I’m the Office Millennial: Prepared, but Differently

I’m a millennial, a twenty-something in management consulting, and I have some advice for those who manage me…

Coming of age in the heart of the digital boom, I’ve been a multi-tasker since elementary school, hyper-scheduled through both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Growing up with that constant variance pushed me, as well as my peers, to constantly seek new atmospheres.

My generation is built on a foundation of efficient communication, where, “How can I gain more knowledge in less time?” is a constant motivator. We are open-source, (mostly) tech-savvy and willing to search for solutions for the issue at hand or create an app that does the job better in the first place.

Yet, according to a comprehensive study on millennial preparedness in the workplace by Bentley University, “59% of business decision makers…give recent college graduates a ‘C’ grade or lower for preparedness in their first jobs.”

Let’s unpack preparedness: In most academic settings, we were trained to push limits, test constraints, and think creatively – the wilder the idea, the more we stood out. Here’s how that translates in the workplace, and how it impacts you as a Millennial manager:

  1. We like to think creatively and are better engaged when we know the impact of our efforts and outputs. 
    What that means for managers: Explain where our work is going after we complete it and involve us in achieving those goals.
  2. Bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake is frustrating for us.
    What that means for managers: Help us understand when bureaucracy is needed and when we have some freedom to circumvent the process. We pride ourselves on being open and transparent, so help us understand when that isn’t appropriate.
  3. We have a natural curiosity and want to understand where the work is coming from, rather than learning through rote memorization or repetitive projects. 
    What that means for managers: Teach us the context, reasoning, and impact of the organization’s processes. Give us a variety of things to do so we can understand the big picture.
  4. We view our work as a “thing” that develops and evolves, not just a stationary “place” to spend eight hours. 
    What that means for managers: Help us develop our “thing” by promoting a culture of constant feedback and providing a nurturing team environment that embraces vulnerability and gives us a safe place to face ambiguity.
  5. We want to learn from older generations, not isolate them. 
    What that means for managers: Ensure that there is a balance of ages on your team to allow for new technologies to be shared, reasoning to be communicated, and the level of knowledge to be increased for everyone. Many organizations are changing brand appeal, sourcing talent dynamically, coupling innovation with learning, and re-energizing leadership in order to attract younger generations (Ivey Business Journal). Don’t let that isolate older generations while working to attract us. We value diversity.
  6. We often do our best work when collaborating with others. 
    What that means for managers: Include us in cross-functional, cross-generational, cross-geographical work groups, especially to make key decisions about organizational change. Allow everyone to learn from shared feedback together.
  7. Being constantly “plugged in” to the constant influx of readily available information from our devices can be overwhelming (yes, even for us). 
    What that means for managers: Technology is like a safe haven for us. It’s familiar and easy to predict. We understand its rules and unspoken norms. We trust it implicitly and don’t always feel the need to validate it with real-life experiences, but we still need interaction outside of it. Create a safe environment for millennials to decompress from technology and foster face-to-face conversation: Give us the space to drive the conversation from time to time, too.

As a manager, one of your biggest challenges might just be coaxing us out from behind the “digital wall.” We are accustomed to having a device on hand and a wealth of information available in a moment’s notice. Letting go of that can be an exercise in vulnerability – like exploring the jungle without a compass.  In the workplace, with you as our leader, the cross-generational team becomes our compass; allowing us to watch how other generations navigate situations, offer different perspectives, and collaborate toward a better solution.