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In this new world of work, we have five generations working side by side. This has created some tension, as stereotypes emerge, sometimes unfairly, about one another’s work ethic, ways of working and expectations.

Being part of the “Xennial" micro-generation myself, (straddling the X and millennial generations), I often find myself translating among the generations. While we are all influenced by the economic, political, social, technological and other factors surrounding our birth year, millennials are still getting an unfairly bad rap.

First, a bit of level setting: Millennial is not a condition or a way of being … it’s a generational definition of those born between 1980 and the mid-1990s. The oldest millennials are turning 38 this year – they are not all fresh out of college – and they will soon be at your senior executive tables, if they’re not already running the show.

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Perhaps if we viewed current workplace realities through a renewed lens, we would better understand each other and create a more inclusive and productive work environment:

Reality 1: Hard work looks different now than it did 20 years ago – that doesn’t mean millennials have a poor work ethic

When I started in the work force, new employees earned their stripes by pulling “all nighters” building cumbersome Excel models and PowerPoint presentations, pretty much from scratch. That’s how we learned and that’s how work got done – we had no other choice.

With the technology we now have at our disposal, we need to continue to push for productivity and results versus face time and hours – we now have sophisticated tools that takes care of a lot of the tasks that once occupied a significant portion of our days (and nights). This is not to say millennials don’t work hard – they are just focused on different things. For example, I’ve worked with a few millennials who have built and sold (or folded) businesses before even entering the work force — experiences such as these strengthen fundamental skills that are far more applicable and portable in today’s work environment.

So instead of judging someone (millennial or otherwise) as having poor work ethic for taking a two-week vacation, because “you would never have done that,” perhaps focus on how to ensure productivity is not negatively impacted in workers’ absences:

  • Evaluate workplace policies to ensure they reflect the current realities of your organization and work force. If the business cannot support extended (voluntary) absences, policies should be clear. Conversely, some companies are now going as far as implementing an unlimited vacation policy, trusting that employees will be responsible and do the right thing. If they don’t keep up with business needs, it’s a performance-management issue.
  • Engage employees in the solution – they need to be accountable for transitioning their work to/from colleagues, ensuring work continues to move forward in their absence.

Reality 2: Millennials seek work experiences that tie to purpose, where they can drive impact – that doesn’t mean they aren’t loyal

In this new world of work, loyalty may no longer mean staying with one company as a full-time employee for 30 years, but workers will still continue to be loyal to companies they believe connect to a greater purpose, even after they leave. Instead of lamenting that millennials are not loyal:

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  • Stay true to your organization’s purpose and ensure it permeates your employee— and customer-value proposition
  • Retention bonuses are often a Band-Aid solution at best – if talent wants to leave, they will eventually — better to be prepared: avoid major disruption and lost productivity by building agile teams and focusing on succession/backfill solutions and knowledge management

Reality 3: Top talent deserves to be promoted if they are the best candidate for the job – that doesn’t mean all millennials should expect quicker promotions

A common complaint about the millennial generation is that they expect to be promoted so quickly. A few tips to manage expectations, re: promotions with your work force:

  • Embrace diversity and inclusion by giving equal opportunity to all employees, regardless of generation. Of course, years of experience is one factor, but may not be a deal breaker for all roles
  • Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversation with employees who expect promotions but are not yet deserving – if you show them fairness and take an interest in their career, you can often avoid attrition and set them up for success in the long run
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