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Don't Like the Millennials? Get Over It

Eddie Murphy had this classic bit back in the day about the various forms of venereal disease. In it, he walked the audience through the different types, and how he would feel were he to contract them. Herpes, he said, was the only one he was truly afraid of, because it was impossible to get rid of. Punchline: “You keep that s**t like luggage.”

Sort of like millennials. They are here, they can be wildly annoying, and they aren’t going anywhere for the rest of our lives.

I’ve employed them. I’ve supervised them. I’ve even fathered them. And to date I’ve been really good at playing along with MY generation’s generally cockeyed disdain for them. But frankly, the disdain is getting old. We think they’re lazy and entitled, they think we’re Cavepeople, and so on…

The mutual disdain isn’t only bad for society, it’s potentially disastrous in the workplace. Only by opening our minds and working with millennials will a more harmonious, multigenerational and productive workplace be established and maintained. Let’s face it, in a few short years the majority of the workforce will be made up of those born after 1985.

Luggage, you guys.

I suggest it’s time to knock it off and learn to live together and (gasp!) learn from each other. Having established complete dominance over our digital world, millennials are quickly taking over the workforce itself, so we kind of have no choice.

I’m really just beginning to come around on this, so forgive me if my thoughts aren’t entirely developed. But someone has to accelerate this conversation, and I have some time on my hands.

So, let’s start simply with three of the most important needs millennials express in the workforce, which tend to make X’ers and those above recoil. Basics that should be considered if companies expect to increase millennial engagement and better recognize the value they can add as colleagues and future leaders, not simply employees.

Flexibility

A decade ago, I had over 80 ties and about 8 suits. I suited up in this stylish yet horribly uncomfortable get-up pretty much every day for nearly 20 years until I just got fed up. Today, I have one suit and three ties (which I have vowed to never wear again under any circumstances). I dress for comfort, not for show. And I find myself happier, feeling more stylish and confident, and as a result more productive. All this freedom brought to me by? You guessed it: millennials!

Millennials have (correctly) reimagined the workforce as a place where not everyone is the most productive within the typical 9-to-5 work day.  Their desire for flexibility and working remotely reminds companies that technology has allowed the workforce to rapidly evolve into one that no longer requires an employee to be chained to a computer (in a tie) in an office building. This is good! This is healthy! Why do we fight this?

A recent article in the sexy publication Managed Healthcare Executive describes how a healthcare company’s decision to offer flexible and tailored work hours to meet individual needs led to major savings for the company, a higher retention rate and an expanded pool of applicants.  Who came up with the idea? The healthcare group’s regional vice president of operations and staffing. Wait for it: a millennial.

Collaboration and inclusiveness

As a Gen-X’er, I’ve come up in the business world knowing a strict top-down approach to managing employees where junior staff are often admonished to be “seen and not heard.” It is very clear that this approach is over. Now. It’s a dramatic change that requires acclimation for people like me, but what’s not to like about it in general? It is really necessary to treat young people in the workplace like crap? I would ask my fellow X’ers: did you enjoy that? I didn’t, and I kind of like the idea that no one’s going to be yelling at my 23-year-old daughter and calling her a moron in staff meetings as she enters the workplace in earnest.

Yes, they can be awkward and sometimes annoying about it, but millennials strive to be team players and to think differently. Just as they are constantly glued to their smart phones and addicted to various social media platforms, millennials want to be well connected, accepted and engaged in whatever their job is across all levels of a company. That earnest desire, even if occasionally overdone, brings more good than bad, I would argue.

Emphasizing workplace collaboration and inclusiveness gives millennials a sense of recognition and value within a company and provides a situation where they can have a seat at the table and let their ideas be heard. And if some are dumb, so be it. I’ve been in the workforce for 30 years and every other idea I have is still dumb.

Glass houses, and all…

Feedback and reward

For any company to grow and be successful, internal feedback is as necessary if not more so than external feedback. It is especially desired by (and necessary for) millennials as they become more fully immersed in the workforce.  As a generation that has lived with instant gratification through social media, dating apps, and TV on demand, millennials also need the instant gratification that they are meeting their goals at work to feel confident in their professional roles. They aren’t mind readers. Grumbling about them to our fellows behind closed doors gets neither of us anywhere, does it?

Overall, more frequent feedback than we are used to giving or receiving among millennials better recognizes their engagement within a company, helps them to learn and adjust, and leads to higher employee retention and loyalty.

It is clear that in order for companies to have a multigenerational workforce that is successful and pleasant (who doesn’t want that?), society must begin to be more open to the change and understanding of the needs that millennials bring.

We’ve all had our fun ridiculing each other. It’s time to get over it and get on with it.

Christian Josi is a veteran political communications beast turned entrepreneur based in Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC