Millennials approach life, work byte by byte


By Dave Friedman. When Paul Gates began teaching journalism at Appalachian State University in 1995, the dean required faculty to have 10 hours a week available for office hours. Two decades later, ASU instructs professors to have their door open at least four-and-a-half hours each week.

Even that’s a lot for millennials, a demographic that prefers to communicate digitally.

“Hardly anyone shows up for office hours,” says Gates. “They email all the time. I give out my home phone number and tell them to call, but they are very reluctant.”

It has a big impact on managers from an older generation, as well as succession planning for privately held companies. Many millennials are the children of Baby Boomers who are retiring as fast as you can say AARP.

According to Terri Manning, CEO of the Center for Applied Research at Central Piedmont Community College, millennials are looking for a boss they can respect; they’re always looking for better, faster ways to do things; they like networked groups for projects; they want instant gratification and frequent rewards; and work and personal lives are more blended.

Different researchers use different years but people who were born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s are stepping up to the plate, albeit differently, in massive numbers. The millennials are the largest generation in the U.S., roughly one-third of the total U.S. population.

Gates, who was not exposed to e-mail until starting a PhD program during his late 30’s, says millennials are constantly engaged with technology, changing the dynamics of how and when people work.

“People like me compartmentalize time,” says Gates. “Now there is not as bright a line between being at work and off.”

The pace of work is different. “Both sides need to arrive at a middle ground, but it is very doable. It’s not that serious a problem,” Gates says.

Some key words of advice from Manning include: Base rewards on productivity, not hours worked; prepare for loyalty to people, not companies; communicate as friends and peers. Millennials are not impressed with authority, Manning says.

Lynne C. Lancaster is a generational expert, author, and speaker. She agrees with Gates that millennials and their elders go about their life and work differently.

“Millennials should do a better job of reading the culture before speaking up,” said Lancaster. “They are coming out of college where they’ve been doing group projects and earning MBA’s sometimes with just one or two face-to-face meetings. They work remotely and expect to be judged by their work, not whether they are at their desk at a certain time. Supervisors need to be willing to coach expectations. If you need to write a formal memo for something, say so. It’s really important for bosses to say email communication is fine for specific tasks, but if it reaches a certain level, come see me.”

Embracing technology, and preferring to work outside of the office sometimes with nontraditional hours are two characteristics discussed frequently when it comes to millennials. Lancaster says that those who work with and manage young people sometimes are afraid.

“The bottom line is that people get scared,” says Lancaster. “The recession wasn’t that long ago. Will there be enough pie to go around?”

By reassuring all employees, and preaching a need for mutual respect, bosses can blend generations effectively. That said, society has changed.

“Millennials haven’t had to go to boot camp, and they don’t want to be screamed at,” said Lancaster. “Baby boomers understood being in a job for three to five years. Millennials want a promotion after one year. It’s a thorny issue. Why should it take three years for tenure? Millennials think that if they are going above and beyond, why not judge them on their individual work?”

At Sea Tow Lake Norman, owner Howie Kaplan sees both sides. Young employees are at ease assisting customers on the water using their smartphones, whether it be to locate them, diagnose a problem, or process a credit card transaction.

But they’re at sea when it comes to face-to-face situations.

“The way they communicate, they hide behind technology. It is an advantage to embrace technology, but not a substitute for human interaction,” Kaplan says.


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