Just before Valentine’s Day 2014 a young mother shared online a list that her two daughters put together. The list was extensive and extremely thoughtful for a six and seven year old. At the top of the napkin, written in blue pen was the title of their manuscript; list of boyfriend rules. Between the superficial requests of “brushes teeth and floss” and “last name not weird” were several legitimate rules that their boyfriends would succumb to follow. The best one was “not living with parents”, followed by “likes your job”. I hope these cute kids remember these rules and keep their future boyfriends honest!
I have the honor of interacting with college students on a daily basis. A significant portion of that interaction is through teaching a course to Business students at the University of Alabama. After reading the little girls’ list of boyfriend rules, I immediately thought about a list of my own--- list of boss rules!
Over the last year and a half I have collected an assignment titled “30 Things I Want From My Future Boss”. There is no scientific method behind the collection of the data (N=126), nor the subjective means in which it was analyzed (but the results of the lists were so “one-sided” that my margin of error could be 50%). Volunteers aged 20-26 assessed each submission. Each list was broken down item by item and assigned a category. The categories were Recognition, Achievement Orientation, Job Growth Potential, Pay, Job Security, & Work Environment. Volunteers were instructed to make their decision on how to assign items by how they understand their contemporaries to think in terms of the workplace. Having actual Millennials assess the lists created a better sense of understanding when ambiguous and unique items were listed (Nice Ass appeared more than once!).When all the smoke settled, it was very apparent what these Millennials want from their workplace.
After sifting through more than 3000 items, it was determined that Millennials want to work somewhere, and more specifically for someone, who creates a positive work environment. The makings of a positive work environment vary from generation to generation; so, assuming what we view as a great place to work may be a fatal flaw when recruiting, retaining, and rewarding Millennials.
Beginning with the interview, hiring managers can seek “fit” for the prospective candidate within the organization through appropriate questioning concerning work environment. Millennials tend to want a direct supervisor that will develop and nurture a personal relationship with them. Additionally, they need strong communication channels to operate in. Some related research has even implied that relationship and communication is so important and natural for them that they will break the “chain of command” inadvertently. Questions such as, “How would you define the perfect relationship with your direct supervisor?” or “How many times per day would you like to communicate with your boss?”. In line with behavioral questioning that is highly regarded by HR Professionals, a question could be posed like, “When you have encountered a problem at work in the past, explain how the work environment helped or hindered you in getting to a solution.” The answers that hiring managers will most likely see emerge from these questions will reinforce the personal nature and confidence that they have through communicating. With baby boomers exiting the workplace more rapidly each year, the gap left to be filled will result in a large portion of your organization consisting of Millennials in the next five years.
Emotional Intelligence is a science of its own. Millennials will require us to learn that science. Direct supervisors of Millennials entering the workforce will need to adapt to using social skills and more empathy in the workplace. Fostering real relationships and engaging Millennial employees to discuss issues both inside and outside of the workplace will be essential. The type of leader that took shape through the student responses was one that listens, interacts away from work, and understands problems outside of work may arise. The concern that students have about these things, in my opinion, are primarily an attempt to shift the balance from their working parent’s generation of facelessness in moral defunct organizations. Great organizations are practicing strategies to improve Emotional Intelligence in the workplace. If we don’t want these organizations to get, and keep, all the best talent, we have to be more aware of the impact that our social skills and empathy plays when Millennials begin to decide who is an employer of choice.
Two things stood out to me while reading through the responses—(1) Rewards were less about financial gain and more about recognition and (2) Rewards through material goods and perceived status were important in the work environment. Reward structures fail when disparities in outcomes arise. Huge bonuses may have little effect on a Millennial who is continually searching for recognition. Millennials appear to be particularly sensitive to who gets the public praise for a job well done. Dozens of respondents indicated that they wanted a boss that would tell them they did a good job. Individual recognition is the gold standard in the Millennial reward system. Additionally, rewards in the physical environment are important to Millennials as well. They need to see their rewards manifested daily--Tangible evidence of their job well done. For example, cubicle world work environments may be unavoidable, but Millennials will naturally place value on the cubicle closest to the boss or the one with the best view. The underlying motivators of Recognition, Achievement Orientation, and Job Growth Potential are powerfully affected by the end result that they have on their physical environment. Being motivated by terminal values such as recognition, achievement, and job growth add a complicated layer to an already complicated, and often misunderstood generation. Blurring the lines of how Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Model is divided between Motivators and Hygiene Factors, the potential rewards the work environment offers are in direct response to the desire to achieve growth and receive recognition.
We will spend 33% of our entire lives sleeping. We will spend 18 years of our lives in school. Last week, I read that the average person will poop for One Million Minutes over the span of their life. The other half of our life that remains is designed to produce good work that pleases the soul. Certain necessities are assumed by Millennials as a basic right. We are hiring this ambitious, caring group with a responsibility to continue to nurture their confident esteem. Changing them, or attempting to conform them to old ways and staunch corporate cultures is pointless, because to the respect is a basic right, feedback and employee engagement are basic rights, and recognition and equitable rewards are basic rights! Millennials have been empowered by soccer moms and dads who wish they had the guts to act like them. We need this generation to succeed. Together, let’s create an environment in which they have the best chance!
Everybody Can Get a Trophy,