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Working together: how to deal with millennials at work

How to deal with millennials at work: Business people talking in office

We’ve moved! To find this article and more like it, check us out at our new home and don’t forget to subscribe. When it comes to working with millennials, Gilbert Boileau, president of Adecco Canada, has some experience. Through Adecco’s CEO for One Month program, Gilbert has been shadowed by talented millennials who were learning the ins and outs of managing a successful organization. In this guest post, Gilbert and 2019’s CEO for One Month, Frances Doria, share what they’ve learned about the generation gap. So, whether you’re managing millennials in the workplace or just looking for tips on how to deal with them at work, read on for our expert advice.

For the past three years I have had the privilege of working with three bright millennials through Adecco’s CEO for One Month program. Each year, the successful participant shadowed me for one month, learning about the industry and our organization. As the president of Adecco Canada, I don’t often have the opportunity to work on a daily basis with people just entering our industry. That’s why it’s been refreshing to work with our Canadian CEO for One Month participants, who have given me a chance to reset and reexamine my worldview while encouraging their growth as young professionals.

The program has also led to some big conversations with my fellow baby boomers about millennials. Out of these conversations, I’ve come to understand that “millennial vs baby boomer” is a false dichotomy. As humans, we like to categorize things to make them easier to understand. Grouping everyone in a certain age group and calling them “millennials” or “baby boomers” gives us a neat identifier for a vastly different group of people. Surely, the experiences of a young person in Toronto will be very different from the experiences of someone in Madrid or New Delhi or St. Louis.

I came into the workforce when unemployment rates were hovering between 10 and 14 percent and jobs were incredibly scarce. If I had come of age with the low unemployment rates we’re seeing now, I would likely have eschewed employer loyalty and switched jobs as the opportunities invariably arose, just as millennials are doing today.

Add to this the abundant choices available to us through technology, and you have the perfect storm of worker churn. An employee’s market compounded by ever-improving recruitment technology gives all of us easy access to employment.

Organizations can create conditions to stimulate employer loyalty and the other workplace values boomers are said to embody, but combined, I believe that the economy and today’s technological landscape have been the biggest factors at play in the differences between the professional experiences of generations of workers.

In the interest of fair representation, I would like to include Adecco Canada’s CEO for One Month for 2019, Frances Doria, in the conversation.

Here’s what she had to say:

I believe that millennials are some of the most value-driven generations. Many of us grew up with the idea that our voices are our power and that we are capable of igniting change. In the professional sphere, this idealistic lens has encouraged us to seek work where our individuality is embraced and our voices can make a difference.

We also came of age at a time when access to information and our knowledge of the world grew exponentially. These cultural shifts happened during our formative years, ingraining in us a sense of curiosity for the grandness of the world and a dedication to constant learning.

In living our values focused on individuality and constant learning, some millennials may be perceived as entitled. Rejecting a job for something as trivial as a dress code or as fundamental as a toxic work culture might seem entitled. And perhaps there’s a grain of truth there. But it’s this very entitlement that drives our idealism to question the status quo and push the envelope to create a better world where everyone’s individuality can thrive.

While millennials may have a reputation for quitting well-paying jobs haphazardly, many of us grew up witnessing our parents’ and grandparents’ trauma, stress and disillusionment from structured and uncompassionate workplaces. We are aware that today’s labour market conditions offer us more choices than our parents had, which puts us in a privileged position. It’s as an homage to our parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifices, then, that we place an emphasis on building healthy work cultures that we can be proud to call our second homes.

In my experience, millennials and baby boomers are very different people. But managing millennials is simple: treat them as you would treat your friends — see them as individuals, create a path for growth and provide options within the workplace that promotes continuous learning.

Though Frances and I have differing views about the specifics of the interaction between our generations, our conclusion is ultimately the same: shared understanding of each other’s differences and the ability to adapt to those needs will ultimately lead to success.

Managing millennials in the workplace

This is what I’ve learned about team success while working with millennials.

Create a workplace that fosters respect

Managing millennials in the workplace: Work colleagues chatting over coffee in the office

A multigenerational workforce is a diverse workforce. As with managing any diverse group of people, you should start by creating a work environment that encourages mutual respect among all colleagues. By recognizing colleagues for their professional contributions to the organization, you will start to erase stereotypes associated with different generations of employees and be able to move towards valuable collaboration.

Capitalize on different strengths

Create value for your company by putting the different strengths of your workforce work. Where boomers excel in client relations and job knowledge, millennials shine with technology, social media and multi-tasking. Take advantage of these different strengths by building diverse teams that incorporate colleagues of different generations.

Promote inclusivity through teamwork

Millennial employees: Business People Meeting

We’re all guilty of bias. In business — like in other areas of our lives — we automatically look to our elders as the wise ones. It’s easier, of course, to listen to an older, more senior member of the team than it is someone with far less experience. When a young person challenges you, your immediate reaction might be defensiveness — get over this. You need to ask yourself if you’re listening with equal attention because chances are you’re not. Intelligence and innovation don’t come from age. A bias against listening to diverse viewpoints could prove to be detrimental.

Collaboration should be a standard practice for all projects. Embrace the diversity a multigenerational team offers and encourage both baby boomers and millennials to work together on all projects. This collaboration will empower a blend of different ideas and viewpoints to inspire creativity and innovation within your organization. And as an added bonus, an emphasis on collaboration at work can help colleagues look past their differences to identify shared values.

Prioritize open communication

Transparency is key, especially when accommodating intergenerational teams in your workforce.

Recognize that baby boomers and millennials prefer different communication styles. Boomers tend to prefer more traditional forms of communication such as face-to-face meetings or phone calls. In contrast, millennials have grown up heavily influenced by technology and social media. They want their information and communication fast and accessible, which is why they lean towards email or text as their preferred method of communication. Blend these methods to accommodate both boomers and millennials while maintaining clear lines of communication within your workforce.

Initiate a strong mentoring program

Introducing a mentoring program within your organization is the perfect avenue to encourage millennials and baby boomers to work together in a non-threatening environment. Not only do mentoring programs help bridge knowledge gaps (often on both sides), they empower both millennials and boomers to learn from each other’s strengths and work styles to create a workplace that is efficient, productive and harmonious. Plus, as baby boomers approach retirement, mentorship is a good way to start the knowledge transfer required to ensure continuity of organizations.

For me, the CEO for One Month program has reinvigorated my approach to the job. When you’ve been in business for a long time, it’s easy to get stuck thinking linearly. Introducing a novice to the business is the best way to remember how difficult it was to start out. To answer Frances’s questions about the business, I have had to go back to basics, re-examining myself and the business from an outsider’s perspective to explain things cohesively. It’s been a valuable approach to not only introduce Frances to the industry but re-evaluate my own decision-making.

Despite much hand-wringing and countless thought pieces, baby boomers and millennials can work together successfully. It just takes openness, understanding and patience.

For more information on Adecco’s CEO for One Month program, click here. To read more about how to apply, visit us here.

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