Our own Heidi Farris, who is the VP of Community Engagement and Marketing at Bloomfire, wrote this post about managing millennials based on her experience as a Gen X'r. This piece focuses on what millennials actually DO want based on Heidi's observations, as well as interviews with millennials at Bloomfire and beyond.
According to a recent Pew Research study, Millennials will make up 36 percent of the workforce in the U.S. by 2014. This same study indicates that “nearly 60 percent of employed Millennials will leave their job within three years of being hired, an increased ratio of 2 to 1 compared to previous generations.”
If there are Millennials on your team and want them to stick around beyond the three year average, you may want to consider changing your management style and/or culture. I’ve been managing Millennials for the past ten years, and I’ve noticed that there are five things that they generally look for in their work life.
Some of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers reading this may have felt a spike in their blood pressure spike. Freedom in the workplace? Those brats are spoiled. What nonsense! ....or is it?
No other generation blurs the lines between work and play like Millennials do. They want to play when they feel like playing, and they want to work when they feel like working; you might be surprised at how often (and when) they feel like working given the choice.
At my company, we offer a free time off (FTO) policy to all of our employees. There’s no limitation on the amount of vacation or sick time that you can take throughout the year regardless of how long you’ve been employed with the company. Our Millennials tend to take a Friday off here and there or leave a little early when the mood strikes them as opposed to taking an entire week off at a time. The result? Millennial-led projects are seldom delayed and time in the office is spent working – not wishing they were out of office doing something else.
Companies that offer FTO and flexible work schedules are doing more than offering cool perks. They are telling their employees, “We trust you.” In turn, the young employees are more likely to act like responsible adults – often putting in more hours than is expected of them. For me, it’s less about the percentage of time they spend working vs. playing and more about productivity and quality of work. The best work is performed when someone is inspired to do so, not necessarily between the hours of 8 and 5, Mondaythrough Friday.
One Monday morning, a young business analyst who reports to me walked straight into my office and without saying a word, wrote an equation on my whiteboard, “a(slope)+b(w5)+c(∆(avg(wl-4),w5).” He had worked for eight hours on a Sunday to come up with this single formula to determine the propensity of a customer to upgrade or churn out. The team had been struggling for several months to find a way to determine user engagement trends and this young man found our solution in one working day, and on a weekend! Any anxiety I ever had about how seriously he takes his job – he LOVES his flexible work schedule – was gone.
Pew Research also found that Millennials place a higher priority on having a higher purpose than a high-paying career. Ask a millennial to do a task and nine times out of 10, the first question they will ask is, “Why?” It’s a shocking response for some of us who were raised in a world where you don’t question authority figures, but the truth of the matter is that it’s a good question – one we should ask more often. After all, there are only so many hours in a workweek and we should pay more attention to how we are focusing our efforts to maximize results. On more than one occasion, a millennial has made me stop and think about why we’re focusing time and effort on a particular task.
As a new company in a crowded market, it is important for us to introduce Bloomfire to as many influencers as we possibly can. During a quarterly meeting last year, I said that we needed to figure out which analyst firms to partner with in the coming year. I was met with a “Why?” from a 25-year old on my team. Internally, my first reaction was to scoff at the naivety – a line item for analyst relationships is just something you do. Whether that was her point or not, it made me think. In the end, I wrote down all of the reasons “why” we partner with analysts and those answers guided us to the right partnerships, rather than spreading ourselves too thin.
One millennial who works with me talked about how important it is to him to understand if and how the results of his work will be used:
“I once had a boss who would ask me for some data, look at it, then do nothing. It’s infuriating spending a couple hours doing a report that has zero impact on strategy or whatever. On the other side, being told ‘hey we used your data during executive opps and decided to do A, B, and C.’ is very rewarding.”
This one is particularly scary for seasoned professionals. When I entered the workforce more than 15 years ago, people down the chain of command only received information on a need-to-know basis. There was no need to distract the entire team with stuff that’s “none of their business,” and we all just accepted that and gossipped at the water cooler. The world is much different today. Millennials want to understand what’s behind the decisions that are made. They sometimes get upset if they are left out of conversations.
To keep them happy, managers have to figure out an efficient and accurate way to share knowledge across teams. Obviously, there are confidential things that legally just can not be shared with everyone, but an effort to share project information broadly not only tells your young people that you trust them, but it also creates the opportunity for feedback and drives innovation. Regularly holding company meetings to share what is working and what isn’t and why the company is focusing on a certain area leads to employees feeling ownership and thinking through how they can contribute to the overall company success.
One millennial describes the kind of relationship they look for in their manager:
“I need the right balance of attention and trust. I do not want a manager that hovers and micromanages my every effort. However, I do want a manager that is accessible and open to discussing issues.”
4. Social Interaction
As mentioned earlier, Millennials like to work when they feel like working and to play when they feel like playing, so why not bring a little play into work? Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Buy a foosball table or video game console, throw it in the corner of the office, done. Not so much. Inevitably, the games sit and collect dust. Why? Apparently, in-office “supervised” fun is no fun at all. A millennial I work with said:
“When I’m in the office, I feel like I should be working. If I’m playing video games in the office for an hour while everyone else is working, I feel guilty.”
The secret sauce is to get them out of the office – together as a team. At Bloomfire, we host a once-a-month, optional happy hour for our employees. The company picks up the tab for the first round or two and then those who want to stay around and hang out, can...and usually do. Smaller teams within the company also occasionally host offsite brainstorm meetings at a bar or restaurant. There’s something about getting outside the walls of the office that brings out creativity and helps build real relationships that Millennials (and quite honestly, all of us) appreciate and enjoy. Those bonds made outside the office carry back into the office, enhancing team collaboration and communication.
“I felt fulfilled in my job when my boss took the time to take everyone from our department to an offsite meeting where we all brainstormed and came up with a theme for a tradeshow our company was going to. Planning events and coordinating campaigns is not part of my job, but the fact that my boss allowed everyone to participate made me feel valued.”
5. Positive Reinforcement
This one applies to all generations. Everyone likes positive reinforcement, but Millennials in particular were raised in a time where parental praise came in volume. It’s what they know, and they expect to be recognized when they go above and beyond. It’s really the easiest one on the list, so why do some managers find it so difficult to take a few seconds out of their day to say, “Good job?” Is it because they’re too busy worrying about how to impress their boss rather than taking care of their team? The irony is that if managers spent less time “managing up” and more time reinforcing great performance, the results would speak for themselves.
Because they are so plugged in and enjoy regular reinforcement, it makes sense for Millennials to be on the front lines in terms of a company’s social media presence, as long as you are clear about the kind of posts and responses that are ok, and those that need to be approved in advance. The millennial who runs our social media channels sees this task as one of the benefits of her job:
“I love being able to login in to our social accounts and see all of the positive interaction we receive. And the amount of fans we have for such a new small company - hitting 5,000 followers was a big goal of mine so we when did I was ecstatic!”
Another shared the impact of positive feedback: “A good manager will recognize that Millennials will work extraordinarily hard in order to impress them, and will make an effort to give them positive feedback. A bad manager will simply accept the work and provide no feedback – this will, in time, lead to disenchantment.”
Unlike their generational predecessors, Millennials focus more on company culture than paychecks. They are just people, and they are motivated to excel in the workplace and lead a balanced life. Don’t look down your nose at them when they want to cut out a little early on a Friday, take them out to lunch now and then, and tell them they’re doing a good job. After all, it won’t be long until these “kids” are your peers – if you’re lucky (and smart) enough to keep up with them.