Workplace lessons: Millennials have a lot to teach us

Rebecca Weitzel
Rebecca Weitzel

My oldest son is a millennial, a member of the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s that’s been labeled entitled, lazy and in need of constant praise. Before you feel sorry for me, though, here are some other facts about my son: he graduated from college debt-free, moved out voluntarily and recently landed his first career job.

Despite the negative stereotypes, millennials are also known for being caring, innovative and socially conscious. Since millennials are expected to comprise 75 percent of the work force in just over seven years, we older folks could benefit from learning from their perspectives, especially when it comes to work.

Consider these lessons:

Lesson one: It’s essential for employers to care about their employees as people.

This might seem obvious. But traditionally, caring about employees beyond what they can offer the business hasn’t been thought of as an employer’s responsibility.

After my son got his job, he highlighted for me the reasons he likes it. None was related to perks or pay. Instead, he raved about how the welcome committee took him to lunch and made sure he felt connected. He described his supervisor’s patience during training. He shared how his boss showed concern rather than annoyance when he called in sick with a stomach bug.

Turns out caring is not only the nice thing to do, it’s also a great retention tool. Despite the reputation millennials have for job-hopping, the loyalty my son feels, born of the kindness he’s experienced from his current employer, has influenced him to stay despite other opportunities.

It’s not just millennials who want to feel cared for at work. Most people prefer to stick around in caring environments over indifferent or hostile ones. A great way for employers to demonstrate care is to promote employee well-being programs. A growing body of evidence shows organizations with effective wellness programs retain employees longer than those without such programs.

Lesson two: Working smarter is better than working longer.

Many of us in the baby boom or X generations cling to the notion that to get ahead, you’ve got to put in more time. Since we dutifully followed the path of working long hours as we trudged toward success, we typically aren’t pleased with people who take short cuts.

Millennials, however, grew up technologically savvy, always looking for efficient ways to do things. They aren’t impressed with co-workers who burn the midnight oil doing things the old way. They celebrate the colleague who hacks her way to effectively completing a project in half the usual time and leaves early. They recognize peak performance and productivity are less a function of time than focus, innovation and creativity.

When employers measure output over hours worked, benefits like flexible schedules — something millennials reportedly value more than pay or promotions — become more of a viable option,  empowering employees to better integrate work and life and promoting overall well-being.

And healthier people lead to healthier businesses. A study conducted by the University of California Riverside  demonstrated an actual causal link between increased employee health and increased productivity.

Lesson three: Purpose and growth matter as much or more than a paycheck.

According to experts, millennials grew up in uncertain times and, as a result, care about making the most of every moment. They’re not satisfied with going through the motions to earn a paycheck. They want to add value to the company, seek personal and professional growth opportunities and care deeply about social causes.

Purpose-driven organizations that provide regular feedback about how employee efforts align with the overall mission and those that contribute to the world can inspire all employees, not just millennials, to bring their best selves to work every day. Moreover, companies that invest in the personal and professional growth of their teams reap the rewards as skill levels expand to better serve the company and loyalty skyrockets, turning employees into brand ambassadors.

While it remains to be seen how long my son will stick with his current job, one thing’s for sure: He would quickly look elsewhere if he felt no one cared about him or his contributions. The truth is, many of us older people feel the same way. Organizations that recognize this and choose to design cultures around caring, innovation, flexibility and purpose are those in which employees and bottom lines are apt to flourish.