Human Resources: Don’t Be an ‘Ageist’

Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Katherine Vigneau spent 26+ years in the Canadian Army as a Logistics Officer and Transportation/ Fleet Specialist. A NAFA member/volunteer since 1999, Kate used this experience to shape educational experiences and ensure professional development within the fleet industry. She is currently the Director Professional Development for NAFA and a regular columnist with fleetdigest.

It’s time to embrace the Millennial generation.

As my 24-year-old son shared his experiences with entering the workplace this month, I was reminded of what I thought I knew about Millennials in the workplace and was prompted to take another look at this topic.

Millennial or Y Generation are those born between 1980 and 2000. This group has ballooned and is expected to make up 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020. So this is a topic of interest to many.

Not as “entitled” as some thought

When I reflected on my earlier research and impressions, I recalled that there was some concern about this generation entering the workplace in large numbers. Xers and Boomers alike seemed to think that this generational group felt entitled, was easily distracted and even work-adverse.

Based on personal observation and research, I believe these negative impressions reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of Millennials and how they value and approach work. According to research, 90 percent say they are close to their parents, who had high expectations for them academically, socially, and developmentally. These high expectations, however, transfer to the workplace, where the average Millennial expects to work hard and values promotion and advancement over a financial bonus.

As for the criticism that they are easily distracted, in reality, they are simply able to do several things at once, and do them well.

The truth about Millennials

Rather than dwell on misinterpretations, consider the main traits of this generation:

1. High Technical Literacy – They see technology as the way it is, not something new. They grew up with cell phones, personal computers, IM-ing, text messaging, blogging, and iPods.

2. Multi-Tasking Abilities – This might be misinterpreted as a short attention span, but they are bored unless they are juggling many tasks simultaneously.

3. Hard Work is Expected – They are accustomed to being focused and working hard at everything.

4. Power of the Pack – They band together and like to work and socialize in groups.

5. Authority’s Okay – They like their parents and don’t have a lot of authority issues. They easily accept hierarchy and seem to have a natural affinity with their grandparents, and older people in general.

With this in mind, rather than being concerned about the growing numbers of Millennials in the workplace, progressive organizations are embracing the challenge and planning for their differences. These organizations recognize that you can work best with this generation by ensuring that they have challenging work that is meaningful.

Naturally, they will need to be oriented to the organization’s culture and not just the job, so these organizations provide information on business protocol and unwritten rules. Employers also create an environment where Millennials can excel by celebrating milestones and small successes, encouraging friendships, and making the workplace fun for them, while, at the same time, providing structure, objectives, and timelines.

My son is a pretty typical Millennial and his stories of his first two weeks in the workplace corroborate this line of thought. At a Toronto-based Fleet Management Company, he is in the midst of an extensive six-week on-boarding process where expectations and challenges go hand-in-hand.

He has enjoyed a company-provided birthday bash for all employees with an October birthday and been taken out by management twice for working lunches. He has formed a good relationship with his peer mentor and is excited to be part of the team.

Google and Apple are regarded as leaders in providing an environment where Millennials can excel. With Boomers heading out the door and Millennials flooding in, what is your organization doing to accommodate them?

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