Getting the Younger Generation to Engage
First, an apology. There will be those in their 20s who will rail against what you are about to read. They will complain that I am over-generalizing, jumping to conclusions or have a personal bias against young workers. None of this is true.
I applaud the hardworking young stars emerging in today’s workplace. However, I have heard numerous stories about young employees who seem to lack the desire to contribute more than the minimum, show up on time (if at all), and take the initiative to think through the normal challenges of daily life. “What’s happened to the work ethic?” most of these storytellers ask.
Younger workers, known as millennials, need three things when they come to work: Direction, structure, and stimulation. If you provide these three, you and they will get along just fine. Allow me to explain:
Direction: Critical thinking, without the aid of menu-driven devices, is not a strong suit for many of these people. Give them the opportunity to dance their fingers on a keyboard and they will do it better than anyone over 40. But when it comes to so-called common sense decisions, be specific in your direction. Rather than saying, “clean the stockroom,” list exactly what steps they should complete. When delegating a project, use the following four-step process:
- Be clear in describing the project.
- Help them brainstorm an approach.
- Set specific benchmarks to be completed.
- Refuse to let them re-delegate the task back to you by professing inability.
Structure: A friend of mine manages a clothing store. The other day, one of her best employees said, “When I signed on here, I never figured you were going to make me work the whole time.”
The hard reality is that my friend, along with countless other managers, has assumed the responsibility for teaching these young workers what hard work looks like. The solution? Break tasks into smaller bits and keep a list of them handy for assignment when workers have completed what they’re doing. Develop a standing list of on-going tasks for which everyone is responsible when other projects have been completed. Be sure to model these behaviors for them. Let them see that if you’re on the job, you’re always looking for the next task to be done.
Stimulation: This group multi-channels and multi-tasks 24/7 for 365 days a year. There is no way you and your job can compete with the rest of their lives. So don’t even try. Get past your idea of how work should be done and allow them some freedom to work the way they are used to. Rethink the parameters that you have about the right and wrong ways to get a job done.
Finally, delegate more than one project at a time and let them bounce back and forth between assignments. They’re used to multi-tasking rather than working sequentially. All of this requires a bit of trial and error, but the result will be engaged, productive young workers.
Robert W. Wendover is the director of the Center for Generational Studies, a sociological research firm based in Aurora, Colo. He will be speaking at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN® trade show and convention in Chicago on Wednesday, October 4. His presentation “From Paying Your Dues to Changing the Rules: Succession Planning and the New Generations” is part of the executive and leadership track and is sponsored by Contracting Profits.
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