Episode 2.3: Smoothing the rock
(This is the third and final part of a series on millennial employees’ confidence and how to get the best out of your younger employees by helping them be the best they can be. The first part, on impostor syndrome, is here. The second part, on trying to appear confident, is here.)
So, now you have read about how it feels for a millennial and a Gen Z person when they enter the workplace. You’ve had your chance to say “so what, toughen up” and been shown that, in reality, it seems to make no difference how tough we are.
And still you need to attract and retain good, young staff.
What can be done?
Now you’re facing up to the reality that your company, present and future, needs us to succeed. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it – a company relying on its employees to succeed?
So here’s your guide to measures you can take. It’s long, so you get the full picture. The list of solutions is:
- Respect our ideas or shut up
- Networking support
- Management training
- Flexible working
- Cut the rhetoric
Ease us into the workplace with a program of coaching, say for the first 6 months of our job. And make the coach someone independent. Two big drivers here: first, acclimatisation and secondly, personal career development.
The first helps us get the right balance between being ourselves and adopting behaviours that fit your workplace culture. It’s a safe space to share anxieties and build solutions, growing confidence and fitting in better. Our upbringing and education hasn’t at all prepared us for the workplace. It told us we’re great, can do anything we want, should always express ourselves etc. You may not like it, but you’re lumped with it (too late to coach our parents!).
The second speaks to how many of us view our careers. 78% of millennials think personal and career growth are important within a job. Coaching shows you take that seriously, as well as benefiting your company by getting us to perform and behave better. Win-win!
Also, Reluctantly Brave has trialled this with a small group of new, young employees and feedback has been very good. We’ve noticed the difference too. (Next step is a larger trial with a new cohort: contact me to sign your company up.)
In our experience, mentoring by a more senior employee isn’t up to scratch. Often it’s more like “I’m here if you need me” and meetings don’t happen enough. Also, people don’t open up to someone they might encounter in day-to-day work.
Peer-to-peer mentoring could be worth exploring, but success will depend on your workplace culture. We’ve known places where your peers were your enemies, in which case you really want to avoid opening up.
Help us house ourselves. “WTF!” you might think, but stick with me on this one.
This is another point about easing the transition into the real world. You’ve probably heard a lot about transitional adulthood and boomerang kids. It is becoming increasing hard to stand on your own two feet as a young adult.
As observed earlier, our parents did a crappy job of preparing us for the real world. Some parents have the money to cushion the blow, others don’t. Many of us are stuck clinging to parents’ aprons for too many things and for too long into what should be independent adulthood.
The knock-on effect is that it’s probably taking us longer to acclimatise to the world of work. Again, you may not like it but you are lumped with it.
Some companies have realised that employees benefit from and feel more loyal as a result of support in renting their own place. Starbucks set up a scheme in the last couple of years to lend staff the money for their rental deposit. It’s an interest free loan, but got people past the barrier of having to save a large chunk before being able to move out of their parents’ home.
Other employers have long had less hands-on support, with lists of landlords/agents recommended by other employees and even advertising properties for rent by employees and others in their network.
Meeting basic needs goes a long way, as Mazlow observed. Time to take a few steps to benefit from the psychological effects of normality for your younger staff.
Respect our ideas or shut up
We like being able to give our ideas. We’re used to constantly being able to put our thoughts out there – consider the effect of the social economy on our expectations for being able to express ourselves.
You can harness this, if you want. But please find some way to show that something is being done with any ideas that are offered up. It’s even more annoying, because it looks like a cynical token gesture, to appear to listen to ideas but then having them go nowhere. If you’re not committed to trying to do something with suggestions, you may be best off just not bothering.
Perhaps this is where so-called “20% time” can be helpful. Provide a space for millennials to take risks, then cherry pick the ideas that might work. Google’s triage system (if it still exists) is very subtle, and you may not be able to replicate it, but your own version could work wonders.
The holy grail is, of course, to generate some fantastic innovation and to make “stimulation junkie” employees hang around. All because you allowed them to stimulate themselves. Magic.
Just getting to know your team around the coffee machine or the lunch table is not enough. Think about more creative ways to allow people to get to know each other. This might be a millennial-focused blog, but this definitely benefits everyone.
From a millennial perspective, constantly interacting with people in a work context that we feel we don’t really know puts us on the “I constantly need to impress” footing. That feeds right into the impostor / displays of confidence dynamic explained in previous blogs.
Remember, 78% of millennials think that going out for a drink is someone else’s idea of fun. So think about different kinds of mixers, or maybe some real work situations where we can all get to know each other.
Learning to trust younger employees faster will help you a lot. 72% of millennials want to be their own boss. Make sure they don’t just leave your company to do that by letting them work when and where they want a bit more. We appreciate we need to be around, but we really notice the acknowledgement of hard work and trust from getting even only a little leeway.
As long as they get the work done, speak to colleagues and attend the necessary meetings, some flexibility hurts very little and goes a long way.
Don’t switch off, this is not about millennials constantly wanting praise. It’s about more senior people acknowledging that we exist. Basic interactions and politeness are all too often absent. This makes subsequent work interactions far more difficult and less productive than needs to be the case. Which brings us to…
Managing anyone is a skill. Training is available. Managing younger employees brings an extra layer of challenges. This requires an extra layer of training.
So, train everyone who has to manage younger employees to build their awareness and provide them with tools to get the best out of their direct and indirect reports. It will make their lives easier, reducing their frustration and getting better work out of their team.
Cut the rhetoric
Some workplaces, though obviously not all, have a culture – spoken or unspoken – that sends very Glengarry Glenross messages (serious cuss-word warnings on that clip).
What does that mean? That a workplace feels dog-eat-dog, hit-your-targets-or-else, survival-of-the-fittest.
A lot of the time this is bullshit that people tell themselves because they like the feeling of being some sort of master of the universe that Ayn Rand would idolise. That bullshit then pervades the workplace, even though the reality is you won’t get fired if you don’t quite hit a target.
The problem is that it takes a long time to realise that the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality. And by that time, we’ll most likely feel too much like an impostor and come good on our promises to ourselves to leave our job.
Remember that 69% of millennials plan to leave their current job within 5 years. Count up what that would mean for your workforce.
Now, invest in changing your culture and reap the benefits with millennials and everyone else. Because 44% of employees over 50 also don’t feel like they can be themselves at work, and 75% feel they’d work better if they didn’t feel that way. And you thought it was just the millennials you need to worry about!
Adam Papaphilippopoulos, Partner, Reluctantly Brave; Fellow, Royal Society of Arts
With acknowledgements, thanks and kudos to:
Robin Blankenstein, Student, Fontys Academy for Creative Industries
Robing is writing his dissertation on attracting and retaining Gen Z in the workplace
 Adkins & Rigoni: Millennials want jobs to be development opportunities, 2016
 “Stimulation junkie” is a term first mentioned in Van den Bergh & Behrer: How cool brands stay hot: Branding to Generations Y & Z (3rd edition, Kogan Page, London, 2016)
 Reluctantly Brave & Attest: Debunking Millennials, 2017
 Efron, L: Why millennials don’t want to work for you, Forbes 2015
 Deloitte: Millennial Survey, 2017
 Reluctantly Brave & Attest: Debunking Millennials, 2017