The now-largest gen­er­a­tion is re­defin­ing the re­quire­ments for hap­pi­ness on the job


AS THE OWNER OF A SHIP­PING com­pany in Puyallup, Wash­ing­ton, Pavel Vosk didn’t re­al­ize how lit­tle he un­der­stood his de­mo­graphic un­til he had to hire them. Some of the ap­pli­cants his age—he started the com­pany when he was 20—who sought ad­min­is­tra­tive and driver po­si­tions ar­rived with an un­ap­peal­ing vibe. “Their at­ti­tude was one of bore­dom, ar­ro­gance, that they were above the job,” says Vosk. He learned to re­spond by fo­cus­ing on some­thing Mil­len­ni­als value: team­work. To prod those who of­ten showed up late and didn’t re­spect author­ity, Vosk ex­plained that their tar­di­ness gen­uinely in­con­ve­nienced the rest of the team. “I’d ask how they’d feel if the shoe were on the other foot and kept em­pha­siz­ing how their ac­tions hurt not me but their co-work­ers,” he says. His strat­egy clicked. “As soon as they re­al­ized how their in­di­vid­ual work mat­tered to the team’s suc­cess, they thrived.” Cer­tainly, not all Mil­len­ni­als ad­here to these traits, and this gen­er­a­tion con­tin­ues to evolve even as Gen Z comes into the pic­ture. Vosk, now 27, sold his com­pany in 2015 and to­day works as a man­age­ment con­sul­tant, spe­cial­iz­ing in em­ployee en­gage­ment with a fo­cus on—no sur­prise—Mil­len­ni­als.

How to re­late to Mil­len­ni­als

First, lis­ten. Mil­len­ni­als want to pro­vide in­put and be heard, a tall or­der when the boss may be decades older with mi­cro­man­age­ment ten­den­cies. “Com­pa­nies that want to re­tain their best Mil­len­nial tal­ent need to en­sure they’re not alien­at­ing them,” says Bob Kul­han, founder and CEO of the con­sul­tancy Busi­ness Im­prov, whose ros­ter of clients—in­clud­ing Google, Amer­i­can Ex­press, and Hil­ton World­wide—are seek­ing to ad­dress Mil­len­nial-cen­tric is­sues. The core of Kul­han’s method­ol­ogy, de­scribed in Get­ting to “Yes And”: The Art of Busi­ness Im­prov, is los­ing the put-down re­sponse “Yes, but,” which, he says, de­nies, negates, and re­stricts the of­fer­ings of younger work­ers who thrive on col­lab­o­ra­tion. “It’s a sure way to un­der­mine morale and mo­ti­va­tion,” says Kul­han. In con­trast, if you say “Yes, and,” you sig­nal an open­ness to shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and mov­ing to­ward a jointly cre­ated so­lu­tion.

De­liver what you prom­ise

The seeds of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be sowed even be­fore a Mil­len­nial comes on board. “A prom­ise made by an em­ployer dur­ing the in­ter­view sets up ex­pec­ta­tions,” says Bill Pel­ster, man­ag­ing part­ner of Bersin by Deloitte, the Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia–based re­search arm of Deloitte Con­sult­ing. Pel­ster cites an in­ci­dent at a Sil­i­con Val­ley firm in­volv­ing a new Mil­len­nial hire who was told, in pass­ing, that she could take a spe­cific soft­ware course within three months. When her man­ager sud­denly can­celed that class, she told her fam­ily she would quit. Af­ter a re­think, she calmly spoke to her man­ager, who, it turns out, had no idea how much the op­por­tu­nity meant to her. “A more ma­ture strat­egy would have been for her to con­firm the com­pany’s com­mit­ment on the spot, but Mil­len­ni­als aren’t fans of long, drawn-out com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” says Pel­ster. Be­cause of Mil­len­ni­als’ pref­er­ence for work­ing in an ab­bre­vi­ated world with di­rect ver­bal and writ­ten ex­changes, he says, older man­agers should push for these em­ploy­ees’ greater par­tic­i­pa­tion in face-to-face meet­ings

and longer con­ver­sa­tions—where con­text and vis­ual cues can fos­ter bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Get real or they’ll get lost

The best way to ad­dress gen­er­a­tional is­sues is to show there aren’t any. “A short, in­ex­pen­sive and en­er­get­i­cally edited video, posted on the com­pany’s web­site and var­i­ous so­cial me­dia, can zero in on the cul­ture, dress code, lay­out—cu­bi­cles or open space— and per­son­nel as­so­ci­ated with the new po­si­tion,” says Sky­lar Werde, a con­sul­tant and trainer at BridgeWorks, a con­sul­tancy in Wayzata, Min­nesota, whose fo­cus is re­solv­ing gen­er­a­tional fric­tion in the work­place. HR can’t al­ways con­vey in words how Mil­len­nial-friendly a busi­ness is, he says, which is why many of BridgeWorks’ clients have used in­for­mal, invit­ing videos to cap­ture the work­place essence. “Mil­len­ni­als who like what they see in the vis­ual pre­view—some­times no longer than a minute— and can also pic­ture them­selves there are every com­pany’s dream can­di­dates,” he says.

UP OR OUT Mil­len­ni­als have a rep­u­ta­tion for want­ing to rise quickly through the ranks—and look­ing for other op­por­tu­ni­ties when they don’t. The next co­hort, Gen Z, may be more pa­tient.

Pho­to­graph by MAURI­CIO ALEJO

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