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22 October 2017Last updated
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How to be a Millennial – even if you’re born before 1982

Don’t whinge about working with the younger generation – be inspired by their social ways

Mike Peake
11 Aug 2017 | 10:00 am
  • Source:Getty Images

When author/marketing expert Simon Sinek appeared in a video about what he felt was wrong with Millennials at the end of last year, it became an internet hit. Those who were nodding along most vigorously to his attack on Generation Y’s shortcomings tended to be in their 40s or older and who had seen first-hand how some people born after the early 1980s could be pretty annoying to work with.

Sinek said one of the biggest bugbears about Millennials in the workplace was that they had a misguided sense of entitlement. Having been brought up in an era of experimental parenting techniques, he argued, they had been raised with the belief that they were special and that they could have anything they wanted.

On top of this, they are addicted to the tiny rush of dopamine that comes from positive social media feedback. They’re obsessed with their phones. And whatever they want, they want it now.

When they quickly come to realise that jobs require hard work and years of patience to make a name for themselves, this is all at loggerheads, said Sinek, with the things that their generation was told when they were growing up. His video wasn’t just an aimless, frenzied assault on Millennials, however: Sinek concluded that we should help them find ways to build their confidence and teach them social skills.

And yet perhaps he’s only considered half of the story: what if Millennials are actually onto something? What if jobs really are to be dabbled with for 18 months before moving on to something new? What if their love all things tech can be a boon to the office? And what if the elder statesmen of an organisation don’t always know the best way to get things done?

What is certainly true is that by 2025, Millennials will represent around 75 per cent of the global workforce – so it probably makes sense to at least see what they can offer (in addition to skinny jeans, wild facial hair and an armful of tattoos, of course). Here’s how.

Try new ideas

‘People in their 40s and 50s need to listen to Millennials and stop dismissing them,’ says Deena Al Mansoori, Abu Dhabi-based life coach and founder of the Fortitudo Consultancy, who was born on the Gen X/Gen Y cusp (1983). ‘It doesn’t mean that older colleagues should accept everything, but they should at least listen and know what Millennials want.’

She reckons it is crucial for older employees to maintain a link with Millennials if they want to stay abreast of new developments, for example. ‘A retired friend recently told he me he was very intrigued about Bitcoin,’ offers Deena, ‘and he wanted to learn more about it. He said he could see that Millennials were pushing for it and he wanted to know why.’

In fact, connecting older and younger employees is essential if an established business is to flourish. ‘If we don’t hear them out on matters of tech, especially, or if we don’t collaborate with them and keep up with what they do, then we won’t have anything in common to contribute to the conversation,’ says Deena. ‘Older people need to get curious.’

Try this: Download a couple of popular apps that Millennials use that are alien to you and commit to spending a few weeks on them trying to see if they can be useful. Waze is a real-time traffic app that lets you avoid bottle-necks; Snapchat, the ‘this message will self-destruct in 10 seconds’ app might seem pointless but is much-loved for bringing fun to social media; Slack helps teams work collaboratively. Ask what people are using and give them a go.

Emulate their honesty

In an article about Millennials in Inc.com, Barb Agostini, a business exec from Canada, said that the best thing she had learned from Millennials is ‘get to the point.’ ‘It shocked me at first,’ said Agostini, ‘but they’re getting things done and not letting things stand in their way.’

Millennials are less inclined to dither and far more likely to speak their mind. ‘They’ve been brought up in a team environment and encouraged to speak up when things aren’t right,’ says Susy Roberts, founder of international people development consultancy Hunter Roberts, ‘And this, as any good business coach will tell you, is simply best practice.’

Try this: Ask if there are different ways of doing things. Businesses can become entrenched in processes and procedures, but if you’re being honest it might just be that there are leaner, simpler routes to getting things done that will benefit everyone.

Warm to their social conscience

Back in 2015, Fast Company ran a story about Generation Y workers being heavily interested in finding ‘meaning’ in the workplace. A separate story in The Guardian revealed how they were especially attracted to the notion of working for a company that has a positive impact on the world.

Most businesses are run to make as big a profit as possible, but increasingly corporate social responsibility (CSR) is playing a part in strategy. If Millennials like and, to some extent, expect their employers to do their bit for the greater good, what’s not to like about that?

Their sense of doing the right thing extends to an ingrained patriotism, too, says Jodi Davies, the Middle East general manager at Source Global Research. ‘National Millennial talent is very patriotic right now and it’s something that we’ve seen evolve in recent years,’ she says. ‘Emiratis and Saudis want to add value to their countries and to the companies that operate within them.’

Try this: Speak to management about the company’s CSR policy and see how you can get involved. If there isn’t one, ask if it’s something they would consider and if you can be part of it. It could give your job a whole new dimension and help forge a link between older and younger team members.

Learn from their digital skills

‘Millennials have digital in their DNA,’ says Jodi Davies. ‘They grew up in a world where technology, digital and social sharing was an established part of everyday interaction.’ As a result, there is no one in your workplace better equipped at finding digital solutions to whatever problem you’re facing.

Deena Deena is a perfect case in point: within a few weeks of starting her first graduate job when she was 21, she offered to help automate a bunch of tasks for a manager in a different office using her programming skills. ‘I automated over 30 forms within a week and I found myself called into meetings with the leadership team for advice on what we could do better,’ she says.

Try this: Everyone likes a challenge, especially when they think they can find the solution – so look at your Millennial colleagues and see if there are things in the business that they can simplify or speed up using tech. Track how they go about it and learn from their approach.

Harness the power of the collective brain

Millennials’ love of all things tech means they are more connected than the rest of us – they were also brought up in a world where collaboration was key. ‘When I was at university, we were given a task and sent away to do it,’ says Susy Roberts, who was doing her degree before any Millennials were born, ‘and that meant heading straight to the library to work in solitary silence. The onus was on us, and us alone, to come up with the solutions.’ Now, she says, there’s a lot more collaborative working and flexibility when it comes to projects and coursework. ‘The digital world has transformed studies at every level and there’s a lot of interdependency.’

The opportunity for older workers is to embrace new ways of working. As Sukh Ryatt, MD of cloud-based intranet service Oak says: ‘One of the quickest wins to a more productive workforce is embracing the shift to social media-style interactions that Millennials are now instinctively using in their personal lives. Today’s workforce already finds it easy to share, discuss, collaborate, comment and engage with others, from anywhere and at any time, using mechanisms that are second nature to them. Why force them to have those same interactions, albeit in a business context, with tools that restrict them?’

Try this: Don’t automatically dismiss social media as the enemy of the workplace. If your younger colleagues are posting from their desks and the bosses don’t mind, then why not give it a go? It can be a great way to get some instant feedback on something that you’d like answers to, though a private work network would likely be a better place to do this: Microsoft’s Yammer, for example, is a good way to connect people within an organisation.

Finally... A quiet word to any Millennials

Life coach Deena often sees people in their forties and fifties who are hacked-off with work, and Millennials are often the problem. ‘Older workers don’t tend to feel threatened,’ says Deena, ‘just annoyed and frustrated. What I hear often is that Millennials have no maturity and they should listen more. Most of these clients want Millennials to learn from the mistakes of older employees and show a little respect for their wisdom.’

She says that when the tables are turned and she’s talking to Millennial clients, the advice she is most likely to dispense is: ‘Create your credibility.’ ‘Millennials can’t just march in thinking they know it all,’ she says. ‘They need to be humble, curious, observant and be willing to learn.’

By doing this, she says, older bosses and colleagues will recognise their commitment and create opportunities for them. Also, says Deena, Millennials who are willing to learn from older colleagues will likely find that the latter are receptive to a few ‘modern’ ideas, too. In this way, the two groups can effectively mentor each other.

Adds Lee Poynter, global head of design at creative communications agency Crowd, who have offices in Dubai, the US and the UK: ‘We find that senior team members’ commercial and creative experience is as invaluable as the drive to contribute and the technological savvy that the younger team members bring to the table. Both groups can definitely benefit from each other’s experiences.’

Mike Peake

Mike Peake