If you’ve seen the YouTube video, “Sh!t Millennials Say…in the Workplace” (http://bit.ly/2hMajbM) you know you laughed at the banal facial and verbal expressions (betraying misfires in social cognitive factors) because we’ve all seen them and heard them in the workplace. We’ve been told in recent publications that the whole Millennial characterization craze is simply another episode of how different generations approach work, and it’s alot of noise about nothing. In fact, the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute reviewed 18 years worth of data from 115,000 employees and discovered that “individual characteristics, such as personality traits, job autonomy, and manager relationships accounted for 98 to 99 percent of the differences across employees, whereas generation accounts for just 0 to 2 percent.” (http://ibm.co/2hMeCnA)
Not buying it….completely anyway.
Remember “relationship marketing“? That’s still a viable approach to courting clients and customers because, if I like you, I’m inclined to do business with you. However, the term “cognitive-focused marketing strategies” is being touted as the next level of market research because of how different generations process information. For example, marketers should target messages for the still-developing millennial brain – specifically, the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making and moderating social behavior. That may explain why many decisions by younger millennials have to first be run through their social network for approval/acceptance/validation. That’s decision making by consensus, not critical thinking – something companies want in new hires.
But the “moderating social behavior” function of the pre-frontal cortex often misfires, thus creating fodder for such aforementioned YouTube videos on millennials in the workplace. While I mostly chalk up Millennial workplace characterizations to generational differences and try to set aside stereotypes, I sometimes pause to reconsider that position when clients relate stories of job interviews with millennials. Such as….
- While interviewing a young Millennial applicant for a writer position, the interviewer asked, “What writing accomplishment do you consider your greatest success?” The applicant responded with, “Writing masters theses and doctoral dissertations for students…” The applicant was completely unaware of the ethical issue with such an endeavor. Oh…did I mention that she was interviewing for a position with a global anti-fraud organization that is BIG on ethics and compliance?
- Candidate asked the interviewer is she could use some of the hand lotion that was on the interviewer’s desk. “Sure,” the interviewer replied. The candidate then pumped out a palm full of hand lotion, hiked up her skirt, and applied the lotion to the inside of her thighs. How do you continued an interview after that?
- A young attractive Millennial was hired for a front desk/receptionist position. After several weeks on the job, she requested a move to a different position because “the front desk activity interferes with my online shopping.”
What’s worrisome is that such awkward or inappropriate social behavior often is not recognized as such by these individuals. Inappropriate responses to social situations are legitimate causes of concern to hiring managers and employers who may feel that such candidates, if hired, may inflict injury to the company brand or reputation, or at worse, be a lawsuit waiting to happen.
MILLENIALS WANT MEANINGFUL PROJECT WORK: EMPLOYERS WANT MEANINGFUL RESULTS
While Millennials are eager to contribute to meaningful project work, they are just as eager to be rewarded for those contributions. Millennials often seek that reward by job hopping, which is then perceived as an absence of loyalty to an employer. Employer loyalty isn’t what it once was, but what offers more significant upward mobility for any employee is the development and application of new and needed skills lead to meaningful contributions to project work.
But “meaningful contribution” is something above and beyond daily task completions and duties/responsibilties. Your reward for those “contributions” is your paycheck (most of the time). It’s not a one- or two-time event, because even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. Doesn’t mean we can crown him “The Acorn Hunter.” Meaningful contribution from the company perspective (the company, after all, is who provides the paycheck and sets the rules) can be thought of as a track record of demonstrated accomplishment that significantly contributes to the strategic objectives of the organization; it is a history of solving problems and providing resolutions to issues that impact the revenue or mission goals of the organization consistently over time.
The Society for Human Resource Management (https://www.SHRM.org) performed a study in 2016 that showed Millennials over Boomers preferring job-specific training (95% to 83%), career development (88% to 76%), and career advancement opportunities (89% to 73%). Those results are not surprising given they represent the demographic endpoints of the workforce. In those respects, Millennials are like other generations in the workforce; But if I’m a Boomer (and I am), I’m looking forward to golfing at Doral, fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, or cruising down the Danube River on any weekday afternoon.
THE WORKPLACE IS A HETEROGENEOUS DEMOGRAPHIC ENVIRONMENT
The workplace environment is a community of multi-generational workers, not segregated tribes of Millennials, Gen Y people, or Boomers. A company’s hiring, training, and operations policy must balance the needs of a heterogeneous workforce with the financial or missional goals of the organization. Any top-to-bottom corporate-wide re-architecting to accommodate the needs of a particular generation is “wagging the dog” and such an action would not find favor on Wall Street (or shareholders).
Millennials entering the workforce or changing jobs must understand that getting hired isn’t about them; it’s about what the hiring manager needs; it’s about speaking that hiring manager’s language and not in memes, acronyms, emojis, or GIFs; it’s communicating and promoting the future benefits of your expertise and less so the features of your past experience.
So long as the hiring process involves interactions with people, hiring decisions will be strongly influenced by (1) the candidate’s use of impression management language in cover letters, résumés, and interviews; and history of accomplishments (when available); and (2) the hiring manager’s bias (aka “positive prejudice”), “gut reaction” (intuition) about a candidate’s potential for future success, and who best fits in with an existing smooth-running team.
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Donn LeVie Jr. helps meeting managers, conference coordinators, and professional development managers reach SuperStar status. Donn is a keynote speaker, career strategies seminar leader, and award-winning author. He has nearly 30 years experience in various hiring manager positions for such Fortune 500 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and others. In addition, Donn has worked for the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA) and taught at the University of Houston Downtown College (Dept. of Natural Science and Mathematics).
Donn is the author of Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (Second Edition), which was the WINNER of the 2012 International Book Award (Business:Careers) and the GOLD MEDAL WINNER of the 2012 Global eBook Award for (Business:Employment). He is also the author of Strategic Career Engagement: The Definitive Guide for Getting Hired and Promoted, which was the RUNNER-UP of the 2016 International Book Award (Business:Careers) and the SILVER MEDAL WINNER of the 2016 Global eBook Award (Business:Employment).
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