It’s tough to talk about millennials around the office without making someone cringe.
If you are a millennial, you’re likely sick of being stereotyped as a beer-pong-playing bro who wants a trophy every time they solve a tough problem.
And if you’re older, you might be irked by the fact that your meetings are increasingly run by people who can’t eat a sandwich without Snapchatting a pic.
But as millennials ascend to leadership positions and gain more control over the direction of their organisations, it’s crucial to talk about their specific needs and how they work best. To be sure, in many ways today’s young workers are similar to previous generations of young workers — but in other ways, they’re markedly different.
In April, Business Insider sat down with representatives from IBM’s Millennial Corps: Samantha Klein, Sara Sindelar, and Masharn Austin. We discussed myths and truths surrounding young employees, and specifically how managers can get the best work out of them.
The Millennial Corps is a global team of more than 4,000 IBM staffers (of all ages) dedicated to improving millennials’ experience at the company. According to their research and experience, there are three key things young workers need from their bosses:
1. Ongoing feedback
In February 2016, IBM overhauled its annual performance review system. Now, under a system called “Checkpoint,” feedback is given on at least a quarterly basis.
That change was based on input from all employees — not just millennials. But it reflects a significant shift in how we think about delivering and receiving feedback, one that’s driven by the youngest generation of workers.
As Klein, a Next Gen Entrepreneur who works in marketing at IBM, put it: “We [millennials] don’t want an annual review. We don’t want to wait until the end of the year to hear about what we’ve done right or wrong what we can improve upon.”
Austin, a workforce strategy and talent leader at IBM Watson, pointed to Facebook and Yelp as examples of social platforms that are changing the way we think about feedback at work. You can “like” a friend’s post within seconds or review a restaurant while you’re still eating there.
“That’s not to say that other contingents of the population don’t want feedback, but I think that what distinguishes millennials is the frequency by which it comes,” he said. “In a perfect world they’d be getting that constant heartbeat of feedback.”
2. Overall career coaching
Millennials don’t just want feedback about how they performed yesterday and how they can improve tomorrow. They want to talk about the bigger picture, too.
“When I think about managing millennials, I think about the notion of career velocity,” Austin said. That means “being able to provide leadership and guidance around their career and their job and where they are in relation to where they want to be.”
He emphasised that this is a good management strategy regardless of your employees’ age. But millennials especially “want to feel like there’s some movement in their career and feel like they’re going places.”
That’s why managers should make a point of talking to their millennial employees about specific things they can do over the next couple of months to help them get where they want to be in their careers.
3. Expectations about bringing ideas forward
Klein said it’s crucial to set performance expectations as soon as — if not before — a millennial is hired.
One of those expectations should be submitting ideas to the team instead of keeping them private.
Klein said managers should tell their young employees: “When you have an idea or you have an opinion or you have a question to ask, I expect you to ask that. Don’t keep it bottled up inside.”
Sindelar, a Next Gen Entrepreneur who works in marketing and advertising at IBM, added that managers should actively solicit their employees’ opinions — even before they give their own opinion on something.
“We all want to be asked for our opinions,” she said, “because we all have one.”
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