There is about to be a major shift in the age distribution in the American workforce. As the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1963) begin to hit retirement age, they will be replaced by the so-called “Generation Y” or “Millennial Generation,” who number almost 80 million. And the qualified workers of this generation are soon going to be desperately needed, leaving businesses no choice but to figure out how to attract and retain them.
People often say that members of the following generation can’t take care of themselves and are going to bring the world down with them. Some people might think Millennials are coddled, arrogant Facebook addicts who feel a strong sense of entitlement and aren’t willing to work hard for the great rewards they expect.
In reality Millennials are the first generation of “digital natives,” that is, they have never known a world without digital technology. As a result Millennials experience the world in a completely different way than previous generations. They experience the world through technology, like older generations experience the world through their organic senses. This intimacy with the digital world is one of the Millennials’ greatest strengths. It also presents the greatest challenge to those companies that need highly qualified applicants. Managers need to determine ways to capitalize on their strengths and work with their weaknesses with business goals in mind.
The key to attracting and managing Millennials is to create an experience of the company that matches their technological experience of the world. It’s about finding a balance between youthful enthusiasm, collaborative sprit, and the realities of the business world.
The business world is experiencing a continued breakdown of the authoritarian management style that in some ways still remains as a legacy from the early 20th century. Managers are going to have to be patient and flexible to a large extent because one thing is for sure, nothing makes Millennials unhappier than doing tasks with traditional methods that can be done better and more efficiently with the right technology or more sophisticated methods.
They need to be given the opportunity to use the technologies they are familiar with to collaborate with each other and do business. The best candidates are going to be attracted to companies that are willing to give employees what they need and want.
The Technology Factor
For example, many Millennials will be more comfortable using instant messaging technology than e-mail. An intracorporate instant messenger will allow them to accomplish business-related tasks, communicating with others efficiently. Instant messaging keeps e-mail inboxes from being clogged with simple questions.
A corporate intranet will also be a familiar resource for them, especially if they are college educated; most students are used to getting information about their courses from a university portal. Information that might have been buried or ignored in e-mail inboxes suddenly becomes widely read.
Another likely point of contention is the distribution of PDAs and company laptops. Sometimes businesses aren’t willing to distribute these, especially to new employees. Some Millennials who are college graduates have been using Blackberrys for years, and definitely they’ve been using laptops. By not distributing these devices to young employees, businesses are missing a big opportunity to capitalize on the computer habits Millennials have already developed for themselves.
There are certainly a lot of conflicting views about what characteristics Millennials as a generation exhibit, but there are some common themes. One is collaboration. Millennials want to work with each other using technology. Another is loyalty to people, not companies. Most experts agree that Millennials have no compunctions about switching jobs if they can find an employer to meet their needs. So when they say, “We think we can do a much better job with this project if you buy us this neat software,” that deserves some serious thought. They might be right. And even if they aren’t, if the cost isn’t too high it might be wise to do it anyway. The payoff in their enthusiasm, commitment, and efficiency may be worth it.