In many ways adjusting to the influx of Millennials in the workplace resembles the 7-stage grieving process. There is the initial shock and denial stage as in "There's no way they are going to tell me how to run my business." And then there is the pain and guilt stage as in "Did I really raise my kids this way?" But now as we enter 2015 with our Millennials solidly entrenched in the workplace I can state - with a combination of truth and optimism - that we have entered the acceptance and hope stage. And boy is it time.
I have made a career from my study of the Millennials. And in retrospect my journey followed these stages as well. That's why I feel so certain that we are well past overdue lamenting the state of our emerging workforce and must dig deep to create a culture where all of our employees can thrive.
My deep dive into the study of the Millennials began quite by accident. It was early 2011 and I had recently taken on the position of Director of Training for a hospitality management company. At our annual leadership conference the managers wanted to talk and tell stories and commiserate about the struggles they were having managing "these kids". Tales of unkept uniforms, tardiness, cell phone abuse and lack of follow through were the norm. Each manager seemed to want to out-Millennial the other. "You think that's bad…." started most every story. They were seeking answers to their ‘what can we do' questions and they were looking at me.
And so it began. I read most every book and attended any seminar that had "Millennial" in its title. My management training classes were now filled with helicopter parent horror stories. I'd lose count of how many times I heard or used the word entitlement. And while I set a great stage and explained the ‘why' of their ways I realize now that I was just adding fuel to the fire. I think I was caught up as well in thinking it was just a matter of time and they would morph into the Baby Boomers they were really meant to be.
I'm not quite sure when it really hit me that it wasn't the Millennials that needed to change as much as the world around them. The evidence was overwhelming. The influences that make up the characteristics of this generation go well past parenting trends. The economy, technology and globalization have all conspired to create a new workplace that has been forced to evolve as the Millennials entered it in droves. In other words, it's well past time to stop blaming the Millennials for workplace discord and this very real generational divide. As I said previous, it is time for acceptance and hope.
The US Bureau of Labor makes the best argument. The 2015 projected workforce will be 38% Millennial. By 2020 they will account for 1/3 of the adult population and half of our workforce. The risks of ignoring this evolution/revolution are scarier than any helicopter parent story. You don't need me to tell you about rampant turnover. Our Millennials are not afraid to move on if they don't feel that there is the right fit. But the areas I am most intrigued with are the very real concerns of knowledge transfer and leadership insufficiencies. The Baby Boomers are retiring at a rapid pace and there simply are not enough Gen X'ers (our mighty but comparatively small next-up generation) to fill that void. The Millennials will be stepping into leadership positions faster than they can be trained and mentored. But that just brings up another issue. Because of the disconnect between the duty-centric Boomers and the entitled (there's that word) Millennials we are finding that those in top management nearing retirement are not inclined to impart their knowledge and wisdom to a younger generation that might not be interested in listening. What can we do?
The good news, and I really do believe it is good news, is that the more you understand what the Millennials are looking for in today's workplace the more you can see how valuable these concepts can be for every age and tenure. As I searched for answers on how to engage our Millennials so that they could work side by side with any generation and provide the quality work and service so desired I discovered a 3-step strategy. First and foremost is a strategic and well-executed onboarding program where our new employees are welcomed intentionally and where a foundation of trust and expectations is established. Second, a review of management procedures and retraining managers to focus on their role as coaches where feedback and intrinsic motivation play key roles. And finally an engagement and retention program where employees are given the tools to grow within the company and find the purpose that they so desperately are craving. It's hard work and the details of each step could be an article in and of themselves but the payout is huge and lasting.
Over the next few years the makeup of the traditional workplace is going to go through incredibly significant changes. The leaders we have been counting on for years are going to be retiring from their corner offices taking their work skills and work ethic with them. There will be a void that many won't understand until it is too late. Don't let that be you.
Karie Stupek is a founding partner of K-T Training Solutions, a boutique training and consulting firm specializing in keynote presentations, workshop facilitation, corporate training and meeting planning. Karie works closely with her clients to create training strategies that drive employee engagement and retention and customer satisfaction. She is a leading expert on the generational challenges facing today’s workplace and is a frequent speaker on generational and workplace dynamics. She is a highly regarded meeting planner who enjoys nothing more than combining her passion for public speaking with her skills as a behind-the-scenes facilitator. Karie began her career in the hospitality industry and brings over 30 years of insights and experience including front line, management, marketing and corporate training. Prior to K-T Training Solutions, she was the Director of Training at Forever Resorts, a Scottsdale, AZ-based hospitality management company. She is an avid swimmer and a self-described health and fitness nut. A Wisconsin native, Karie and her husband Tom reside in Tonto Verde, Arizona.