Blame it on the fact that they’ve yet to endure any real hardships, on parents who led them to believe they’re superstars, or on their status as digital natives, but millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are different from their older peers in a way that’s both positive and negative. Positive because they have an aura of creativity and confidence that, when harnessed, can energise an organisation and propel it forward; negative because their Baby Boomer and Generation Y colleagues often find they’re difficult to engage. What’s more, we see them spending hours on Facebook and leaving work early and we immediately assume they’re shirking.
But perhaps this isn’t the case, suggests employee engagement specialist Terri Brown of Logical Truth. “Millennials are far more fluid in their approach to life, so for them, ‘engaged’ doesn’t mean clocking in at 8am and working through their lunch break. They might ask for more time off, but they’re happy to work while they’re away from their desks. Or they might have a job with you as a graphic designer, but have a side business in clothing design.” Try not to see this as something that detracts from your business, she urges; in truth, their entrepreneurial flair should be applauded, especially in the South African context, where the economy relies heavily on the self-employed.
Neville de Lucia of the Dale Carnegie Institute observes that this perceived restlessness speaks to their desire for a work-life balance. Understanding this, and other aspects of their lives outside the office, is key to encouraging them to give of their best. “Millennials respond when people show interest in them as individuals,” explains De Lucia. And you certainly want them to engage with you: a happy millennial is quick to broadcast their opinions on social media, earning you extra fans without trying.
That social media habit also means they’re excellent at gathering information and researching. However, to make the most of these strengths, you may have to modify your workplace. De Lucia warns that there’s no place for job titles; with millennials, you’d do better to focus on the outputs you want to achieve.
He further quotes Student Village’s study on Afrollennials: “The key to engaging effectively is to be inclusive. They love being developed, so invest in ongoing training. They need their work to be meaningful, so show them how their role benefits society. Be open to what they can teach you and give them feedback – they really want to know how they’re doing.”