This is part 2 of a 3 part series around The Future of Organizations.
I have fifteen millennials in my family. Multiple that by the number of young family friends I've met at gatherings, leading to a fantastic research pool! A recent trip to my stepdaughter's college graduation gave me a chance to understand how millennials interact with society, their desire for unconditional acceptance, connectivity, and free expression.
The post-graduation activities led us to a hip restaurant where Shelby worked, and the "What are you going to do now?" conversation began. With a human resources degree now in hand and a good head on her shoulders, she was ready to move forward into her career field. Unfortunately, her experience with the ongoing job search was not as fruitful as she had hoped.
Shelby had already turned down a couple of offers. One company told her there were no breaks and they worked long hours. "We are workaholics here!". Whereas those words would be music to the ears of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Shelby was drained by the thought of it.
"I would be a slave working for $9.00 an hour, and for what? There's no life to be had. No friends, family. Just work. They don't have any social responsibility activities going on. It's not even worth it!"
She was hopeful about the next interview where the leader seemed really interested in her ideas and enthusiaism. She also described how the company was focused on well-being and a more "normal" work schedule. (I should reveal that she got an offer and took the job two weeks later).
The evening was rich with dialogue and hugging. Boundaries between work and personal life did not exist here. Workers in the restaurant flocked to our table, congratulating Shelby affectionately while interacting with others at the table (and us old people too). I could see the authentic care and appreciation between everyone. Their words were accepting and grateful, calling out memories and future dreams that had obviously been vetted way before graduation night.
I struck up a conversation with one of Shelby's friends, who was sporting a diagonally striped red/black tie and blaring orange argyle socks. Although I was tempted to question him on his clothing choice, I opted to take a different approach.
"I've been doing some work on multiple generations in the workplace, and I noticed how your tie and socks are so respresentative of millennials. Where older generations might choose to see it as contrary, it makes complete sense to you and other millennials. You have courage."
The friend was appreciative of the understanding, and I was immediately welcomed into his world of thinking. Surprisingly, he shared that he had been fired from this same restaurant a couple of weeks ago. He disclosed that he used a manager's code to give a customer a 10% discount, which was a no-no. Although the restaurant had advertised the discount and the manager was not available to enter the code on the bill, he felt that he was justified to break the rules in order to meet the customer commitment.
Now, some of us Baby Boomer/Gen X'er folks might say the termination was deserved because the rules were broken, but I would argue that this young man was faced with a social dilemna, and he chose to support the customer. He didn't break the rules for the sake of being oppositional, he just saw people as more important. His act of social responsibility was seen as rebellion by a Gen X manager.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I mean, how many Gen X'ers pushed back against baby boomer parents by hiding in rooms, listening to that brazen music by Van Halen or Motley Crue, desiring freedom of expression and wanting to shout the lyrics out loud without getting the belt. Or how about the movie, "Footloose", where we idolized Kevin Bacon for leading the devilish dancing revolution and freedom from oppression?
This young man's friends saw him as Kevin Bacon- a hero.
I witnessed person after person greeting him and welcoming him into the dialogue as affectionately as they approached Shelby. He was unconditionally accepted by his peers and former co-workers.
We can glean a few lessons in this scenario:
1. Trump the rules- Maintain the relationship.
Millennials are more focused on doing what's right in order to maintain the relationship. They will trump rules that seem silly or out of touch in order to accommodate people and social responsibility. They are annoyed by people who are skeptical and rule driven, especially when a rule exists because "that's the way it's always been".
2. Authenticity and freedom of expression are a part of the DNA.
Millennials don't feel the need to flower up anything, they like to be transparent, candid, and to the point. They are annoyed by people who are not that way (hence, the reason they struggle with corporate politics). One way or another, expression will happen.
3. High value on social recognition and positivity.
They have been taught to be positive, recognizing people and placing a high value on social recognition because it breeds even more positivity, which is where Millennials are very comfortable. They like to know what they are doing well- frequently.
4. Responsive to a curious approach.
In organization development, we could equate this to the art of appreciative inquiry as a way to communicate with them. It takes time for some millennials to respond to questions because we have been guilty of not asking for their opinions- a lot of times we are telling them what to do. Thinking for oneself truly is a skill that can be learned.
5. Millennials are helping our culture to evolve in the way of connectivity.
In a sense, there is a pure desire to help others through social responsibility. It looks friendlier than it did for previous generations because we have planted the seeds of "the world can be a better place", and Millennials dig this.
We can look at Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as the current pioneers of of this evolution. If the truth be told, we really aren't much different from Millennials. If you take away the titles we have given ourselves to delineate age groups, we find that we all want to connect, we want a certain amount of freedom, we want people to be real with us.
We complain we don't have enough time with our families because of our jobs/responsibilities/yard work. The bottom line is that we all live in choice. Millennials are choosing to live by what they value- connectivity. We can learn from them, and we can gain more traction by support them in this endeavor as they continue to shape the future society that they will be living in.
Then, Millennials will be the pioneers and the cycle will begin again.
I welcome your comments.
Next: How We Can Help Millennials Succeed And Lead The Next Generation