- Alison Hillhouse, MTV Insights
A generation that’s grown up on a diet of Angry Birds and Call of Duty views life as a multi-level, multi-player game – and the workplace is no exception. No longer do young employees view the career ladder as a rigidly defined series of steps to get to the top. Millennials aren’t going to spend 40 years in the same job, waiting for someone else to tell them they’ve advanced to the next level. A 22-year-old who’s invested years of prep-work in school, extra-curriculars and internships (not to mention has amassed massive student loans) is ready to put his training to good use and is eager to plot out the next move in the complex game we call “work.”
Millennials are taking control of their own destiny, looking for trapdoors and ways to switch roles within a company or start something on their own to “level up” faster. In fact, MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study shows that 74% agree “if the workplace were like a game, I know how to “level-up” faster than others,” (versus 59% of Boomers). It’s not that Millennials don’t value the experience of elders, it’s just that they deeply desire to be successful and believe if they put in effort it’s possible to find a speedier way to progress.One pathway to success might be job switching – 1 in 2 believe “switching jobs helps you climb the corporate ladder faster” (versus 37% of Boomers.)
The start-up world also gives Millennials the opportunity to skip several levels – MTV recently met with Millennial-founded company “Uncharted Play,” (http://www.unchartedplay.com/) which has multiple VPs and a CEO under the age of 25. They explained that start-ups are inherently sailing unchartered waters… so why not “advance to go” and start out as a VP?
This game-like, warp-speed mentality also plays into how Millennials go about working, with44% “looking for loopholes to get the job done.” (versus 24% of Boomers). But before jumping to conclusions, take into account that the Millennial definition of “loophole” is very different from the Boomer definition! As highly resourceful digital natives, Millennials are looking to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, and are allergic to any sort of processes or systems that slow them down. It’s not about skimping but rather about finding “smart-cuts” (http://ow.ly/cj4Zi) to increase efficiency (80% agree “it’s not about how hard you work, it’s about how smart you work.”).
While older generations might have put up with unnecessary processes & paperwork ala TPS Reports (http://ow.ly/cj55l) in Office Space, Millennials are finding ways to get rid of extraneous steps to increase efficiency. There’s simply no time to write 100-page Powerpoint presentations with “plop factor” and no punch, a 5 slide presentation might just make the point!
Berj Kazanjian, MTV Insights
Good grief…I think that this pretty much says it. Prior to coming to MTV, I had very little experience working with or managing Millennials, but of course this changed very quickly as two Millennial team members started around the same time I did. I quickly realized that they were very different from the X’ers and Boomers that I had been working with in the past. My impression of a kid starting out was to put your nose down to the work, pay attention to your boss, ask questions when you needed answers, stay out of the way and never leave before your boss. Well, I was in for a big surprise! Although they were very different from each other, “Katniss” and “Efie”, were also alike in many ways. For example, I just couldn’t understand what their fascination was with Facebook and their constant need for checking it and writing silly things several times a day. Or why they felt the need to check in with me numerous times a day—didn’t they realize I was busy, and that if I needed them I would find them? One even walked into my office and asked why I hadn’t approved her vacation request (it was less than 10 minutes after she emailed) and that her mom was waiting for my reply. Waiting for my reply? Her MOM? What did I get myself into??
I have to admit the first year was kind of tough, because I just couldn’t figure them out, and as my team grew, I had even more Millennials to manage. I was also dealing with my own Millennial at home, and although my daughter is younger than my team members at work, I could see a lot of her in the Millennials on my team. This got me thinking…maybe it’s not them and it’s really me. Maybe I needed to change my managing style, maybe I needed to understand these Millennials that were now part of my life. I started by implementing an open door policy where anyone can come in and speak to me at anytime about anything they wished and if I was busy, I would simply ask them to come back a little later. I also started to regularly take the entire team out to lunch, which I found was great for team bonding and helped people open up. It allowed me to see who these Millennials really are. I quickly noticed these two little changes pay dividends in regards to overall morale and the work that was being generated. Who knew it was this simple— talk to these kids and feed them every once in a while and all of a sudden you become a rock star. Ironically, I started to have Millennials from other departments stop by and ask to talk to me for advice. All of a sudden, I became the “Millennial Whisperer”…
My next step was to start walking around the office (usually once a day) and just making small talk with my Millennial team members. I would ask them how their day was, what they were working on and if they needed help. I would end each conversation with “Now get back to work”, and I like to think this has become the standard crazy boss joke. And by simply doing this, I started to see how extremely smart and well-spoken these “kids” are for their age. Yes, they can be goofy and are all about partying and having fun, but when they’re in the office and focusing on work they’re damn smart! I thought, why not invite them to some of the more senior level meetings and allow them the opportunity to speak and present in front of senior staff and clients. Let’s not forget that this is the “trophy” generation who were told they could do and accomplish anything they want. And surprisingly this has worked out very well!
So here’s your guide to becoming a Millennial Whisperer:
Give them room to breathe – It’s alright for them to check Facebook, Tweet or talk to friends for a few minutes. As long as the work is done accurately and in a timely manner, taking these little breaks allows Millennials to rejuvenate.
Open your door – I’m not suggesting that you spend a whole hour a day talking to Millennial staff, but take 5 or 10 minutes each day to chat with one or two Millennial team members. Let them know how they are performing and provide them with quick feedback. Share positive information with the team and big news with your own boss.
Reward them – It could be as simple as a quick email, but I like to take my team members out to lunch to celebrate small wins and successes. Take them out a few times a year and you will see a significant return on your investment.
Allow them to speak – Members of this generation are extremely smart and extremely well spoken…just think about how their resumes look compared to ours. They’re ready to take on the world and change it for the better. Yes, they are young and naive when it comes to certain things, but allow them a small taste of what it’s like to meet with and speak to clients and senior executives; you will be surprised at how much they will be able to offer.
Listen to them – Millennials believe in themselves and we should foster, encourage and embrace this. Listen to their ideas and what they have to say, as these guys are not just coming in with a college degree. They’re breaking into the workforce with their degrees and the notion that they will make a difference. If you ask them to tell you a little about yourself, you’ll hear things like: I just graduated from Drexel and I’m a social media entrepreneur that’s also looking to break into MTV. Or I’m a senior at St. John’s and currently have 4 projects listed on Kickstarter.com. Basically, as they enter the workforce they will slowly but surely change the way business is done, and if we dinosaurs don’t adapt they will simply steamroll over us!
So my advice to all jaded X’ers and Boomers: embrace (and be kind to) your Millennial staff members, because in a short period of time we will all be reporting into them.
- Kassie Deng and Cara Dorfman, MTV Insights
Recently, we attended a reading of Millennial author Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan, a novel about a post-graduate trying to figure out her future. We highly recommend the book as an immersive, revealing glimpse into the lives of the many overeducated and underemployed in this generation. The unemployed protagonist Esther moves in with her parents and picks up a nannying job for which she’s vastly overqualified. With nearly one in six 18-24 year-olds unemployed, it’s no surprise that Millennials like Esther are forced to hit the “pause” button and delay major life milestones (http://bit.ly/zXmOlR).
It’s during this “pause” phase, however, that we see what really sets the generation apart. What’s most fascinating (in general, as well as in Esther’s nannying gig) is how Millennials are remaining optimistic even in these unfavorable circumstances. They are viewing this kind of detour not as a hindrance, but as a chance to see and learn something new. They look at it as taking the scenic route.
Leigh and friend (and fellow Millennial) Carolita Johnson, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, are prime examples of this generational attitude. At the book reading, they shared their laundry lists of past odd jobs to make ends meet. Between the two, they’ve worked at Dunkin Donuts, checked coats at a club, assisted a photographer (but really organized his socks), modeled in Europe, and babysat a 90-year-old lady. Rather than being cynical, Leigh and Carolita actually celebrated their diverse detours and appreciated their experiences as character building and “experience portfolio building.”
For a generation enamored with short cuts and trapdoors, Millennials are now learning to leverage the long route to getting their careers on track. When asked to give a piece of advice to other post-grads, Leigh and Carolita encouraged curiosity. Firm believers of trying different things until figuring out what they want, they valued their quirky job experiences and realized they wouldn’t be where they are today without them – definitely not time wasted. As Leigh puts it, “The success ladder has changed—you can move sideways or any way.”
So often mischaracterized as having little resilience with everything being handed to them on a silver platter, Millennials are finding ways to make the best out of crappy circumstances. This kind of rebellious optimism fuels them to follow unconventional paths more so than previous generations. However they don’t really see it as the off-ramp, but rather as taking the road less travelled.