recognized for our work. Millennials are just the first generation to have the gall to openly admit it.

Every business today—B2B, B2C or a combination of the two—can derive value from viewing their customers like Millennials view the world

The real motivator behind wanting to be recognized for excellence is simply a desire for one’s work to have real meaning—to the business, to the team, to something—and for that meaning to be acknowledged and communicated. This desire is by no means specific only to Millennials. The need for recognition and acknowledgement can be seen across today’s business climate, from internal associates to your customers engaging with you through support or social channels. Businesses are increasingly tapping their users and customers to be brand advocates, simultaneously recognizing that a particularly loyal or savvy customer can greatly amplify their brand awareness. In the absence of regular recognition within your organization, work starts to feel like a spinning hamster wheel. And when Millennials feel like they’re getting nowhere fast, the next trait starts to rear its head.

Lack of Focus = Challenge Me

Millennials allegedly lack focus and loyalty, jumping ship as soon as the next shiny new opportunity appears on the horizon. In practice, I’ve found this to be completely untrue, provided that your leadership teams make an effort to challenge these young hires to excel, rather than heaping on work and hoping for the best. Encourage them to provide their own ideas and inputs into projects and workflows. Create an environment of collaboration, where everyone—regardless of age, experience or time at the company—is free to contribute ideas. That’s how you create passionate employees, and Millennials in particular thrive when they’re truly passionate about their work.

The real motivator behind wanting to be recognized for excellence is simply a desire for one’s work to have real meaning—to the business, to the team, to something—and for that meaning to be acknowledged and communicated.

This aspect of people-first business also manifests itself in your customer base. People want to be treated like human beings who are intelligent enough to reach their own conclusions, make their own decisions and contribute their own ideas. That’s why this era of social media and content marketing is so powerful; your customers are free to engage with you or to agree and disagree with you. Because of this new social democracy, the days of bombarding people with canned, impersonal corporate messaging is long gone.

Lackluster Work Ethic = Why Should I Care?

Finally, there’s a stigma of a lackluster work ethic among Millennials, or that they’re a generation that won’t simply take an assignment and do what they’re told, as if they’re much too busy checking Facebook and Instagram to be bothered with menial tasks. It all comes down to motivation — giving them a reason to care. What impact does the assignment you’ve given them have? How will their work further your team or organizational objectives? And in the bigger picture, how does this further their overall professional goals? In other words: Why should they care? If your answer is simply, “They should do it because they were told to,” maybe you should ask yourself those same questions.

Instead of viewing their reaction as lackadaisical or defiant, perhaps it’s an indication of an opportunity to improve processes and workflows.

I understand that not every single task at work is career-defining, but as Dana Theus wrote, Millennials can be a great resource for challenging the status quo at your organization. Instead of viewing their reaction as lackadaisical or defiant, perhaps it’s an indication of an opportunity to improve processes and workflows. This is yet another valuable people-first insight to apply not only within your organization, but also externally. When engaging customers or prospects, you have to give them a reason to care about your product or service, creating a connection between your product and their individual goals. If you can make those connections in a meaningful way, your message is much more likely to resonate (and eventually convert into dollars). It’s easy for other generations to stand in judgment of Millennials. However, with a bit of perspective, it’s easy to see that we still have much to learn from them, both as employees and human beings.   Editor’s Note: Beginning TODAY, we’re excited to announce our launch of the My Story Campaign contest series where we’re featuring the best Millennial voices. Check out the details here! Did you like today’s post? If so, you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you! Copyright: millisenta / 123RF Stock Photo

Sean O’Brien is the strategic voice of PGi, managing the company’s internal and external communications, including his role as the primary spokesperson for PGi. He works directly with PGi Chairman and CEO Boland T. Jones, President Ted Schrafft and the executive team to craft and communicate PGi’s vision, strategy and corporate objectives. In addition, Sean is responsible for identifying, analyzing and completing corporate development opportunities, including strategic investments, mergers and acquisitions. Prior to joining PGi in 2003, Sean had a successful Wall Street career spanning equity research, sales and investment management. This financial background and his unique talent for strategic communications make him a strong voice for PGi in the marketplace, where he helps foster a two-way dialogue between the company and current and potential investors, media outlets and the analyst community. Sean lives with his wife and two daughters in Alpharetta, Georgia. He is an avid supporter of the arts and has sat on the boards of the Atlanta Ballet, Nashville Ballet and Ballet Arizona. He also served on the boards of various non-profit organizations, including Safe Haven Family Center in Nashville and Atlanta’s Next Wave Society of the Georgia Aquarium, and volunteers with Junior Achievement of Georgia.

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