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How to Handle the Surge of Millennials in the Workplace


For years we’ve heard a Paul Revere-type warning: The millennials are coming! The millennials are coming! Indeed they are here, pushing aside boomers and Gen Xers this year as the largest generation in the labor force. Predictions are that in five years, they will comprise more than half the workforce.

While their impact may have been initially muted by the after-effects of the 2008 recession, our adult children are making their mark in the workplace as the economy rebounds, with seemingly every move documented by the media. With Labor Day just behind us, here's a roundup of advice on handling the millennial onslaught, whether they are our bosses, colleagues or staffers.

Let’s start with Mashable, a favorite millennial website. “How to Manage Millennials” cautions older generations not to interpret as a sign of disrespect being asked “why” when we assign a project to younger colleagues. Rather it’s that we  boomer parents “fostered inquisitive children who were often asked for their opinion.” So millennials are just doing what they were taught, questioning the reasoning behind a particular project. Also don’t forget that when younger workers finally dive into a project, they desperately want to get feedback (OK, also praise), along the way for motivation so that they "can integrate that feedback into the final product,” notes the article. Bottom line: Consider building in time for brainstorming and feedback.

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A blog for the legal profession offers “5 Tips for Working With a Younger Boss.” Topping the list: “Be a resource, not an obstacle,” by demonstrating a willingness to change and accept new approaches to old problems. “My Way” is not a song we should be singing. Older workers also need to bridge the generation gap, and while the author doesn't go as far as grabbing mojitos after work, he does advise befriending younger colleagues and taking an interest in their personal lives.

So what exactly do younger workers want from their employers? According to Fortune, flexible hours and work locations, not a rigid 9-to-5 (or more likely these days 9-to-6 or -7) workday. This is a generation that lives on a mobile device — from dating to shopping to entertainment — so why shouldn’t work be portable, too? They believe the quality of work should be measured in output not face time. PwC's Millennials at Work study found that many would trade a promotion or pay hike in exchange for more work/life flexibility.

They also want the opportunity to improve their skills through in-house leadership training programs. In Deloitte's 2014 Millennial Survey, 75 percent of respondents believe that their organizations could do more to develop future leaders, and about a quarter think that their skills are not being fully utilized. Millennials are less likely to jump ship if offered the opportunity to shift roles within a company.

What does this all mean for millions of boomer workers? Jane Buckingham, CEO of Trendera, which tracks millennials, credits the older adults with trying to balance traditional approaches with the tech-infused habits of millennials. On one hand, sometimes the upstarts want too much authority too soon. “You can’t show up in board shorts and flip-flops and take over the company just because you know how to code or are popular on Facebook,” she says.

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Still the millennial onslaught does mean an adjustment in attitude and work habits for older generations, like it or not. “With all these new rules, it can be a struggle for baby boomer workers, and I give them credit for adjusting. In many cases, it’s boomers who have to change.”

Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21 ,  tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.

Photo: emarto/iStock

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