A Post About Millennials in the Workplace, By a Millennial in the Workplace

As millennials enter offices across the country in droves, thinkpiece after thinkpiece has been written about millennials in the workplace and what they want from a work environment (free lunch! lots of money! ping-pong tables! standing desks!). Let’s be honest...most of these are written from the assumption that millennials truly are the “me, me, me generation.” But Generation Me also has some things going for them that you wouldn’t expect.

Most of us either graduated during, or shortly after, the 2008 economic collapse. We’ve heard research for many years that we will be the first generation to earn less than our parents. You know what that means?

We’re more realistic than people give us credit for. Sure, the economy has certainly picked up and most of us got better jobs than we would have in 2008-2010, but that doesn’t mean we feel entitled or flighty...more like cautiously optimistic.

Cautious optimism isn’t such a bad thing. Here’s how you can tap into this millennial attitude and make sure your new workforce sticks with your company and doesn’t abandon you for a position at the latest cat video startup.

1. Culture is more than an office filled with ping-pong and bean bags

Companies can get stuck feeling like if they don’t have the budget for extravagant office amenities like fancy coffee bars or game rooms, they might as well not bother. It’s not so black-and-white. Even just having a space where people can eat their lunch together can foster a great culture amongst millennial coworkers.

Joining the ranks of an already-established work environment can certainly feel stressful (especially as an entry-level employee). Millennials in the workforce are looking for ways to feel included and make connections to those that we work with (a valuable tool that post after post tells us we should be doing).

My lunches with my coworkers have been an invaluable part of becoming part of a team. Because we have a nice space that we can all come together for a meal, instead of being forced to either eat outside the office or at our desk, we’re a stronger unit and it feels more inclusive. By providing a common space with big tables for enjoying a meal together, your workforce can feel a bit less cold, and give your millennial employees the opportunity to forge valuable connections that make them feel more grounded — and less likely to peruse the LinkedIn jobs section.

2. Money means nothing if there’s no growth

You won’t always be able to provide the most competitive salary or benefits on the market. I’ll let you in on a little secret: That’s okay. As I mentioned earlier, most millennials still feel lucky to have a job outside of retail or waitressing, so they aren’t expecting Daddy or Mama Warbucks money (quite yet). What they are expecting is a position that has opportunity for growth. This can take many different forms aside from just promotions. One easy way to incorporate aspects of growth is to provide programs to learn additional skills, like job shadowing, frequent seminars on topics like ‘how to give good presentations’ or management skills that are open to non-managers.

How do you expect your millennial workforce to feel compelled and motivated to strive for a management position within your company if they don’t feel they have learned the skills to do so?

Opportunities that can teach these skills don’t have to be pricey: Ask members of your organization that are known as presentation powerhouses to give a lunch-and-learn. Suggest that managers speak with their direct reports about their interest in managing others, and the skills needed to get there. Invite younger employees to sit in and observe a higher-level meeting so they get exposure to meeting styles they wouldn’t necessarily be accustomed to.

3. We don’t all demand participation trophies!

One of the most frequently-cited example of why millennials are so entitled is the participation trophy: Everyone was recognized, therefore we can’t handle a workforce without constant coddling and praise.

It’s up to managers to determine how their employees are motivated, and this is true no matter what age your direct report is. You can’t assume that everyone has the same perception of praise based on their graduation year (and participation trophy reception).

Here’s one thing that is true: people, millennial or not, can smell inauthenticity. And if you are constantly heaping praise on your millennial employee for every little accomplishment based on the participation trophy theory, they will start to distrust you. Figure out how to make your employee feel valuable based on your one-to-one relationship with that individual...save the praise for when it will actually feel authentic.

Emily Stanford is a millennial that works at Salesforce, a cool place for millennials to work. She received participation trophies but threw them all away shortly upon reception.

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