I am often asked how I manage over 300 millennials in my legal department. The honest answer? I try not to. I LISTEN to 300 millennials and give them the freedom and approval to figure things out on their own with the necessary support and some basic boundaries the size of Canada. They do the rest. Is it always a success? No! and that’s half the win.
The truth is a millennial doesn’t mind making mistakes and learning from them. A millennial doesn’t mind taking risks and letting the chips fall where they may. Why? Because they have a built in confidence that things will work out? I don’t think so. I think as millennials we have grown up with ever-changing technology which has given us a more powerful world view and information available at our fingertips 24 hours a day. We are acutely aware of how many people are on the planet. We are aware of limitless opportunities and start ups and as a result have a statistical appreciation for how we will ultimately be employed somewhere due to an aging population and our scarce tech skills. The fear of loss is ironically lost on us.
Most millennials were not directly affected by the economic crash of 2008, the western millennials have for the most part not been directly effected by wars and generally millennials are too young to have experienced any significant loss or fear of loss to effectively alter their behaviour to that of our parents who were more risk averse.
Simon Sinek’s millennial video on you tube refers to various factors influencing the millennial as we know them, from parenting, to the effect of dopamine from social media on the brain; to technology, impatience and our environment. I agree with everything he says but with emphasis on the technology aspect of how millennials have grown up and how
quickly technology has developed and improved just within our current lifetime. The ability to not only keep up with that rate of change but to also be an expert at using it creates new neural pathways in the brains of a millennial and changes our actions and behaviour in all aspects of life compared to our parents and previous generations. Is this behaviour to be labelled as impatience and unreasonable or rather viewed as a form of evolution?
Having travelled and met with various companies recently and from my own experiences within South Africa I don’t think millennials should be painted the same way across the world; and yet there is a common motivator behind each of us, the simple concept of “why not?”.
As millennials we want to make a difference. I want my own time more than I want your money, I want you to be as supportive of my passions as I am of your business as my employer. I don’t want to have to work certain hours of the day if it isn’t necessary. I want to do more than one thing at a time and I want to earn points on an app while I’m doing it. We can already earn points on our watch while we type so why stop there? We want to multitask seamlessly. Medical aids, retailers, fast food chains and various other industries are creating services that cater for millennials and our diverse, multi-complex instant gratification expectations as consumers and yet we are still not catering for this as employers. As Anton Musgrave said recently at a Futures Faculty Lecture, his own millennial daughter announced quite seriously over the dinner table that her best friend must be dead because she had not responded on an instant message within 6 minutes! – yet we insist on only doing performance reviews on these same individuals every six months and expect results. The concept of time is different for a millennial. Instead of trying to change them we should be trying to better understand them.
As employers we have a huge bridge to cross in the future; between managing clients who are not millennials and want to be serviced in a certain way to servicing millennials, employing millennials and keeping millennials happily in our employ. If we limit millennials they will rebel. If we continue to make them come into an office when they can do the same thing at home with less traffic, they won’t come in. If we confine them and don’t embrace their capacity to multitask and their desire to do more than JUST work for us we can win and as organisations be better for it. At the same time we need to deliver a superior customer service as our millennial clients are also going to become our most
educated clients and the most difficult clients to retain due to the ease with which they can sift through competitors. A millennial would rather do something themselves online 24 hours a day than wait for your office to open at 8am on Monday to Friday to do it for them.
A millennial needs a work environment choice. Google and Facebook have bean bags and fuse ball tables because their millennials need to be on site due to IP security so it makes sense to at least make work fun. Since they already do work that is fast paced, creative and regularly rolled out while making a difference that they can see and feel; the bean bags ARE a great add on to an already millennial-friendly industry. Do your teams want bean bags? Probably. But will it make an iota of difference to their output or “attitudes”. I guarantee it won’t.
Millennials don’t always know what they want or what they are seeking but they know what they don’t want: they are more aware of the shortness of life or “FOMO” (fear of missing out) due to an over awareness of health, well being and socio economic issues which are ever present in our day due to social media and advertising. So that “impatience” is not just because we are used to getting a participation award at school but it is because we really believe that most changes could be made so easily if the bureaucratic red tape that nobody can explain to us was torn down. We could work for you; but also follow our passion of owning an art gallery and be a professional architect at
the same time thanks to technology making time management and remote working easier compared to our parents who commuted to and from work for 4 hours a day and made dinner and went to bed, just to get up the next day and do it all over again.
Millennials want to be judged and rewarded on our performance and our output; not on our personalities, the time we spend at the office or our relationships with our bosses. Most importantly though, we need to understand why we are doing something – We can’t file papers all day if we don’t understand why they can’t be uploaded. We can’t fill in a document if we don’t know why they can’t just scan our ID or drivers license and get our information from a central point. We don’t understand why you are printing payslips for us instead of emailing them to us or better, saving them directly to our revenue service folder on the cloud through the bank. POPIA experts are having a heart attack! Are we difficult? We certainly come across that way by arguing the status quo every step of the way. Are we lazy? We just think it could be done better. Are we doing anything about the changes we want to see? Aaah! Now that’s a good question. Are we? Really? All of us?
Millennials have many opinions, but our evolution doesn’t seem to have reached the point where we want to take accountability to do anything about these opinions and actually fix that which isn’t broken, but I think we all have to take some accountability for our role in this. Do you give the millennials in your company the support and resources to develop what they talk about that would make their lives easier? Do you even listen to what they have to say? I think those of us millennials who have an influence on the way our companies are run and have the support and approval from our bosses and families to make the changes are making them the best way we know how; but sadly I think many millennials are stuck in a system that hasn’t kept up with them or has tried to box their capacity under the auspice of being “more focused” . If we could harness more of the millennial’s potential by channelling more funding into millennial ideas and allocation of resources into millennial projects alongside our core business, I know we would see some real growth happen in our businesses and in our employees. At this point most millennials are in their late 20’s early 30’s and still trying to work their way through the world and into positions both financially and professionally where they can create the changes they want to see and I know that when that happens millennials ARE going to change the world.
I have high hopes for Gen Z’s, I think they will be much like millennials in their search for constant answers and more efficient use of things but I hope they will do more to make those things happen more quickly. As millennials I assume we will have been pioneers for the Gen Z’s and have broken down more of the psychological barriers that exist by
then. I hope Gen Z’s will have opportunities to run companies from younger ages or work for companies run by millennials by then. I have no doubt that
This article was originally published on May 1, 2019 on Delia McArthur''s website
Delia McArthur is an admitted attorney with over a decade of legal service experience. She was previously CEO of Independent African Mediation for 5 Years and is currently Chief Legal Executive of Law For All’s diverse legal team of over 350 legally qualified professionals.
Delia is passionate about people. Her focus is on assisting individuals, organizations and leaders to find their “potential exponential” to suit the needs of their future clients, employees and managers.
She does this by exposing them to practical tools and skills to encourage them to build resilient teams with innovative, solution-orientated business cultures.