As new generations make their fundamental steps into the world of work Jamie Anderson, President – EMEA, Marketo an Adobe Company discusses the misconceptions of the younger generation at work and discusses what leaders can do to maximise the full potential of this stark opportunity.
‘Generation snowflake’, easily offended, workshy, lacking ambition and capability, full of an expectation of privilege. Not like those raised in the 70s and 80s, driven by uncertainty and ambition in equal measure and who are more than capable of knuckling down to get the job done.
Erm, not really. Because judging by the 20-somethings I’ve been interviewing (and hiring) they’re smart, ambitious and experienced. They’re decisive about their future, they have goals and a five-year plan. They know where they’re going and how. They impressed with their knowledge, absent naivety and are not nearly as hare-brained as I was at that age. In fact, they’re significantly more competent and, when I reflect on my youthful mistakes, this lot look positively God-like compared to the 20-something Jamie Anderson.
Regardless, those mistakes are what make us human and they’re what we learn from. If you can’t remember any, you’re probably hiding something. And that’s going to make it difficult to relate to young professionals who’ll make mistakes. Impressive as the interviewees were, I have no doubt that they will make their share of errors and screw-ups. If they didn’t I’d be suspicious. As a grown-up it’s tempting to distance yourself from mistakes, but you’re in danger of making the generation gap even bigger than it already is. It’s that gap that’s helped to create the impression that the millennial generation is selfish, vain, lazy or incapable.
We’d change perceptions if we stopped calling under 35s millennials and over 65s pensioners. David Attenborough’s not a pensioner. Neither is Warren Buffet. It’s a generalisation that does nothing to capture the generational complexities, and characteristics and the challenges they face. It’s a classic example of an older generation labelling the younger generation because it’s easier than trying to understand them. The moral panic that ensued at the rise of the teenager in the 50s belies the influence that generation had on the civil rights movement, counter culture, and, indeed, their own children – children who are the leaders of today.
So maybe it’s time to stop labelling and start understanding. If that sounds a bit ‘millennial’, then consider this. As leaders we should lead and that doesn’t mean telling other people what to do and expecting them to follow blindly. And doing things the way they’ve always been done. It mean getting the best from your team. And to do that you need a modicum of empathy to understand what motivates them.
For under 35s, work isn’t what it used to be because jobs aren’t what they used to be. Certain jobs didn’t exist! We need a better work-life balance because, why should staff burn out in the service of an employer and never see their families? Why shouldn’t they work remotely? If you trust them enough to hire them, shouldn’t you trust them enough to do the work? As they move into leadership roles they’ll bring their way of working with them.
Forget the clichés about beanbags and ping-pong tables in the office; this shift in thinking is about more efficient use of time, such as avoiding commuting, to get more done. It’s about better relationships with managers, based on reviews that give both sides a voice. In fact, a recent study cited that older workers are motivated as the same things as millennials – a good boss, and a chance to change the world. Ultimately, it’s about working with a purpose.
Think back to your younger days – if you’d been offered the chance to work from home more, or your manager had been genuinely interested in listening to you, wouldn’t you have been happier and more productive?
Next time you interview an under-35, leave your prejudices at the door, and replace them with a recollection of what you were like when you were that age. You might surprise yourself. And them.