I’m part of a Facebook group for Executive Directors and Executive Directors in Recovery. I love this group because we not only share the common belief that working for and with non-profits is rad, but the problems presented by this group are always clearly articulated and solutions are well-thought out. One problem that comes up over and over and over and over again is the dreaded Millennials.
Seriously, one woman wrote “The Millennials” when talking about her workers contacting her regarding whether the office would be open or not following a huge snowstorm. Weather advisories said to stay off the roads and her employees wanted to know if this meant the office would be closed for the day. She admonished their need to ask, citing as yet another example of how millennials are entitled and looking for the easy way out.
The thing is, it’s not unreasonable to ask if an office is closed when the weather advisory says to stay off the road. Even if the roads look totally drivable, this is a legitimate question to ask. Here are a few ways this could play out otherwise: her workers drive to work and get to work just fine, her workers drive to work and one or more get into accidents, her workers drive to work and one or more get into accidents and sue the non-profit because the ED didn’t follow the travel advisory, no one comes to work because they assume that it would be common sense to follow the travel advisory and stay home. There is only a 25% chance that it all works out fine in this scenario.
Why we are the way we are
Let me give some insight into “The Millennials.” As one, I can say it’s pretty awful to be vilified to this extent. Especially since, like all generations before us, we are simply dealing with the circumstances that we have around us. Of those unemployed, 40% are millennials. This is not a product of a whole generation collectively deciding to live in our parents’ houses or just not work. This is a product of serious economic problems that have kept older workers in their jobs longer and kept job growth from meeting demand.
If I apply for a job, I don’t just compete against fellow 30-something candidates, I’m always in a pool with people who are also 20-30 years my senior with that much more experience in the work force. For the most part, it’s a no brainer for hiring managers to go with workers with more experience than me with my slew of service-sector jobs and entrepreneurial ventures. So I’m repeatedly passed over for work, meaning as I get older I have less commensurate experience with positions that should be meeting my level in my career.
How to deal with The Millennials
For those who have to manage millennials, you are likely the first or second “real” job they have. You are also likely the first “real” manager they’ve had. Most of us have been managed by people who were maybe a few years older than us at our retail jobs or at restaurants, and they were making it up as they go along. That means we don’t know what it’s like to have a relationship with a boss beyond someone who tells us what the dinner specials are. We don’t know what mentorship or career counseling looks like and we certainly don’t know what appropriate coaching looks like when we make mistakes.
So if we ask about vacation time/sick time/PTO, it’s because we have rarely if ever encountered PTO, not because we’re trying to find a way to not work. If we don’t understand office politics, it’s because we’ve never been in an office. Example A of this is dress codes. Many of us don’t inherently know office dress codes. Help us out. If we have made a mistake that you think should be self-explanatory, just tell us because even if we weren’t millennials, you would still be annoyed and should tell us anyway.
There are lots of articles and books talking about how to manage millennials like we’re deeply mysterious because of our knowledge of social media and love of our phones. The truth is that we are like anyone else new to the workforce, we are largely getting a later start in this. It basically boils down to this: Just teach us. It’s nothing special. Treat most of us like we’re interns with too much education and be pleasantly surprised if we surpass those expectations. Make it a judgment free area to ask questions so we’ll be likely to come to you to get help. This is what you already should be doing for your workers, but it seems to bear repeating for my unicorn-loving, never-going-to-retire peers. Not only can we take direction, but we also likely have ideas and perceptions that you’ve never thought of that could improve your workplace and make your product more appealing to, you guessed it, millennials.