What millennials get right

Sep 17, 2018

The new generation brings a lot to the table, much of it good, so lighten up, be honest, and enjoy yourself as you roll up your sleeves and work.

By 2020, nearly half (46 percent) of all U.S. workers will be millennials. They outnumber baby boomers by 7.7 million according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate. As a baby boomer, I sometimes find that rather frightening in light of all the press discussions regarding the many things that millennials do poorly.

However, given that almost half of our firm’s staff are millennials and that we are still successful, they obviously have more redeeming qualities than are sometimes reported. Granted their attributes may be different than mine, but then again, were we not different than the generation before us? I am convinced that millennials get more things right than we have given them credit for. Here are my top 10 millennial takeaways:

  1. In work/life/play, there must be balance. I actually think that millennials reorder this as play/life/work balance. We boomers talk about balance, but to be successful we focused on career above all else, many times with a personal cost in other areas of our life. Rarely do I say that I should have worked more versus taking more time for myself and my family, so why should I criticize millennials for doing what I wanted to do myself?
  2. Having a voice in the conversation is critical. Millennials are not intimidated by their elders. They talk openly and candidly. Some see that style as intrusive or that millennials expect to have greater standing than they actually have. In truth, I have come to recognize that millennials simply want a voice – their voice – to be included in company discussions. Their careers are as dependent on our decisions as older staff, so obtaining their input only has positive implications.
  3. Feeling younger is a benefit to us. You are not their age anymore, so you cannot and probably should not act like them. At the same time, they do not feel that you are being intrusive if you can lighten up and just relate. Take advantage of their energy and enthusiasm as it will make you feel younger and less burdened.
  4. They expect honesty. Millennials do not accept imposters, nor do they tolerate people who are fake in how they interact with them. That is a refreshing quality. Regardless of whether the news is good or bad, they just want to know what the news is. I think we would have all benefited from that if our predecessors had been more open and honest early in our careers.
  5. They want to give back. Community giveback is very important to millennials and can be just as important to the firm as it connects the firm with its client base. Facilitating opportunities for them to be engaged promotes them and the firm.
  6. Respect the golden rule. If anything, millennials expect us to treat them the way we want to be treated – with respect. They know the golden rule of being treated with tolerance, consideration, and compassion. Anything less is disheartening, discouraging, and duplicitous.
  7. They expect diversity and equality. Millennials understand that they do not live in a homogeneous world and thus they expect the workforce within your firm to reflect that diversity. Similarly, they expect to be judged based on their contributions and not on gender, ethnicity, or social standing. If you focus on contribution, the true performers within the firm will rise to the top.
  8. They want continuous feedback. Millennials crave feedback and want to know what they have done right or wrong as it happens, not during some remote formal review. We might view this immediate desire for input as needy, but correcting bad behavior as it happens tends to stop bad acts just as reinforcing good behavior will lead toward more positive results. All that is good for you and the firm.
  9. They want to know about their opportunities. They want to know how to be promoted, how to get raises and bonuses, how to get on more complex projects, and how they can improve firm operations. In our business, ambition and entrepreneurism are good traits so why would we think that their request for opportunities is a threat to the firm? Just because we were scared early in our careers to ask these same questions does not mean these are bad questions for someone to ask.
  10. The status quo is to be challenged. Millennials never want to hear that we are doing something just because that is what we have always done. They see rapid changes in everything around them, yet our industry tends to move at a slower pace to develop and adopt new approaches to our work. Let the millennials ask the “what if” questions as they are probably in the best position to think outside the box. It is then incumbent upon us to evaluate their input and not simply dismiss their challenges to the status quo out of hand.

Highly successful firms revolve around building teams from individuals of character – candidates with natural instincts to be responsive and communicative, to act and speak with respect, to serve our communities, and to seek the same attributes in their work family. Millennials have these traits and it is incumbent on us to recognize and welcome them as the future leaders of our industry.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock, and San Antonio. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

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