Embracing the Millennials: A Personal Reflection from a Baby Boomer

I have had the pleasure of working closely with many bright and highly motivated millennial professionals, and believe that we can learn a great deal from their experiences, ideas and lifestyle choices.

As we know, each generation is impacted by different mores, values and significant events which influence the distinct behaviors that represent each group. And, it is common for people to resist and be uncomfortable with change, often finding fault with the succeeding generation’s behaviors. Rather than focus upon the “challenges” of the differing expectations that this generation brings to the workforce, I suggest that we instead focus upon their positive assets and changes which are coming about in business, and in our world, as a result of this next generation.

Let’s begin with some facts which are relevant to the impact that this generation is having on business:

Here are a few examples of trends that are embraced by millennials that have and will cause an improvement in our professional and personal lives:

  • Sharing economy – They fuel the sharing economy through services both in and outside of the office, such as Uber, Airbnb, bike sharing programs, as well as many freelancing and co-working applications.
  • Expectation for development and growth –They have a passion for continuous learning, and are not afraid to ask for it. Professional growth, brought back to an organization, contributes to future leaders.
  • Innovative and fresh ideas – They are always looking to change their workplaces for the better and bring to the table valuable recommendations for improving company processes and procedures.
  • Flexible, virtual workplaces – They value being available to their family and maintaining work-life balance. Using vacation time and flexible workspaces improves the quality of lives in our community.
  • Thrive on regular feedback – They look for mentoring relationships with their colleagues and superiors and crave immediate feedback. Many firms are fortunately moving away from the dreaded annual performance review, and instead beginning to embed consistent and candid ongoing feedback into their cultures.

There are many leaders who resist investing in the development of millennials because they anticipate that they will not stay with their company for more than 2 or 3 years. It was recently noted in INC. that contrary to this notion, millennials are more loyal to employers than previous generations, staying with their employers longer than Gen-X workers did.

The question should not be “Why develop them?” – it should be “What can we do to keep them?”.

I am fortunate to work with many savvy corporate clients whose leaders invest generously in millennials because they recognize that development as leaders is important, and can serve as a retention tool for their valued talent. Many of these firms send next generation managers and senior managers to our six-month leadership development program every time it is offered. Participants regularly report that they appreciate being recognized by leadership in this manner, and they bring back what they are learning to their sponsors and their colleagues. At these firms, this program has now become an incentive to those who have not been nominated.

As stated in Forbes, “74% of non-millennials agree that millennials offer different skills and work styles that add value to the workplace.” I am one of the 74%. My experience with the millennial generation is that they are more than “digital natives” who may help us with technology – they have values that we can learn from, fresh perspectives, and an innovative lens that we can all benefit from.

Leaders of many organizations know that they must adjust the way they do business (both internally and externally,) as a result of the significant number of millennials who are impacting the workforce and the future, and are changing established protocols which serve all of us well.

We can bridge generational gaps by learning from each other and respecting the differences in our experiences and upbringings. We must take action to work together across generations by acknowledging one another’s work styles and communication preferences, and more importantly, focusing on what opportunities arise from our relationships instead of only recognizing the challenges. Bottom line, let’s have a multigenerational discussion on how we can all contribute to a healthier workplace.