Milennials make up a majority of the workforce, and that’s not a bad thing

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Print this page By Steve Skinner, general manager, Skanska

One of the most significant milestones of 2015 may have slipped by you: the Bureau of Labor Statistics cited that millennials (the generation born between 1981 and 1997) became the largest generation in the workforce.

As many of us have heard over and over again, in just a few years millennials will move into a position of dominance, making up more than half of the workforce. It will be crucial for business executives to successfully manage and mentor this increasingly important generation.

If you’re not a millennial and view this news with alarm, don’t. I have extensive experience in working with and mentoring millennials. They bring many great attributes and skills to the workplace.

So how do you successfully embrace this generation?

Start with the hiring process. Be prepared to make some changes to accommodate this new generation. For example, adapt working conditions, in terms of hours and location, or demonstrate the importance of working in a specific location at specific hours.

But most important, don’t focus on the differences between generations and rather focus on the many similarities and benefits millennials bring to the workplace.

Even as new members of the workforce, they often know new and better ways of doing things, thanks in large part to their familiarity and skill with modern communication tools. Those born after 1990 have been surrounded by technology from laptops and tablets to smartphones and other handheld devices. Obviously, this generation is very technologically savvy. They’re used to fast-paced communications and to using the Internet to find answers, making them informed consumers and workers.

Let’s be clear, along with the benefits the millennials present some challenges. Their belief in speed in communication sometimes diminishes their critical thinking. You cannot Google everything. They view the workplace as a flat organizational chart, without hierarchy.

I once had an intern in accounting ask me on his second day on the job if I was available for coffee with him. I believe that as managers and leaders, we want to have open-door policies — most of the time. But, when the time is not right, or a certain amount of hierarchy is required, millennials have a difficult time understanding those boundaries. So, finding an acceptable balance is important. 

This is the generation of the participation trophy and the “10th place ribbon.” They have a higher expectation for recognition, even if it seems to be the equivalent of “good job.” Are you telling them they did a good job? Or are you assuming they know it already? Maybe in the past it didn’t need to be said, but in today’s workforce environment positive reinforcement goes a long way. It’s not about gushing over their every accomplishment. It’s just meeting them halfway to let them know they did a good job. Conversely, when they fall short or miss completely, there’s a different kind of reinforcement that needs to happen.

These young professionals also bring a need for a sense of purpose to what they do, even in an introductory role in a company. They need to understand why things are being done, and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, with responsibility and clearly defined and measurable goals. In some ways, don’t we all, regardless of age or generation grouping, want to work with a purpose?

Everyone wants an environment where they feel secure and appreciated. Show them trust and be trustworthy in return. Be prepared to listen and to interact, even explaining decisions that used to be accepted without question. Make it clear you want to know what they know; you should also give them a chance to demonstrate their problem-solving abilities. 

Be prepared to ask them how their career map is going, not just your company’s strategic plan. Even with this individual attention and recognition, be prepared to see many of them move on. Forty percent of millennials expect a promotion every one to two years, and they anticipate 10 job changes or more in their lifetime.

Millennials will eventually play a leading role in the most diverse workforce we’ve ever seen, with eighty-somethings working alongside twenty-somethings.

One more thing — keep an eye on the next generation right around the corner — GenZ. They will change the world.

Steve Skinner is executive vice president and general manager of Skanska USA Building’s DC office.. He is a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Urban Land Institute (ULI), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), and the Washington Building Congress.

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