The corporate world can be like the TV show Survivor. The show’s premise is simple: a group of strangers are stranded on a desert island. The winner has to survive by their wits, avoid elimination and form bonds (or adversaries) with other castaways. The last person standing receives a check for $1,000,000 - often to enormous fanfare and confetti.
Every single winner has to master the ability to foster strong relationships with people different than them. The same rules apply in the corporate world - minus the confetti. With baby boomers retiring and Gen Z entering the workforce, this can result in problems, particularly in the areas of communication and leadership. If reports are to be believed, working with millennials can feel like hell on earth.
That is because a significant number of millennials lack soft skills, which can evoke feelings of frustration from older colleagues.
Furthermore, some millennials and Gen Zs are leaving corporate culture entirely due to a lack of faith in their leaders and the companies they work for. According to Deloitte's 2018 Millennial Survey, positive perceptions of corporate companies are declining more than ever before.
To foster cohesion, we need to ensure we are not treating millennials or any generation as a monolithic group. As millennials, our behaviour has been shaped by the recession, technology, and societal factors. Yet, the majority of reports about millennials focus on extrinsic behaviours. They rarely speak about what to do with regards to intrinsic behaviours. That is the behaviour of each individual regardless of where they come from, their gender, or their upbringing.
I recently watched an old video by Simon Sinek; you’ve probably seen it. In the video, Simon argues that millennials are self-absorbed, social media obsessed kids, that are awarded accolades for no reason.
The problem with people like Sinek is that they are seen as authorities on millennials. He touches on enough home truths to inspire a viral response, but a well-informed generalisation on the behaviour of 3 billion millennials is still a generalisation. And in all honesty, every generation has been labelled self-absorbed, non-conformist, or entitled at one point or another.
Let’s look at what was said about Gen Xers, by a Baby Boomer in 1993:
"As a baby boomer, I'm fed up with the ceaseless carping of a handful of spoiled, self-indulgent, overgrown adolescents. Generation Xers may like to call themselves the "Why Me?" generation, but they should be called the "Whiny" generation. If these pusillanimous purveyors of pseudo-angst would put as much effort into getting a life as they do into writing about their horrible fate, we'd be spared the weekly diatribes that pass for reasoned argument in newspapers and magazines."
And this is what was said about Baby Boomers:
The “Me” generation in the United States is a term referring to the baby boomer generation and the self-involved qualities that some people associated with it. As they grew older, some baby boomers began to resist this consumerist suburban ethos. They began to fight instead for social, economic and political equality and justice for many disadvantaged groups.
The truth is we millennials are not that much different from our managers, directors, or CEOs who may belong to an older tribe.
Senior leaders can lead more effectively by placing more value on diversity and flexibility in an effort to modernise their company culture. Deloitte's report has identified that this is a key strategy for retaining high performing millennials.
Industry leaders are already taking advantage of technology and making efforts to improve work-life balance. With globalisation driving new ways of working, it’s inevitable that other employers need to be receptive to change and create initiatives such as telecommuting, video conferencing, and remote working to attract and keep millennial employees.
Another technique we've seen work quite well is incorporating a flat management structure. When that happens, there is no middleman. Innovative ideas are discussed in an open setting between senior leaders and millennial employees. This often leads to a feeling of trust and engagement.
What do Millennials and Gen Z need to do?
Millennials and Gen Zs should harness their authentic leadership styles. Gaps in our soft skills can be mitigated by the entrepreneurial skills we bring to the table. Over half of millennials have an entrepreneurial experience on the side - including me. As a marketing professional, it is not unusual for me to take part in other creative/entrepreneurial pursuits, such as music & video production, or design. And I often use these skills in my current role.
When senior leaders create a company culture in which all skills are used and developed, that will result in innovation, intrinsic leadership, and feelings of loyalty. Why not take advantage of this superpower?
Not only should millennial and post-millennial generations ask for more training in soft skills, particularly with the support of an executive coach or mentor; companies should also take responsibility for fostering a culture in which knowledge and experience are shared by all parties.
For all those who consider working with millennials as hell on earth, consider that we can all learn something from each other. You are never too old to learn and never too young to teach.
If you are a millennial and you are interested in making your impact felt at work, find out more about Personal Impact course. Or, you can learn about our coaching work here.