Who are th­ese aliens we call millennials?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - COLLEEN COATES

CALL them millennials, gen­er­a­tion Y or the young adults still liv­ing in your base­ment, this is the gen­er­a­tion that is sup­pos­edly go­ing to save us all. Yes, this is the gen­er­a­tion that re­ceived tro­phies not only for win­ning in sports, but just for show­ing up.

The Na­tional In­sti­tute of Health re­ports that 40 per cent of millennials got so many par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phies grow­ing up that they be­lieved they should be pro­moted ev­ery two years, re­gard­less of per­for­mance.

Let’s face it, th­ese were the kids who were cod­dled and cud­dled by “he­li­copter” par­ents and taught that there are no such things as “win­ners” and “losers” be­fore the age of 12, thanks to well-in­ten­tioned sports as­so­ci­a­tions. The im­pact of this can be proven, I would sug­gest, by the num­ber of young adults still liv­ing with their par­ents.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll of “emerg­ing adults,” more peo­ple ages 18-29 live with their par­ents than with a spouse. Many of th­ese chil­dren have grown up in sin­gle-par­ent homes, with their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion hav­ing the high­est rate of di­vorce so far. This is the gen­er­a­tion that has grown up with tech­nol­ogy in­te­grated into ev­ery as­pect of their lives; try to find one with­out a mo­bile de­vice sur­gi­cally at­tached to his or her hand.

So who are the millennials? De­pend­ing on the source, this group is gen­er­ally thought of as those born from 1980 to 2000. Th­ese are the teens and 20-some­things who are over-con­fi­dent and self-in­volved, who ex­pect that life will hand them suc­cess just for show­ing up. It is this em­pow­ered gen­er­a­tion that fright­ens the heck out of the rest of us. For baby boomers who grew up in a home that would have dis­played the fam­ily photo, school pho­tos of each child and some­one’s mil­i­tary photo, to­day’s mid­dle-class fam­ily mem­bers have hun­dreds of pic­tures in the palms of their hands. Millennials have come of age with their en­tire lives dig­i­tally recorded.

So where did we go wrong? Part of the blame is at­trib­uted to our de­sire to build our chil­dren’s self-es­teem to en­sure suc­cess in life. Un­for­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to re­search, while kids with high self-es­teem did bet­ter in school and were less likely to get into trou­ble, when we boost self­es­teem the ef­fect is a nat­u­ral boost in nar­cis­sism. So that cute lit­tle T-shirt that pro­moted your child as a princess or rock star along with your af­fir­ma­tion has re­sulted in a gen­er­a­tion dis­ap­pointed that the “real world” does not ac­knowl­edge their great­ness. Re­search shows that 58 per cent more post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents score higher on a nar­cis­sism scale in 2009 than 1982. The ef­fect of nar­cis­sism is en­ti­tle­ment; that at­ti­tude we see walk­ing into the HR depart­ment look­ing for a job.

Now con­sider the im­pact of this new gen­er­a­tion in the work­place. Dubbed at times the “me, me, me” gen­er­a­tion, they are chil­dren of the baby boomers who were known as the “me” gen­er­a­tion. Millennials are said to have a pro­longed life stage be­tween teenage and adult­hood. They live un­der the con­stant in­flu­ence of their teenage peers. A per­son can­not grow up just hang­ing around other teenagers — just ask Peter Pan. To de­velop in­tel­lec­tu­ally, a per­son must re­late to older peo­ple and older things.

Com­pa­nies are be­gin­ning to ad­just to millennials’ habits and ex­pec­ta­tions. With low un­em­ploy­ment and baby boomer re­tire­ments, millennials are able to use this lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter em­ploy­ment con­tracts.

The pos­i­tive side — all psy­chol­o­gists who fret over the nar­cis­sis­tic be­hav­iour of millennials agree that they are nice. Millennials are more ac­cept­ing of dif­fer­ences, hav­ing grown up in classrooms where chil­dren ac­tu­ally re­flected so­ci­ety in terms of colour, race, re­li­gion, gen­der, dis­abil­ity and so on.

They are eter­nally op­ti­mistic, prag­matic ide­al­ists and have an acro­nym for ev­ery­thing (LOL). They live off their par­ents, mak­ing them the gen­er­a­tion on record with the low­est debt. This is said to pos­si­bly be the last large birthing group that will be easy to gen­er­al­ize about. Al­ready sub-gen­er­a­tions are emerg­ing within this group, re­sult­ing in sib­lings who don’t un­der­stand each other.

So what’s an or­ga­ni­za­tion that em­ploys millennials, or want to at­tract them to their or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­posed to do? Here are some sim­ple sug­ges­tions that may be ef­fec­tive in your work­place:

Al­low per­sonal cell­phone ac­cess dur­ing work hours.

Pro­vide cell­phone-charg­ing sta­tions in the lunch room.

Build in fre­quent salary in­creases for top per­form­ers — once a year isn’t go­ing to cut it.

De­velop a strate­gic recog­ni­tion pro­gram that pro­vides fre­quent re­in­force­ment and re­wards for de­sired be­hav­iours. Dis­tin­guish top per­form­ers from av­er­age. Train man­agers on how to rec­og­nize their peo­ple for in­di­vid­ual and team ef­forts.

In work en­vi­ron­ments that have down­time — such as call cen­tres — al­low univer­sity stu­dents to study/com­plete home­work dur­ing th­ese slow times.

Im­ple­ment an em­ployee re­fer­ral pro­gram and pay your peo­ple to bring re­fer­ral em­ploy­ees to the or­ga­ni­za­tion — your team mem­bers will tend to stay longer when their friends are also work­ing at the same place. Build some fun into the daily work rou­tine. De­velop a pro­gram that en­cour­ages your em­ploy­ees to bring for­ward ideas that will im­prove work pro­cesses and re­ward them for their ef­forts.

Hav­ing man­aged Hu­man Re­sources in a work­place where ap­prox­i­mately 75 per cent of the em­ploy­ees were millennials, I’ve seen first­hand how this gen­er­a­tion can bring en­ergy and ex­cite­ment into the work­place. They can also cer­tainly bring headaches and frus­tra­tion as it some­times feels like you are deal­ing with the millennials you have at home.

The mil­len­nial liv­ing in our house (yes, two gone and one to go) will one day move out. As par­ents, we can only hope we have pre­pared them for the “real” em­ploy­ment world. As em­ploy­ers, we can learn a lot from this gen­er­a­tion; we just have to watch and lis­ten. RE­SEARCH: The New Great­est Gen­er­a­tion by Joel Stein

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