Here it is…another blog post about millennials. Are you tired of hearing about them yet? Every day, some thought-leader is sharing his wisdom, perspective and complaints about this disruptive generation. And you won’t stop hearing about them anytime soon. Their 76 million member group will overtake Baby Boomers as the largest living generation this year; and they currently account for 1 in every 3 American workers.
But when you read about millennials, does it ever feel like you’re reading the story of Jekyll and Hyde? One minute we’re frowning upon Gen Y’s entitlement issues and their desire to be rewarded for merely meeting expectations. We chastise them for being addicted to their smart phones and sharing every moment of their lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and a few dozen other social networking apps. We label the entire generation as being finicky, disloyal, and cocky. We believe they don’t like rules, structure, hierarchy or tradition.
And in the next breath, we applaud the entrepreneurial spirit of our own Gen Y children. We’re impressed by the fact that they don’t accept traditional paths as the only possible path. We celebrate the self-starters who see a problem and fix it by inventing a product, opening a Kickstarter campaign, and building an eCommerce site after watching a few Udemy courses. Check out Inc.com’s list of 35 Under 35 if you need to be reminded how inventive and philanthropic millennials are. When we talk about entrepreneurial millennials, the only complaint we have is how we wish we would have invested in their ideas sooner.
So, which characterization of Gen Y is more accurate? Are they entitled and arrogant or creative and self-starting? Perhaps they’re all a little of both.
There’s no doubt that millennials will change the face of business. As a leader, though, your job is to turn the millennial Mr. Hyde into a Dr. Jekyll. Most managers try to force the millennial square peg into the Baby Boomer round hole, but what if we stop trying to change the entire generation and embrace it instead?
If we stop harping on millennials for seeming entitled and technologically distracted, we can start focusing on the unique talents this generation brings to the workforce.
Instead of rolling your eyes at the millennial Instagramming a pic of his coffee, engage that individual as a brand advocate and take advantage of his social network.
Instead of forcing millennials to “pay their dues” before gaining more responsibility, encourage them to take on a passion project or lead a skunkworks project as part of their day.
Fight the assumption that all millennials are finicky and disloyal and directly ask them what they want to contribute to the organization’s future. Help them blaze a trail instead of directing them toward a revolving door.
While not every millennial was meant to be an entrepreneur, every leader should be open to the fact that among their team of Gen Y workers may be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Salman Khan, or Peter Cashmore. How can you ensure there are more Jekyll’s than Hyde’s in your workforce?