The Millennials Are Coming!
By Amanda Zmolek
Actually, they’re already here! (I’m one of them.) I’ll admit, millennials can be a confusing generation, so I’d like to help dispel some of the myths and foster understanding so we can all get along better in the workplace to achieve better results.
Let’s start by finding common ground
Experience is a funny thing. You don’t really think about how much you’ve learned over the years until you run into someone who has a different level of experience than you. Have you ever been asked how to do something and thought, “Wow, I didn’t think it was possible to not know that!” As a result, no matter what generation you’re in, we all tend to feel like we have more innovative ideas than our parents’ generation and that the generation coming in behind us has no clue what they’re doing. But this isn’t a new way of looking at things. People have felt this way for hundreds if not thousands of years. At one point or another, we all played the role of the young kid who didn’t know how to do anything, and one day we’ll all feel like we’re a little bit out of touch compared to the people who are younger than we are. I include myself in that group, by the way. My younger coworkers accidentally make me feel old all the time, and instead of getting frustrated or annoyed, I just laugh and think of the wisdom I’ve gained even if I’ve lost touch with some of the latest trends.
Another thing to keep in mind is this – what’s the chance of finding a good (or great) employee? I would be willing to bet that if you took a group of people from any company, any department or any generation, their work skills would tend to fall into a typical bell curve. In other words, you’ll find a few rock stars, lots of people in the middle who are average performers and a few people that are doing the minimum and just barely getting by. If all the millennials you’ve met so far are poor performers, I’d say that you just haven’t met the right millennials yet. Keep looking! There are some good ones out there, I promise.
Millennials always quit. Or do they?
As I was doing re-search for this topic, I was very prepared to explain to everyone why millennials don’t keep jobs for very long: 401(k)s have replaced pensions, so our retirement is portable. Young people crave more flexibility in their work schedules, so the “Gig Economy” is taking over. Social media has created more competition among our peers than ever before … The list goes on.
However, much to my surprise, the data I found totally contradicted what I thought about my own generation! It turns out that the length of time people keep jobs is not dependent upon what generation they are a part of. It instead depends on their age. This is logical when you consider what happens as we get older. Usually our responsibilities increase over the years. It’s a lot easier to quit a job in your 20s if you’re single and renting an apartment than it is in your 30s or 40s if you have a spouse, kids and a mortgage to take care of. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people in their 20s don’t leave jobs any more often today than they did 30 years ago. The only other thing that affects overall tenure more than employees’ ages is the economy and whether the unemployment rate is high or low. The bottom line is that if you’re comparing yourself to people younger than you are, your job tenure will almost always be longer. That’s just the way life goes. But we can still be great mentors and teachers to young people even if they don’t plan on staying with our company forever. Like most things in life, you reap what you sow.
Conversations with Mom
Now we know why young people change jobs more often, but why do they seem so picky about the work they do in the first place? Here’s a story that might help you see why. I had a couple of humorous phone calls with my mom a few years ago regarding different generations in the workplace. Mom has worked for the same company since I was five years old. I am now 33. During the first conversation, she noted how confusing the young people at her job were. “These new employees at work … it’s just so weird! If they don’t like their jobs… they quit!” I smiled and agreed with her, knowing how different our work experiences were, and we moved on to another topic.
Then a few months later, I was in the process of coming to work at Copart. I was pretty sure I would get the position, so I told Mom about it, noting that it was a good company with good benefits and telling her how it would fit with my previous experience at GreenLeaf and LKQ. She responded like this: “Oh that is so wonderful. You deserve to find something you really, REALLY enjoy. You can do anything you want! You deserve the BEST JOB EVER!!!”
Now, don’t you think the young employees that Mom was referring to in phone call one have parents that talk to them just like she talked to me in phone call two? No wonder they have such high standards! But certainly no one can blame parents for wanting their kids to have a better life than they had. It’s a natural thing to want that. Just don’t be upset when the kids actually take that advice! After all, they’re just trying to make you proud.
How Millennials are different
At the end of the day, there are some key differences between millen-nials and other generations. Certainly, every individual is going to be different, so these are just some general observations to consider.
Yes, it’s true that we like workplace flexibility. Computers, the inter-net and smartphones have taken the restrictions off where and when work can happen. Even for physical jobs that require a person to be at the jobsite, these tools can make the work go much faster. It’s no wonder millennials tend to value more free time over more pay (if the pay is fair to begin with). Introducing a bit of flexibility can sometimes be appreciated even more than a raise.
Speaking of recognition and rewards, that’s another millennial stereotype. But I would argue that it’s not just young people who want to be recognized at work. Every employee likes to know that they’re appreciated and valued. Maybe millennials are just the first ones to ask for it. When I mentioned to my grandmother that Copart brings out free breakfast snacks like granola bars in the morning, she thought it was the best employee benefit ever! But of course, she grew up during the Great Depression, so something that only costs my company a few cents per employee seemed like a huge gesture of gratitude to Grandma.
Millennials are one of the most educated (and in some cases over-educated) generations yet. So a lot of their expectations were formed when they were in school. Team projects were common, so millennials like socializing at work and feeling like they’re part of a team. Clear instructions and regular feedback are typical in the classroom, so it’s no surprise that millennials will feel a bit confused when they don’t get the same level of communication on the job. To illustrate this, here’s an amusing story that I think shows exactly how it feels to be a millennial without enough feedback in the workplace:
Copart HQ is currently located in a building where several companies rent different floors for office space. I work on the 15th floor, the top floor of the building. To get to your floor, you scan your badge in the elevator and then push the numbered button for the floor you need. The button lights up, and off you go. One morning at 7:20, I sleepily scanned my badge, pushed the number 15 button… and nothing happened. It didn’t light up. “Hm…maybe I did it wrong,” I thought. I scanned my badge and pushed 15 again. Still nothing! By this time other people were getting on the elevator and selecting their floors, which all lit up perfectly. “Uh oh…This thing must be broken!” I quickly concluded. “I better get out of here!!” But then I glanced over to the other bank of buttons on the opposite side of the elevator doors. Over there, the number 15 was lit up just fine. “Great! Now I’ll get to where I’m going.” I relaxed and patiently waited until the doors opened on my floor.
This story shows the importance of feedback. Because I was used to getting a signal that everything was ok, I panicked a bit when I didn’t see it. How many of your employees right now might be thinking the same thing about your company that I thought on that elevator? “Uh oh… This thing must be broken! I better get out of here!!” Simple feedback can save the day. Let people know if they’re on the right track (or not), and everyone will be better off.
I’ve described how to understand the millennial way of thinking, but how do you get millennials to think more like you? Be sure to have authenticity and clarity – share your vision, and provide an environment of mutual respect. Explain why the work is meaningful, define what success looks like and where possible, allow them a bit of project ownership by delegating some of the tasks you aren’t passionate about or don’t have time for like social media marketing or an employee recognition program. They can take pride in “owning” a project, and you save some of your valuable time to focus on more complex parts of the business. Just don’t be upset when the youngsters find a few shortcuts to save time and money along the way. It may not be “the way we’ve always done things,” but if you can get more work done faster and for less, is that such a bad thing?
Oh, just one more thing…
Before I wrap up this article, you should know that the next generation after millennials has already entered the workforce. The first members of Generation Z have started their careers and will surely bring insight, talent and challenges just like every generation before them. The best part? As quoted in an article entitled “Here’s how millennials feel about the next generation entering the workforce” by Ruth Umoh, “Though millennials have long been plagued by stereotypes about a lack of work ethic and laziness, millennial managers harbor these same resentments toward Gen Z.” Great. History repeats itself again!
Well, at any rate, I hope you found this article useful, and to close (since my generation is now old news!), I’d like to leave you with a quote from The Red Green Show. “Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”
Amanda Zmolek is an industry relations analyst for Copart. She started her career with GreenLeaf Auto Recyclers in 2006. Later, after spending a few years working for a professional football team, she decided that auto salvage is her home and has been at Copart since 2015. Her favorite auto part is the PCV valve, and her favorite car is the 1979 Trans Am. Contact Amanda at 972-391-5759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.