Working with millennials
By Andy Kennard
Friday, 12 May, 2017
One of the biggest challenges in our industries is the ageing workforce. According to a recent report, over 60% of employers in mining and manufacturing believe the ageing workforce would have a large or very large impact on their organisation.1 Yet many employers are nervous about hiring younger workers.
We’ve all heard the following statements. As managers, some of us have even said them ourselves:
“My Gen Y staff are difficult to deal with — they want it all and want it now.”
“Why are millennials asking for flexible working arrangements? They should be grateful they have a job.”
“They don’t have the patience to sit down and carefully study and learn something before they act.”
Admit it: we’ve all at least thought it!
We baby boomers, who remember the time when a phone had a rotary dial and was on your desk, can struggle with these ideas. The arguments might sound logical, but is there a double standard here?
What would we would think if the IT department announced they were going to roll out fax machines across the business? And what would you say if someone suggested corresponding by telex instead of email? And in our technology-focused industries, would we accept using 40-year-old standards and technology?
So why do we insist on 1970s-style management thinking when it comes to recruiting and managing people?
We should be embracing these tech-savvy, in-a-hurry 20-somethings. A ‘want it all now’ attitude often means they will focus on the solution, not just the problem. How often have we been in meetings that discuss at length all the reasons why the issue can’t be resolved? Didn’t you just wish there was someone in the room with a can-do attitude?
A ‘flexible working arrangement’ to a millennial doesn’t mean working fewer hours; in fact, it’s the very opposite. They are happy (even expect) to be connected to work 24/7, not just 9–5.
Your control engineer found an expert in Russia on LinkedIn while he was preparing the 2-year-old for preschool. By lunchtime he had learned how to calculate the optimum surge line of your compressor. During TV ad breaks last night, your staff collaborated — on their private Facebook group — on the best way to virtualise your servers. And your new project engineer doesn’t need you to give her a lesson on how to calculate the net present value on that capital expenditure request: she’s got an app for that.
My advice: Find out what motivates your millennials. Hint: It won’t be simply ‘doing their job well’.
Instead they will probably be wanting to ‘make a difference’. Explain how their job fits into the big picture; explain the reasons for your requests; ask their advice. Explain how they are making a difference.
I’ll admit that for some, the ‘want it all now’ attitude comes with an expectation that it will be handed to them. But for the most part the old manager’s adage still rings true:
“Find good people, make it clear what you want them to do, then get out of their way.”
- Chandler MacLeod 2013, Coming of Age: The impacts of an ageing workforce on Australian business.
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