Recent college graduates are jumping at opportunities for leadership, if not creating those opportunities themselves. That kind of energy can be an immense advantage in the workplace. But as you may already have noticed in your own office, that fire sometimes is misdirected.
Today’s most promising young employees are competitive and driven. They have intense five-, 10- and 30-year plans. These self-imposed deadlines to achieve success often are lofty, to say the least. It isn’t unusual for a set of goals to sound a bit like this: “After I graduate, I’ll work for two years, then go to b-school. I’ll become a partner by the time I’m 30, buy a second home in Boca and be retired by 50!“
Startup leaders and seasoned employers alike know that accomplishment comes after countless hours of trial, error and hard-learned experience. It’s an invaluable process that can be gained only over time. Still, you’d be remiss to dismiss millennial spirit as youthful ignorance or arrogance. Instead, realize its depth and capitalize on it. As you build your team from the ground up, you’ll see the benefits for other employees and the future of your company itself.
Understand typical millennial downfalls so you can diminish them without overreacting.
By now, employees of all ages can fall victim to the Facebook time-suck. But millennials are much more likely to be tuned into platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Their instinct is to regularly check these apps, which usually have no real use in the workplace.
While it’s certainly annoying to see an employee playing with the puppy filter when he or she should be finishing a soon-due report, choose your battles wisely. As long as people are getting their work done correctly and on time, don’t micromanage how they spend occasional minutes throughout the day. However, if you notice the iPhone is taking precedence over actual work, it’s more than acceptable to call out the behavior. Constant app-refreshers may not even realize how often they habitually do it.
Provide access (when possible) to cool, meaningful opportunities.
Entry-level employees know their tasks won’t be glamorous, and they don’t expect a seat at every important meeting. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. It’s one of the reasons millennials are so eager to climb up the ladder: The faster they get through the groan-worthy, ground-level stuff, the faster they can be done with it. Forever.
That mindset can be a real point of irritation for leaders. You trudged through relentless grunt detail before reaching your current stage — and the work’s just begun. Understand that young employees aren’t trying to take shortcuts because they want to work less. Rather, many are itching to work more. They simply want to spend their time on jobs that carry real importance.
A 2016 New York Times piece exploring companies run by millennials found that 20-somethings who value their work are willing to spend countless hours at the office, fine-tuning their projects to perfection. A Mic employee told the reporter, “People are here from morning to night, and we don’t want to leave.”
Don’t shut the door on these employees and give them the textbook, “You’ll get here eventually” speech. Leave the door cracked open. Young people who are allowed some involvement in more meaningful projects will make the most of these small opportunities. The experience will prepare them for larger responsibilities.
Let their passions fuel their fire.
Millennials are fueled by the issues that matter to them. That might strike you as self-centered upon the first read, but consider the significance of the global events to which millennials commit themselves. They’re incensed by social inequalities, bias in the press and mistreatment of animals, to name a few. As a generation, millennials have a wealth of opinions and unlimited data at their fingertips. The internet has given them a platform to both develop and share their thoughts.
My nonprofit, 1,000 Dreams Fund, provides grants to girls who want to pursue their academic and professional dreams. Our social-media team often engages with young women via Twitter. They’re eager to talk about their goals: Bring peace to war-torn regions by becoming a diplomat. Graduate medical school and perform life-saving surgeries. Be the first person in her family to attend college.
On the whole, young people have very good intentions, and they want to improve the world. Don’t extinguish that fire. Encourage your employees to explore their personal interests. To the extent possible, incorporate those passions into their work. Maybe that means the sales team creates discounted offers for underprivileged consumers or the marketing team builds a campaign around a philanthropic effort.
If you don’t find a way to encourage their creativity and passion, millennials will put those assets to work elsewhere. Wouldn’t you rather see that light shine from within your own company?