Ten years ago this month, I profiled millennials for AWCI’s Construction Dimensions in a column titled “InSync with the Millennial Generation.” I wrote that millennials are hard-working and thoughtful—“possibly the brightest generation of all time.”
But I also noted that “millennials are sensitive and self-absorbed.” I said they had “overly busy childhoods that lacked lessons on hard work.” Dina Cipollaro-Beck, a generational expert and trainer with Fundamental Training Solutions in Phoenix, recently confirmed this. “Attention given them as children was at an all-time high,” she said.
Today, we face another millennials milestone. Born between 1982 and 2002, the last of the nation’s 80 million millennials are age 17 and will soon enter the workforce. What have a learned since 2008?
For starters, we’ve learned that go-with-the-flow Gen Xers (born 1965–1981) have an easier time managing millennials. Gen Xers are pragmatic and laid back, and are just what millennials like as bosses. Their motto is carpe diem. That means Gen Xers work to live and they, like millennials, want to go home by 5 p.m.
In contrast, baby boomers (born prior to 1965) are a little more intense. Boomers expect follow-through on their orders and don’t like being questioned too often. They have a hierarchical view of leadership, and that can lead to conflict. Millennials have a parallel view of leadership. They want to work on teams and not just follow orders barked at them. And so, boomers tend to view millennials as challenging subordinates and as somewhat needy—that is, needing lots of hand-holding to get work done.
The good news is, millennial construction workers are thicker-skinned than their fellow millennials working in technology, according to Cipollaro-Beck. “I believe those in construction had different upbringings than those at Google,” she says.
But millennials still need to be stroked. The key is to show them respect and give them genuine feedback. Here’s how to do it:
First, ask your millennial apprentices what respect looks like to them. (“How do you like to be treated?”) Let them give you their answer.
Second, millennials want to demonstrate how they work. Give them your approval. (“I see the way you handled that equipment. You’re using it correctly.”)
Third, give feedback right away. Don’t wait for the annual review. (“Joe, let’s get some coffee together.”)
Fourth, give constructive feedback. Provide evidence and explain why your counsel was necessary. (“Did you see how your showing up late affected the rest of the team?”)
And finally, focus on nonverbal communication. Body language and tone of voice convey 55 percent and 38 percent respectively of your message to millennials, Cipollaro-Beck says. Your choice of words counts for 7 percent of what you impart. So, the key isn’t the wording. Rather, it’s important to convey a feeling of genuine interest.
Be a Team Builder
In many ways, millennials are simple to lead. Challenges are important to them. They set a high bar for themselves. And they want leaders to help them with their goals—someone they can look up to and share dreams with.
So, participate in goal-setting exercises with your millennial workers. You don’t need a formal mentoring program in your company, Cipollaro-Beck says. But you do need to give your millennial workers plenty of air time to hear them out and help them. Just remember that many millennials have great discomfort with long conversations. They’re used to communicating through text messaging and social media.
Set the stage correctly, and your millennial workers will perform unbelievably well for your company. Millennials are most powerful when working on teams. They’re collaborators. They’re the cohort generation. They want to work side by side with others. So, create that team. That’s the button to push: Make them be part of something special.
Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and marketing communications consultant. If you’d like a copy of the 2008 millennials column, email him at @markjohnsoncomm.