One description of a typical office’s youngest employees might be something like this: They’re Facebook junkies bent on getting the next promotion; they’d rather text than talk; they openly tweet at meetings; they tend to have "me first" mentalities and self-entitled natures.
But they’re not all stereotypical brats. In fact, that skinny- jean-clad worker whose smartphone serves as a second brain is actually crucial to company growth.
“In the workplace, technology can open doors and bring people together,” said Gabriel De Diego Zori, HR planning and strategy director at Madrid-based Telefónica. The firm conducted the Global Millennial Survey, released in early June 2013, which gathered the opinions of more than 12,000 adults ages 18-30 from 27 countries. “From facilitating communication across distances to utilizing new digital solutions in the workplace, the opportunities provided by technology are endless, and it’s the young adults of the Millennial generation that know this and are positioned to harness its full potential.”
Millennials will make up 46 percent of the workforce by 2020, according to a study by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flager Business School. The Telefónica survey created a profile that describes the most predictably successful Millennials, calling them “millennial leaders.” These leaders, who represented 11 percent of those surveyed, said they are “on the cutting edge of technology.” They’re also highly optimistic about their future: 74 percent said they believe they can make a global difference, and 66 percent think it’s “very important” to reach their career goals.
Millennials take full advantage of the digital resources they grew up with, and their generation is most interested in social media and online research. They’re citizens of what Jeanne Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace (Harper Collins, 2010), calls the “I-will-find-it-now era.”
“It’s not unusual to have people using iPads to just get around,” said Meister, co-founder of New York-based Future Workplace, which works with companies to improve the office environment. “We have to think of Millennials as subject-matter experts of the generation.”
The sense of immediacy and ambition that Millennials possess may sound like an employer’s dream; yet, these same factors can drive them to other employers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average Millennial holds down a job for about 2.3 years. While job hopping can be partly attributed to young age, the trend may also reflect technological advances that Millennials are so comfortable with. HR experts Beth N. Carvin and Laura DiFlorio of Kilauea, Hawaii-based Nobscot Corp. claim that job hopping is due in part to the fast-paced nature of the digital age.
Workers in previous generations found their jobs in newspaper ads or by word of mouth, then held on to them once they were hired. But with the birth and rapid growth of social media, employees are now being bombarded with new opportunities. Although the newly hired Millennial may be happy in a gratifying position, the temptation to job-hop may surface as often as a competing company posts a new ad on Facebook. According to Telefónica’s survey, 77 percent of U.S. Millennials agree that technology creates more job opportunities, and 76 percent would rather hold on to a relatively low-paying job they loved than to a higher-paying one they hated. Thus, it may not be enough for employers to offer pay raises to keep Millennials from jumping ship.
“Managers need to understand how to create that culture of loyalty,” DiFlorio said. “Millennials are looking for a different type of culture in their workplace—they want to be mentored and coached.”
Millennials also job-hop because their communication styles differ so significantly from those of their older colleagues. Millennials text in a few hundred characters; Boomers tend to write lengthy e-mails.
“Millennials are looking for instant and immediate and frequent performance management,” Meister said. “Once we find top Millennial talent, we need to recognize how to engage and motivate them.”
Millennials were raised during and after the dot-com bubble, when the rate of information gathering multiplied exponentially—thanks to the Internet. They are inherently fast thinkers who want to sprint—not climb—up the job ladder. They know the tools to get there: a close relationship with a work superior, online networking options and the ability to shoot off a digital message in less than 15 seconds. However, sheer speed does not always translate well to the professional world.
“If you have a work issue that you’re discussing, and you’re discussing it via e-mail, I think the younger generation has [a tendency toward] real quick thinking, putting it out there in a one-liner,” Carvin observed. “Their communication is—to a Baby Boomer—stupid and lacking. A Baby Boomer might be looking for a richer discussion about an issue.”
How can employers learn to speak Millennial-ese while showing younger workers how to communicate effectively with older colleagues? DiFlorio and Carvin suggest arranging face time between both types of workers. Company relationship-building activities bring different types of employees into the same room to teach them how to communicate with each other. The goal, Carvin said, is not to force one generation to adopt the other’s values and work styles but to help each understand the other’s language.
“Millennials love learning by doing,” she said. “It’s a very indirect way of teaching, and it will bring them together and make them understand how the other thinks.”
Adriana Scott is an intern for SHRM’s online news department.