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Managing the Integration of
Millennials with Baby Boomers

By Holly G. Green

The Millennials born between 1981 and 2000, and just entering the workforce, pose some significant challenges in integrating effectively into Baby Boomer led organizations. This generation values civic responsibility, is self-confident, and has a respect for diversity of all sorts. Millennials are experts at multi-tasking, always looking for ways to balance hobbies and volunteer activities with work. To effectively integrate Millennials, it is important to understand the context that shaped them. Millennials grew up in a child-focused society, with information technology, violence and terrorism at all time highs. They are the product of parents who think they can do no wrong.

This generation tends to be “street smart,” adaptive to change, comfortable with new technology, confident, achievement oriented, globally connected, and communal.   Such core values present themselves at work through the need for independence and autonomy, challenge and variety, entrepreneurial efforts, continual development of skills, distrust of hierarchy and authority, lack of loyalty and unwillingness to commit, desire for a fun and collective workplace, and most importantly, their need for work-life balance.

Examine your own beliefs about Millennials: To effectively integrate Millennials into your workforce, first think about your own beliefs including any stereotypes, biases, etc. you may have about them. Consider some of the common thoughts about Millennials:  they are self centered, disloyal, looking for the easy way to get it done, lack work ethic, etc. Examine your thinking if these are the phrases that immediately come to mind for you when you think about hiring them. Each generation has its advantages and disadvantages and many of the differences can contribute positively to an organization if we understand them.

Become a more active listener and teach active listening skills: Millennials are so used to hyper-tasking that focus on one person while visibly demonstrating active listening skills is a foreign concept. These are the kids who grew up texting while playing a computer game while doing homework!  Don’t take it personally if they don’t seem to pay a lot of attention to you, but do teach them active listening skills including why they matter to the other generations.

Explain Your Conversational Intent: Begin your interactions with a concise statement of your intent. This allows others to mentally prepare for what is to come. Most of us have good intentions, but somehow our words get misconstrued especially when there are generational differences. Rather than catching someone off guard, this technique helps minimize putting the other person on the defensive.

When a member of an older generation is speaking to someone younger, it is common for the listener to feel as if they are being spoken down to no matter what the true intentions might actually be. State your intentions up front (i.e. “I am mentioning this to you because…”). Millennials do not like to be talked down to; acknowledge their value and encourage them to continue to think “out-of-the-box” when you can.

Remember that it is highly likely you will feel as if a Millennial is implying your view or opinion is outdated when they speak to you no matter their intention, so try to suspend your assumptions in this regard and coach them to state their own intention up front as well.

Express yourself clearly: Although this may seem like an obvious point to be made, cross-generational conversations can pose a significant challenge because each generation has strong preferences for the type, frequency, and style of communication used. While members of your own generation will likely understand the connotations of your words, differing generations may have trouble understanding and worse still, may be offended by your harmless intentions.

In general, you can speak faster to the Millennials than any other generation. They have been exposed and become accustomed to hyper speed in communications.   Work hard to eliminate differing interpretations of what you say by stating your intentions upfront and presenting clear, concise information including your conclusion or recommendations. Minimize your use of slang and clichés. These differ greatly by generation. “Fat” and “phat” mean very different things!  Use “I” statements. Discuss what the topic/decision means to you and why. This helps others relate to you even when their view might be completely different.

Teach the Millennials what is important to others: Be sure to present and discuss basics about the other generations in the workplace with Millennials. Outline key differences in the generations and the worth of diversity in age and perspective as well as the other types of diversity they more naturally value. They have grown up in a world that is mostly about them, so their understanding and awareness of other approaches and styles is likely to be low.

Provide feedback: The Millennials live in a world of social networking where feedback is just a way of being for them. The frequency in which they provide it to others varies dramatically from previous generations. Millennials crave positive reinforcement and seek to validate their value to an organization more than any other generation. Integrate recognition and ongoing team improvement opportunities into weekly team meetings to meet some of their needs.

Unfortunately, although Millennials participate in feedback a lot, they are not necessarily skilled at how to provide effective feedback. Their connection to others electronically does not necessarily equate to quality face to face conversations. Millennials are likely to give feedback up, across and down whether it is part of the culture or not, so it is best to prepare them through building skills on doing it well.

Demonstrate appreciation & learning opportunities: Provide daily acknowledgement of their contribution or redirect them immediately if they need to do something different. Don’t hold any feedback for Millennials until your next scheduled meeting. They will be in your face to get as much feedback as they can get.

Millennials will not embrace the traditional training methods. Instead it must be fast-paced, using real life application (real work product). Make their orientation, assimilation and training fun and challenging or you will lose their interest quickly.

Based on watching their parents work excessively, they are more inclined to seek outlets to relieve their stress. Consider subsidizing gym memberships, rock climbing and extreme sports venues as well as community events and participation. Time-off and flexible work hours are highly valued. Their belief is “tell me what to do, let me figure out how to do it and get out of my way (and don’t bog me down with silly rules that are not relevant to my productivity).”  They enjoy and expect to multi-task so construct their role to do so.

Don’t forget: Generational understanding and adaptation does not take the place of addressing the needs of the individual. Never forget that not all 20-somethings are the same, just as not all 50-somethings are the same. Knowledge IS power, and effective leaders find out what the desires, wants and needs are for employees on an individual basis, not just generationally.

 General communication tips for connecting to Millennials

  • Don’t force utilization of the chain of command

  • Use your language to paint clear pictures of the future

  • Use action verbs to challenge them

  • Don't talk down to them – they will resent it

  • Show respect through your language, and they will respect you

  • Use e-mail and voicemail as primary tools

  • Constantly seek their feedback

  • Use humor – reassure them that you don't take yourself too seriously

  • Encourage them to break the rules (appropriately & within some parameters) to explore new paths or options

Read other articles and learn more about Holly G. Green.

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