SXSW Series: Maximizing a Millenial Workforce

Pyxl Leadership Team_SXSWLast weekend, the Pyxl leadership team took South by Southwest Interactive by storm, and now we’d like to provide a recap on our trip to Austin, from the perspective of each department in a SXSW Recap Series. First up, HR Manager Brenna shares lessons learned from her most memorable session, “Praise and A’s: Maximizing a Millenial Workforce,” with speakers Jennifer Selke and Tim Street.

Praise and A’s: Maximizing and Millenial Workforce, Jennifer Selke & Tim Street

Being that Pyxl has a millennial workforce, I was interested in this session to learn more about ways others were fostering creative and innovative environments.

The session was designed to engage millennials and non-millennials in an open dialogue about millennials in the workplace.  In the context of this session, Millennials or Generation-Y were defined as those born between 1980-2000.  Terms that came up to describe millennials included:  entitled, arrogant, spoiled, bright, teachable and confident.   It was said that 75% of millennials will find their job online, and 73% will want a job they can make an impact in.

Some interesting suggestions and observations from those in this session include:

1. Most millennials are afraid to ask questions.  But why? Millenials want to prove that they can do it, there seems to be a fear of appearing incompetent or having a manager think they can’t problem solve. Employers are encouraged to have specific programs designed to make it easier and acceptable to ask questions. Mentor relationships between tenured employees and millennials is an easy way to create a safe environment for millennials to ask questions and seek advice.

2.  Fitting into the bigger picture.  Most millennials want to know how their day-to-day tasks fit into the bigger picture of the organization.  Millennials will often lose interest and leave a job if they don’t believe there job is having an impact on something bigger.

It seems there is a big generational gap regarding the ability to make an impact. The comment that struck my nerve the hardest is when someone in the audience asked, “When I interview millennials, they keep saying that they want to make an impact.. what does that mean? I don’t understand what they want.” This made my jaw drop a little bit; is “making an impact” that much of a foreign concept? I agree that it is hard to help employees make an impact but not understanding what it means baffled me; I was hoping for something more along the lines of, “How do I help millennials understand they are making an impact?” That is a great question that I hope every manager asks themselves!  Millennials want to make a difference in an organization; they want their part recognized. A great way to do this is to explain to them how their part fits into the big picture and aligns with the end goals of the company. Even on a project level, show some visibility into the end goal so they can understand how their part works to create the finished product. Most importantly, try to listen to their ideas. I feel like this part is lost on many older managers. Just because they are young doesn’t mean they can’t have a great suggestion to make a process more efficient.

3.  Lack of work decorum.  Most millennials lack a basic understanding of workplace rules including an understanding of basic rules of engagement with their boss and co-workers.  Some millennials still rely on their parents to communicate on their behalf including some extreme examples of millennials bringing their parents to interviews and the workplace to decorate their offices.

While untended, this session seemed to bash millennials more than help with understanding the significant contributions millennials can make in a workplace.

On this note, I wanted to add in a few more opinions and frustrations that this session had fueled.

Don’t assume everyone knows.

Keep in mind that this job is probably a millennial’s first. Just because it is obvious to you, doesn’t mean that they are aware of the problem they may be causing. Have an open conversation; you will be surprised by the change in behavior if they are aware of how it affects others. This thought comes from an audience member who had mentioned a copywriter not realizing that when they took longer to finish their part, the designer had to stay late each time. The designer kept saying “she surely knows,” but it turns out she didn’t, and once she was made aware the situation, it was no longer an issue.

This goes hand in hand with the lack of work place decorum issue, don’t assume they know best practices. Tell them what is required of them when coming into the office, include it in your onboarding process. Be upfront with them and layout what is expected of them in the day to day.

All of these points, however, revolve around one singular point, the importance of communication. Stop assuming things and plopping millenials to find their own way, there will always be problems if a manager doesn’t communicate their expectations of someone.

Open Communication is huge.

During our discussion of “helicopter moms,” one of the speakers gave an example that really rubbed me the wrong way. It was about a new hire who was found with her mom re-decorating the office they put her in with rugs, shelves and paintings. The punch line was that they had nowhere else to put her, and it was a temporary office that she would be moving out of in a month. They laughed at this story and the girl for “being a typical millennial”. However, I attribute it to a total lack of communication by her manager and inability to set expectations. Everyone is so quick to judge the Millennial generation for wanting to jump in with both feet, when many of the problems really stem from a lack of communication. I can’t stress enough how important open conversations and transparency are when teaming with millennials.

I really noticed a big disconnect between the generations, and it of course didn’t help when a millennial audience member kept saying, “You give me too much trust, and I’m just going to go on Facebook.” But he has a point. We live in a world filled with distractions, but the great thing is millennials have been raised to multi-task and navigate through them. Managers need to make sure clear deadlines are set, and expectations are made early on.  If you give them all the tools to build the boat but don’t leave them any instructions, of course there are going to be mistakes. I’m not talking about micro-managing them, but rather be their guide. Set intermittent goals to show them that they are making progress. You will be surprised by what you will learn in the process too.

Our experience is that millennials enjoy building and maintaining a workplace culture that is full of fun, passion and loyalty while ultimately understanding that they can have an impact on their companies despite having limited previous work experience.  Millennials are flexible and have a yearning to innovate and try new things. This kind of mentality is how a company stays relevant!

We say, “Hire more millennials!” — they are the future of the workplace!