I would hazard a guess that this kind of people can be found in every generation, and that they therefore are probably also to be found in the new generation of employees. And older generations have always been concerned about the following generations – and as a leader, it takes even more self-awareness and reflection to be able to lead across generations.
I think that the new generation makes companies even stronger as workplaces for several reasons: Millennials have an ability to talk about their needs and feelings that a lot of us from earlier generations do not always have to the same extent. Millennials are looking for a close relationship with their workplace, even if they are not looking to stay on for the next 15 years. And they expect the workplace to be able to fulfil needs that would perhaps previously not be expected to be related to the workplace. This means that both you as their leader and the workplace will have to constantly develop and be challenged in order to ensure the strongest possible relationship between the employee and the workplace. At the end of the day, this development will benefit everyone.
I think that the increasing focus on the whole and happy human being that we are seeing in more and more companies today is partly due to the new generation of employees. Thank you for that. What may be interpreted as narcissism by some is, in my experience, a valuable ability to verbalise a need for sparring with the leader, an ability that will ultimately make the employee more value-adding than the employee who keeps frustrations and unfulfilled needs from his or her surroundings bottled up inside. And this ability to communicate needs helps ensure that the employee is able to thrive in a fast-paced environment.
I personally find that our younger employees ask for more feedback and sparring than our more experienced employees. It is probably also an age thing. They are still shaping their own identity as individuals, both personally and professionally, which is probably why they reflect more on their own role.
You should value the opportunity to become a better leader that comes from being challenged in your dialogue with your employees. A dialogue that should be far more frequent and regular than we have perhaps been used with more experienced employees. At the end of the day, this will make you a better leader to all your employees.
FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES AND THE GOOD LIFE
A frequent dialogue and honest feedback will form the basis for a far closer relationship between the leader and the employee. This close relationship means that the employees will feel that they are seen and not least heard. They feel acknowledged as individuals. This is important to everyone in a workplace, but millennials have grown up with perfect Instagram pictures and the hunt for likes, so I am guessing it is even more important to them. This is why I feel that we, as experienced leaders, have a responsibility to help our young employees find their own innner motivation instead of the outwards-oriented hunt for likes.
Bjarke Tanghus, age 30, is Lead Consultant in Valcon, and he thinks that it is important that the workplace supports their young employees who are in many ways under more pressure than earlier generations. “We are constantly exposed to the illusion of a perfect life, and we maybe feel somehow that we constantly have to perform at maximum level at all parameters in life. This can become incredibly tiresome, and it therefore means a lot when a more experienced colleague or manager helps you to stop once in a while and take a deep breath. I clearly remember the introduction programme in Valcon several years ago where one of the partners advised us to enjoy the journey as well instead of only focusing on the goal. I have tried to live by that advice, although it can be difficult at times.”
This is, in my experience, a generation with a full understanding of their own worth, and they expect the basics to be in order. This means that you have to be able to offer an attractive salary package and working conditions, but also that it is more important than ever before to make it clear to the young employees what kind of development opportunities they can expect from your company. And this brings us back to the frequent dialogue that will enable you, as the leader, to understand and talk about the employee’s ambitions and dreams.
Lærke Lissau Lund-Sørensen, age 26, is Consultant in Valcon, and she confirms how important it is that the workplace can offer attractive development opportunities: “Many companies have extensive recruitment processes to ensure balanced employees with the right competences for the position in question. The company therefore expects to employ skilled employees and must therefore also expect employees that seek continuous professional and personal development. It is incredibly rewarding when the company from day one offers a newly graduated consultant such as myself interesting and independent tasks as well as makes sure that I on an ongoing basis receives acknowledging and constructive feedback from both clients and colleagues. I find that this provides me with the optimal conditions for combining my education, talent and experience as best possible.”
IT HAS NOT BECOME EASIER OVER THE YEARS TO BE A LEADER.
The close relationship with your employees requires that you personally have a high degree of self-awareness and self-understanding to be able to create the necessary openness and close-ness. And it is this very same strong relationship that will enable you to get the optimal out of the major potential inherent in the millennial generation.
However, it may sometimes be a bit challenging as a middle manager as you do not always get to choose your own employees. You have to want to get to know your employees better by opening up yourself and by showing them other sides of yourself than just the manager side. This can be tricky if there is an employee that you do not really like or that you find annoying for some reason or other. In such cases, it is important to be introspective and reflect on your own reaction to the employee. Maybe your reaction has nothing to do with the employee but more to do with your own behavioural patterns. Here is also an opportunity for development.
THREE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE NEW GENERATION OF EMPLOYEES
I asked Lærke and Bjarke what they first and foremost look for in their closest manager and consequently in their workplace. I have condensed their input down to three recommendations for you as a leader that wants to achieve the best possible cooperation with your young employees:
• Challenges and development are everything. The young generation prefer to be able to constantly see that they are developing, and that their needs and desires for development are heard and acknowledged. The good salary is merely a hygiene factor.
• Respect the great need for recognition that is inherent in the young generation. But also help your young employees to get beyond the need for outward-oriented recognition and to enable them to find their inner motivation.
• Create a framework at the workplace that supports positive social relationships between the employees. The social interaction is a powerful motivational factor.
Now, I know that you may not be able to fulfil all of the above on your own, but you can always help create awareness of these issues at your workplace to help increase your chances of attracting and retaining young employees.
Finally, my own essential recommendation to you would be: Make sure to take time to listen to your young employees (and to all your other employees as well), and take their wishes, needs and challenges seriously. Get to know them, which you will do best by showing them who you are as a person and not just as their manager. This close relationship will make it easier for your employees to talk openly with you about challenges and hopes for the future. And this feeling of being both heard and seen can strengthen the sense of loyalty in a way that a high salary will never be able to do.