As an HR leader, remaining aware of the demographic shift of the workforce is a key driver in adding value to our organizations. With over 80 million Millennials preparing to enter the workplace, we are uniquely positioned to not only see this generation become an integral part of our economy, but to also help them realize their full potential professionally.
Trying to educate oneself by wading through the numerous articles and studies regarding this highly fussed over demographic feels like an extensive and sometimes futile task. With articles ranging from the sensational “Millennials Are Selfish and Entitled, and Helicopter Parents Are to Blame” to the counter-sensational “Why Millennials Aren’t Lazy, Spoiled or Entitled…” to the vaguely complimentary “Why Millennials Are So Individualistic” it is hard to discern valuable information from speculation and anecdote. And – even when you do find some concrete data (this report submitted by the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors is a good example) – it might not be enough to make the best hiring decisions for your organization.
An Individual Among Individuals
To avoid the pitfalls of painting this group with too broad a brush, it is important to understand and clarify two points.
Generation-specific indicators are based on the current state of the economy and social environment.
Depending on where your organization does business, the individuals you interact with – no matter the generation – could vary wildly from the mean presented in industry-wide research.
The average Millennial is as much a product of their immediate surroundings as they are of a larger national shift in societal identity. Family, friends, and local economies all play a factor. To assume that a current or potential employee of a certain age would fit into a highly generalized category based on national studies could potentially put you at a disadvantage when trying to work towards the mutual interest of an employee and your organization.
Beyond simple age-based assumptions, there are times when a known factor like the local economy might still be tempting to use when working with your employees – but be wary. Even if the local area where your organization pulls its employees from seems to match perfectly with the generally accepted socio-economics of Millennials, each employee can exhibit their own personality in ways that go against established expectations. Sometimes people are simply unique.
Depending on the industry in which you work, potential/existing employees may not conform to generation specific indicators as readily.
While much has been written about the Millennial generation as it pertains to their digital native status and coexistence with technology, not all of them will pursue (or have an interest in) technology-focused industries. For instance, as technology intensive as healthcare may be, Millennials seeking roles within our organization might have varied professional interests that utilize technology differently.
Some individuals may find cutting edge technology to be reason enough to pursue certain careers, while others may be more interested in leading a team or working with clients. Some want both. Our job is to ensure that the right person finds the right role to be successful.
What To Do: Building Relationships
When we sit down to actively manage/develop current employee performance or when recruiting or interviewing, it can be valuable to know the demographic information of the person across the table. Unfortunately, that same information can also be used to oversimplify our decisions and expedite the hiring process, which is not always beneficial. We must be careful not to allow sweeping generalizations to cloud our judgment as we try to build relationships and understand people who are interested in working with our organizations on an individual basis.
By utilizing personality tests, manager feedback, self-surveys, and strong onboarding practices, we can work to understand our employees first and then, if the moment makes sense, we can reference generation specific indicators to help guide our decisions as needed.
Sometimes the generational indicators will be a perfect match and sometimes they will not – as an HR leader, I know you will be able to find the perfect time to apply them (or set them aside) to do what is best.