This article was originally posted on Forbes.com
In Defense of Millennials: Embracing Their Strengths For An Inclusive Work Culture
Within the current make-up of the multi-generational workforce, it’s common for Millennials to bear the brunt of professional criticism both in the workplace and on social media. They’re often called out for their inability to meet established business expectations of professionalism. In my perspective, this strife stems in part from the fact that Gen Xers and Boomers are very similar in work styles: they do what they are told, they follow the status quo, have a high sense of obligation, etc. Millennials are re-creating the wheel. The Millennial generation is calling business norms into question and, for many, it’s a struggle to work with them.
Sometimes stereotypes ring true. But stereotypes are rarely fair, and harping on them creates unnecessary conflict between co-workers. As a leader in my workplace, I am constantly striving to look past the base-level stereotypes of Millennials to appreciate the strengths that lie within them.
I’ve found that the Millennial generation brings a lot to the workplace and has a lot to teach those of us who have come before them. And, for this reason along with others, working with Millennials is not just something I “deal with,” but something I truly enjoy.
The Strength Of Millennials
Millennials are passionate. Like never before, this group of workers is motivated by idealism and the desire to find meaning and joy in what they do. They are not interested in wasting time and they do not act on duty alone. Millennials have the capacity to engage the heart of clients and customers in a way that is truly genuine.
Millennials are digitally engaged. They will help keep you and your business on-trend and culturally relevant. They are technology wizards and can train older employees how to navigate today’s complex social networks. They have important opinions about cultural trends and can help your business adapt in an authentic way to those trends.
Millennials are multi-taskers and are highly adaptable. They are jacks-of-all-trades and can become competent in many fields. They are not restricted by job descriptions. They have a level of agility to react to changing environments and are very comfortable trying new things and learning new skills. Millennials are able to perform well under the pressure even with unknown outcomes.
Millennials have short attention spans and have learned to communicate in a quick, digitized manner. Often seen as a weakness, a short attention span helps keep the focus intense and your company’s narrative concise. Millennials don’t talk around the issues; they talk to and about them. They can keep your brand on point and your message clear. Marketers are taking note and we should all be prepared for the proliferation of six-second micro ads.
In many ways, Millennials do not fit the historical mold of professionalism and work ethics. On the other hand, I feel that working with Millennial employees is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes passionless professional world.
How To Incorporate Millennials Into Your Team
To incorporate Millennials into your team, you need to get to know them and learn their unique strengths. There are many methods available for these assessments — personality profiles, strengths finders, etc. — but, rather than relying on traditional assessments alone, ask for their own perception of skills and strengths. Their greatest strengths may be different than what you’re used to and they will likely be employed in unexpected ways. This may be a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to grow your business in ways that would be impossible without their addition.
For employees early in their career, it may be hard for them to articulate what they need or desire from their work. As a seasoned manager, you will need to be able to pick up on cues as you get to know them better and work with them. Keep the conversation open. They will appreciate the mutual respect and dialogue; they want to know they are being heard.
Allow your Millennial team members the freedom to pursue what excites them about their work. Operate as a mentor by giving clear expectations about their deliverables, but let them help direct their work. You can help them prioritize them. Give direction and boundaries without squashing their creative and ideological energy and you’ll watch them take your business in directions you’d never have considered on your own.
If what we want is a truly diverse and inclusive work environment, we need to meet all of our employees where they are and maximize their contribution. The question is not whether or not Millennials have something to contribute, but rather, are we ready to embrace the challenge?