Millennials, those who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, have emerged as the largest age cohort in today’s U.S. workforce, bringing digital savvy and an “always-on” mentality to most jobs.
Yet millennials and Generation Z, who were born in the late 1990s and 2000s, are also challenging traditional employers with their professional restlessness and increased need for feedback and mentoring.
“When millennials are passionate, there’s no one better,” says Cherrie Clark, professor of the practice of management at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management.
“They work hard; they work all hours of the day. But if they are not passionate, good luck with that.”
Clark’s research has found that there are many reasons Generation Z and millennial attitudes about work are different from Gen X and Baby Boomers—growing up in turbulent times and with ever-present technology are just two—and those reasons lead to some compelling evidence that managers need to treat this generation differently.
Because millennials are often more comfortable with technology than their managers, supervisors might feel that their traditional influence over these younger employees is diminished.
Challenge and Recognition
But Clark says there are things managers can do to engage their younger workforce, such as providing regular feedback that they are accustomed to receiving in other aspects of their lives, especially in social media.
“What they are really looking for is challenge and recognition,” Clark says.
“You can create challenge by special projects. If they are passionate about it, they will work around the clock to make it happen.”
Recognition doesn’t have to mean constant praise; it can also come in the form of helping these employees gain skills so that they feel like their career is progressing.
That’s a huge concern for millennials, whose attitudes about work were greatly shaped by the economic recession and the student loan crisis, Clark says.
“Our millennials are more highly educated than any generation in the past,” Clark adds.
“They find themselves with more education, higher expectations, but actually the median income for millennials has fallen.”