The point that ‘Millennials are different’ is one that has been made many times before – and questioned on occasions too. Since 24 June and the results of the EU Referendum, however, there is a new point to be made about this age group. Millennials are angry. This doesn’t, perhaps, make them so unique. Along with bewilderment, confusion and speculation, the UK has seen a great deal of anger since 24 June. Given the racist nature of some of this anger, it would be optimistic to think the public mood will be calm and orderly in any great hurry.
But a large part of the Millennial’s current vocal rage has a specific focus: given the different voting patterns of younger and older generations, the Millennials have filled the social media space with anger at their elders. “They’ve stolen our future” is just one example.
But Millennials aren’t just on social media, they don’t just use technological platforms to voice their concerns. Their anger and fear of the change and uncertainty surrounding them can also spill into the workplace. Perhaps it already has.
In a workplace context, Millennials are seen as a different challenge for managers. Valuing flexibility and autonomy, we are told, they are likely to change jobs frequently. The jury remains out, however, as to why – most age groups have changed jobs more frequently in their earlier working years, particularly when they are focused on promotion and career progressions. A world that expects employees to follow portfolio careers can’t complain too loudly when they do, especially where organisations may offer jobs but not necessarily careers: long-term commitment cuts both ways. And to counter low engagement, companies may not need to treat Millennials so differently: as Forbes commented last year:
[…] key drivers that motivate all employees include: providing rewarding work experience, aligning to individual job strengths and providing learning opportunities in the workplace.”
We believe that the answers to these issues are in good management, mostly at the level of the line manager – the person with the greatest impact on our working experience.
Here are some tips to the managers presently dealing with a whirlwind of emotions in their teams:
Improving the Employee Value Proposition (and, indeed, the employees’ actual workplace experience) means not just talking – no matter how good the game being talked – but listening. To rectify a problem, you must first understand it. And you must understand that diversity is at play in its broadest sense: there is no universal ‘right job’, just as there is no universal ‘most effective management or leadership style.’ Adaptability is required.
Diversity extends to emotional responses, too. As well as angry, some staff (and particularly those most likely to be directly affected) may feel anxious, upset or concerned for their futures. It is important that their feelings are heard and acknowledged, and that counselling or support are available where this is a real need.
In the immediate context of Brexit and All That Follows, employers will need to keep their ears open widely and sensitively. While we all value emotional intelligence, we experience it less often than we might hope: the strength of feeling around the fall-out from the Brexit vote should not be under-estimated. Millennials with existing grievances may register and display them more strongly than before: we may even see inter-generational abuse in some workplaces.
What is important for organisations – including the small number who may be considering or planning relocation from one country to another as a result of the Brexit vote – is a commitment to communicate clearly and frequently, providing updates as and when they become available. In a world that echoes with speculation, communicating factual information calmly is vitally important: change, and the potential for it, breeds anxiety that needs to be countered with reassurance. (Organisations that chose to offer a company position in advance of the referendum might, however, wish to follow this up with a revised position that acknowledges the result while conveying the reassurance that – for now, at least – nothing significant is likely to be changing.)
Many workplaces may include Millennials from EU countries who now feel uncertain or unwelcome, and employers need to communicate clearly – to everyone – that they are as welcome as before and to reassure them that no changes of legal resident status are imminent, or even definite in the longer-term. Workers from other EEA countries (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) and UK staff working in EU countries should receive the same reassurance: there are no current short-to-medium-term implications for them.
Until real change happens – and the UK has so far not produced an Exit Strategy – it will, however, feel as if it is already in effect: the uncertainty that characterises its early stages will be widely evident. The skills of change management – emotional intelligence, clear communication, openness and honesty to retain trust – will be required even before change begins.
A change of approach
We recognise millennials are different – we hear it often enough. We also recognise that baby boomers and Generation X had their own set of workplace experiences and issues. Leading and developing individuals effectively depends on understanding them as individuals, recognising that job design should take into account both preferences and strengths, and understanding that ‘one size fits all’ is not a meaningful reward and recognition strategy.
Moreover, the line manager is often tasked with coaching, mentoring and developing their team – individually and collectively – without receiving any previous management training. How can we expect our current leaders and managers to build and develop the capabilities of their successors without any support themselves?
To find out more about the customised inclusive leadership and management development programmes we create for our clients, and our comprehensive and rigorous evaluation services, call us on 01234 757575 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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