Ask Sheri

The Millennial Generation

Mar 22nd, 2015

I've been a small business owner for over two decades although now seem to be dealing with daily problems involving, shall I say our "younger" generation. Issues involve either poor attendance, excessive use of the internet (especially Facebook), as well as hourly texting on cell phones. Although I'm trying to be reasonable, I'm at my wits end with this behavior. I've even threatened job loss although this doesn't seem to phase these young employees. Do you have any suggestions or particular advice?

Sheri's Response

I was recently presenting to a group of CEO's in a workshop and this identical topic surfaced. You are not alone in dealing with our Millennial or "Y" generation in the workplace. For those not aware of their specifications, the Y generation is characterized by those born between 1982-1995, who typically value optimism, casual, no-confining policies and who are undoubtedly technologically adept. This generation is known as both the "highest maintenance" group, as well as the "highest performing" group. The Millennials were raised during the information age, where they enjoyed research and other inquiry to validate viewpoints or outcomes. Many individuals in this group feel their good work ethic is not being given enough credit, as they operate quite differently in the workplace. The Y's prefer communication via blogging or instant messaging, rather than typical face to face dialogue or phone calls. This group seems to accomplish things much faster and does far less analyzing or "holding back", so hence their output (if managed properly), can be quite high.

Although this group may show up differently on the job, it doesn't mean they should get away with poor attendance or breaking other internal protocols. I would suggest falling back on your performance improvement policy or past displinary action procedures in accordance with your work rules. In the absence of a formal policy, simply be consistent with employee treatment and always remember to document the conversation (or warning) and place into the employee's personnel file. Unfortunately it sounds as if this is happening to more than one employee in your organization, however I would not relax your standards. If this results in multiple employee exits, so be it.

I would also take a look at your recruitment and selection methods. Are you checking references as part of the final stages in the interview? Even personal references? Based on the age group of this population, my guess is that their work experiences may be limited. Did the applicants get involved in any extra-curricular school activities in either high school or college? Typically this involvement requires mandatory attendance. Have you implemented an employee referral program? Those exhibiting the proper internal behaviors may refer others similar in work habit. Have you simply communicated your standards or rules of conduct on the job? Oddly enough, some Y generation employees need "no texting during work hours" stated bluntly or in writing, along with spelled out consequences.

Finally, I would also suggest taking a look at how you may actually be perceiving the millennial group. Have you noticed yourself becoming a bit cynical? It is understandable, as you are trying to run a business and their behavior seems to go against everything you are attempting to accomplish. One suggestion I might have is to proactively reach out towards their viewpoint. Have a spontaneous lunch with your employees and bring in pizzas or sandwiches. Really attempt to get to know them as individuals versus merely company employees. Shock them and start up a Facebook profile yourself. Be creative and ask one of them to conduct some internet research for you, albeit on your competitors, industry or other pertinent business issue. Ask for their input when defining a new strategy or policy. Potentially offer a job share program to your part-timers or even evaluate flex-time as an option. My guess is that once you start showing your value of their generation, you may get something quite different in return. In the end, the Baby Boomer and X Generation are just as much mysteries to them as the Y generation is to us. Good luck.