The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question,“What steps should companies take to help millennials feel like they belong?” is written by Lisa Haugh, vice president of people at Udemy.
It seems a lot of managers and business leaders believe they have a ‘millennial problem’ and are scratching their heads over how to incorporate this generation into the workplace.
Perhaps the bigger problem is approaching millennials as if they were a monolithic group with uniform needs and desires.
On the contrary, the millennials at my company find themselves at varying stages of their careers and lives, with different fears, wants, and motivations. For example, some are new parents who crave flexible schedules, while others are trying to maneuver through their first job out of college and want to explore new career opportunities.
The idea that there is an “average millennial” that employers should cater to is a myth.
In a video that’s been making the rounds, author Simon Sinek speaks about millennials in the workplace — why they need so much feedback; why they seem so entitled and self-absorbed; why they can’t focus; why it’s hard for them to build long-term relationships; and why they’re so impatient to “make an impact.”
Not surprisingly, the video generated a visceral reaction from both those who agreed with Sinek’s premise and those who were outraged by it.
And therein lies the problem with singling out a broad group and analyzing what we should be doing “for them.”
Employers should focus on fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and has equal opportunity to perform and excel. Executives should encourage transparency and openness, so everyone feels comfortable voicing an opinion and learns how to take feedback.
Having empathy is also an important value at my company, and we want employees to develop it toward their coworkers as well as customers.In healthy company cultures, it’sokay to ask for help or question a decision. Instead of traditional performance reviews, managersat my company have ongoing conversations with their direct reports to share real-time, two-way feedback. Employees at all levels regularly approach our CEOand other executive staffers to share ideas but more importantly, their concerns.
We don’t insist on hierarchy and recognize that great coaches and mentors can emerge at any stage of a career. Great leaders are happy to see others rise up, and there’s no benefit to holding back someone who’s ready to progress on their career path, regardless of age.
Sure, millennials often do need help developing soft skills, such as listening, conflict resolution, and communications, but who couldn’t benefit from ongoing training in this area? Instead of getting frustrated by what millennials don’t understand, companies should offer resources so they can learn. That’s fundamental to supporting a growth mindset.
For the record, Simon Sinek recorded a very worthwhile follow-up video too. I agree with his conclusion that building more empathy among all generations is key and really liked his idea of moving from “self-help” to “helping others.”
When you treat people as anything less than individuals, you do them a disservice. There’s an old saying that a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s what employers should aspire to do so they’re ready when Generation Y joins their team.