This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgamca/leadershiplab
Millennials get a bad rap in the workplace, some of it justified. Their co-workers often describe them as impatient and self-absorbed, with an unreasonable sense of entitlement. And for those who believe that “reward comes from effort” and that you must “pay your dues,” the millennials’ desire for instant gratification comes across as an unwillingness to work hard, coupled with a disrespect for those who have experience. But let’s be fair for a moment – where exactly do you think these attitudes came from?
If there’s a problem, it’s your fault
Yup, their attitudes came from the rest of us, from the baby boomers and Generation Xers who created them, who made them exactly what they are. Remember, this is the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital media, so they’re heavily influenced by the Internet. They live by wikis and weblogs; they live by podcasts and “poking” (and if you don’t understand exactly what that means, then you’re not a millennial.) These young people grew up with the ability to connect with kids around the world, so they see the globe as one interconnected network; they definitely see it as open for business 24/7. No wonder they’re impatient.
Their childhoods were completely scheduled – they were registered for baseball camp, signed up for karate club and enrolled in dance lessons – leaving no unstructured free time in which to figure things out for themselves. Heck, even their play time was programmed in to “play dates.” No wonder they seek instant gratification.
Their parents were often “helicopter parents,” ones who hovered and remained actively involved in their children’s lives even after they were grown. Millennials could count on mom and dad to intercede on their behalf (grades, hockey ice time, or visiting university campuses) to ensure they were treated well. No wonder they have a sense of entitlement.
But take heart, the potential is enormous
So does this mean that we are doomed to a business world run by impatient, self-absorbed, entitled jerks? No, quite the contrary. Despite the fact that this generation perplexes (and, in many cases, frustrates) the boomers and Gen-Xers they work with, these young people also bring extraordinary benefits to the workplace that far outweigh the negatives.
Let’s face it, the rest of us come with our faults and failings too, and we found a way to create and cultivate successful organizations. But these advantages will only come to fruition if the veterans in organizations can recognize and consciously tap into millennial strengths. So what exactly are these strengths that offset the negatives?
Millennials roll with the punches
They are adept in shifting rapidly in response to change. In today’s business environment, change is a given, and not only do these young people take it in stride but they also rebound quickly from setbacks. This attitude and outlook bodes well for the long-term success of any company.
To them, diversity is a way of life
There is a lot of talk about diversity in today’s workplaces. Millennials don’t just talk about it, they embrace it. This generation is remarkably tolerant of different lifestyles, ethnicities, and backgrounds. They accept others easily which means that they work well together. Want exceptional teamwork? Look no further.
They question everything
Millennials are often referred to as Generation Y, perhaps because they are quick to ask “why.” They’re eager to challenge the status quo, push for innovation and creativity, and very willing to rewrite the rules. Could your organization benefit from such an approach?
They are accomplished at navigating technology
Chances are that your millennials know a lot more about Hangout, Klout and Adwords than anybody in your company. So ask them to help others understand and work with these tools. In fact, consider doing what many successful organizations have done – create reverse-mentoring programs where young, tech-savvy employees share their online expertise in return for coaching and career advice from veteran leaders.
Millennials have mastered multitasking
If you have a twentysomething in your life, then you know that she is capable of listening to her iPod, texting her friend, writing her university paper, updating her Facebook page, while watching a movie – and all during a family dinner. Many people question the quality of the results, but despite your personal perspective, if any generation is proficient at doing numerous things at one time, then this is the one. Is this a skill your business environment could benefit from?
So perhaps it’s time to quit bashing millennials for their faults and value them for their strengths. Yes, many of them are impatient, self-absorbed and have unreasonable expectations, but just as many boomers and Gen-Xers are inflexible, uptight and negative.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a Gen-Xer who has more than 17 years of experience as a front-line leader in Corporate Canada. Her newest book is Generations Exposed: Unexpected Insights Into the People You Work With.