Five ways to provide leadership to the hoodie generation

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” – Socrates circa 400 B.C.

Some things never change. In this quote, it sounds like Socrates is talking about our current millennial generation – those currently between the ages of 18 and 34.

We’ve all heard the complaints against them. They’re entitled, self-absorbed, disloyal, tech-consumed and don’t know how to communicate. They are a generation we love to moan about. But they’re also creative, smart, compassionate, tolerant, enthusiastic and giving – especially to those jobs or bosses that understand what makes them tick.

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are often maligned and quite misunderstood. And working out how to harness their energy and enthusiasm is clearly a worthwhile endeavour, as they are the fastest growing, most diverse group in our population – one in three U.S. workers are millennials, and they also make up around 20% in the UK. They value family, community, creativity and the environment. They are entrepreneurial, tech-savvy and are fiscally conservative. They are also notorious job-hoppers.

What this means for business leaders is that, more than any other generation, our youngest employees need to be actively engaged at work or they will leave for another job that offers them growth, opportunity or, more often than not, a meaningful, value-based work experience. So, as you welcome these workers into your company, here are five things you might consider:

  1. Treat them like the adults that they are…even if they show up for work in hoodies and sporting tattoos. Relationships, respect and purpose matter more to this group than money. Connect the dots for them. Explain how their jobs matter in the big picture. And they are a generation that celebrates self-expression and diversity – get past the superficial and look for the value and purpose that they can provide.
  2. Let them use their personal technology at work. If it doesn’t cause a safety problem, let them have access to their phones during breaks at work. They see round-the-clock connectivity as essential to their own sense of purpose (as do a lot of the older generation!) and they will be more productive if you don’t restrict their natural form of communication. They may see opportunities also for using technology in unique ways to build your brand or engage your customers. Incorporate their technology into their jobs – use them as your organisation’s social media ambassadors. No one knows that space better than they do!
  3. Over-indulge their need for feedback. Their parents gave it to them, their teachers gave it to them. It’s about time their bosses gave it to them too. They, more than any other generation of employee, need feedback on their performance. If you see them doing something well, don’t just walk by, stop and tell them what you observed and why it is important. Unfortunately, all too often we restrict our feedback to constructive criticism – if that’s all they get from you then you will lose them.
  4. They’re not looking for just a job…they’re looking for a meaningful experience. Be infectiously enthusiastic about the mission and purpose of your organisation. Find ways for them to give back to the community and the world. These are truly global citizens who want to do good as much as they want to do well. Find opportunities to engage them in the world and create a work environment (with flexible schedules or condensed working weeks) so that they can engage in activities outside of work that are important to them. If you respect their interests, they will respect and appreciate you in return.
  5. They are not entitled – they are survivors. These amazing young workers have endured a start to their professional lives that none of their older colleagues could imagine. They carry crippling student loan debt, entered the workforce during or just after a long recession when jobs in their field of interest were few and far between. Lesser jobs that would pay the bills are now occupied by Baby Boomers who are failing to exit the workforce to make room for their younger counterparts. The political landscape is uncertain. Global warming is all that they know. Yet they remain optimistic, engaged and in search of solutions to all the world’s ailments. Recognise the challenges that they face and consider offering them benefits that provide financial protections and savings opportunities. Study after study show that this cohort is more financially cautious than all other generations in the current workplace. Use that to your advantage to help them create financial stability and security.

Are the millennials challenging to manage? Yes, they are. But we must also remember that we, ourselves, created these young people. As parents, and as a society, we nurtured them and protected them and we told them to make their own way because no one (including their employer) would look out for them. Now it’s our turn to lead them.

Thanks to Claudia St John for this guest blog post.