You may have heard the millennial generation described as lazy, entitled and even disrespectful. On the surface, it's easy to understand why: They are tethered to their devices, they can be impatient for results, they seem to crave recognition. But experts agree that if you put aside your own frame of reference and play to their strengths, you'll have a win-win working relationship and a more successful workplace. Srsly.
Let's look at what's really behind these common stereotypes and how to leverage the awesome potential of millennials.
Stereotype #1: They are lazy.
Alternate interpretation: They like being as efficient as possible.
Lazy might be the biggest stereotype about millennials and it's one that they strongly reject. Boomers are proud of their work ethic and 80-hour workweeks. Gen Xers followed in their footsteps, struggling to do it all without looking like they were breaking a sweat. And now millennials have entered the workplace with the mentality of working smarter, not harder.
"Millennials think, 'If it takes me five minutes rather than five hours to complete a task, why should I be penalized?' " says Anna Liotta, author of Unlocking Generational CODES. She shares a story about a boomer who created a spreadsheet that could create a report in 30 minutes, significantly reducing the manager's time investment each week. A millennial asked if he could take a crack at retooling the spreadsheet. He went off on his own and five days later had created a new version that pulled the numbers in less than a minute. Look for ways to reward these kinds of efficiencies instead of penalizing them.
Stereotype #2: They are entitled.
Alternate interpretation: They thrive with more flexibility.
"Boomers say, 'We dream of work-life balance.' Gen Xers say, 'We desire work-life balance.' And millennials say, "We demand work-life balance,' " Liotta says. That's where you come in.
Cultivate their confidence by giving them some space to customize their job and career path. Five years ago, Jon Mertz, 54, was a vice president of marketing for Corepoint Health in the Dallas-Fort Worth area looking to hire a recent college graduate. He hired a young person, taking time to talk to her about her goals and the company's marketing goals. He worked with her to craft a job that addressed both, rather than focusing solely on the company's needs. "It worked really well," Mertz says.
AARP Work & Jobs expert Kerry Hannon spoke with Dr. Phil about the challenges of working for someone younger and how to overcome them.
Stereotype #3: They expect immediate gratification.
Alternate interpretation: They do best with frequent feedback.
One thing many experts agree on is that millennials crave recognition, not in the "everyone gets a trophy" vein, but through continual feedback. Millennials have grown up in an on-demand culture, so why wouldn't they look for on-demand results in the workplace as well?
"Millennials' main reason to take a job is the opportunity for personal development," says Lindsey Pollak, millennial workplace consultant and author of several books on millennials. Pollak suggests ditching the annual review, as it's negative and backward looking. "Replace it with feedback in real time," she suggests. A regular rhythm of input can make for a much happier employee.
Stereotype #4: They are disrespectful.
Alternate interpretation: You have to earn their respect.
"Boomers start off as the authoritarian who's going to lay down the law. The thing is, millennials don't fear authority — you have to earn their respect," says Liotta.
Chuck Campbell, 46, agrees. A criminal justice instructor for Kiamichi Technology Centers in Oklahoma, Campbell teaches students with a wide range of ages, including millennials. "The younger generation was not taught as much respect at home as I was as a kid. It's not natural for them to respect an elder or authority just because they are older," he says. In response to this attitude, Campbell makes his expectations and ground rules clear. He's been thrilled at the response.
Stereotype #5: They are distracted.
Alternate interpretation: They leverage technology 24/7.
If you haven't already done so, now is the time to accept the constant use of technology, because the train has left the station. Instead of fighting millennials' relentless use of technology, tap into their expertise.
"Understanding technology and keeping up with it is now a critical skill," says Pollak. One of her boomer clients wanted to stay abreast of the latest technology, so he leveraged his employee's skills. He had a millennial on his team research and recommend a new app every week. As a result, he remained aware of new developments and his employee shined.
The bottom line? When you're working with millennials, the communication strategies that work best often revolve around opening yourself to new ways of thinking and operating. Be willing to take a deep breath and stop yourself from objecting when a young gun suggests a new way of tackling a project.
We are always capable of learning, improving, and incorporating the latest technology, particularly if it enhances our lives, both in and out of the office. Who knows? Maybe that mentality of "work smarter, not harder" will end up saving you time, too, and translate into more energy for pursuits outside of the job. That's a concept workers of all ages can get behind.