I recently had the thrill of presenting at TEDx St. Louis Women. (Watch my full TEDx talk below.) This event, held at the gorgeous Peabody Opera House, was one of several TEDx Women events across the country the same day all addressing the theme, “It’s About Time.” It took me all of five seconds to choose the title of my talk: “It’s About Time We Stopped Shaming Millennials.”
And when I say it’s about time, I’m not kidding.
Consider this quote I shared with the audience:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today.”
When do you think someone said that? Last week? The 1950s? Maybe even the 30s?
Nope. It turns out that quote was from Hesiod, a Greek poet from 8th century BC. We’ve literally been shaming our young people for all of human history. (The Gen X “slackers” out there know how it feels, too!)
That’s why I believe it’s time we finally stop shaming millennials – and all the generations of young people that come after them.
People often ask me why I’m so bullish on this generation, and sometimes I tell them laughingly, “We don’t have a choice!” For one thing, they are the largest generation in the workforce today, and by 2025 they are likely to make up 75 percent of it.
And, it’s not like there’s another generation waiting in the wings in case this one doesn’t work out. We have to support and understand them — and it is much easier than you might think.
By now, we all know the joke that millennials love participation trophies, right? Let’s turn that stereotype on its head and talk about the “trophies” that really matter — the ones that can make a huge difference in attracting and retaining millennials to your organization.
TROPHY 1: COACHING AND DEVELOPMENT
Buh-bye annual review, and not a moment too soon as they are typically negative and backward-looking. Millennials – and all of us, I suspect – prefer frequent feedback, whether it takes place through regular meetings or even a real-time app.
When it comes to coaching, mentoring and professional development, many young professionals value these career builders even more than money. According to a Gallup survey, almost 60 percent of millennials put development opportunities at the top of their list when they rank what’s most important in a job.
TROPHY 2: FLEXIBILITY
Work/life balance, work/life blend…whatever you want to call it, it’s here to stay. And this should be seen as a good thing. We’ve all heard the adage “No one ever died saying ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.‘” Isn’t it great that millennials are figuring this out in their 20s, rather than later in life?
Millennials came of age at a time when both parents often worked outside the home, and many of them saw their parents or friends’ parents lose their jobs in the Great Recession after sacrificing so much to build their careers. Plus, Millennials are more than aware that we have the technology to work from pretty much any location at pretty much any time of day. And, needless to say, telecommuting, alternative work hours, flexible scheduling and work-from-home policies are valuable retention tools for members of other generations as well.
TROPHY 3: TRANSPARENCY
It’s a popular opinion that millennials don’t want to pay their dues. But we have it wrong: Early career professionals tell me they are willing to do almost any type of work asked of them, but they want to know why they’re doing it – and not just because “it’s always been done that way” or because a boss yells, “because I said so.”
So, rather than dumping bloated files of spreadsheets on a younger co-worker, explain that your marketing automation campaign depends on solid data. Explanations resonate with millennials; they grew up with information at their fingertips and expect to know what’s going on and how their work impacts an organization’s larger purpose.
So, why don’t we automatically offer these shiny trophies? I think it’s because we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers feel some inherent sense of justice: That we didn’t get this type of treatment when we started out, so why do we have to be so accommodating? But here’s a way to reframe that. Do you want to do what works to motivate your employees or do you want to get revenge on how you were managed when you were starting out?
I think that most of us would agree that these trophies will benefit all of us. Kudos to millennials for being willing to ask for them earlier in their careers. When you look at it that way, it seems as though shaming millennials should really give way to thanking them.