It’s too easy to look at the next generation and boldly declare, “I was never like that at that age!”
The truth is that every generation must overcome the stereotypes that are associated with youth. Each generation will express this with their own nuance because of the values they developed during their formative years. This was impacted by parenting, pop culture, politics and the technology.
The tension is not new. But the reasons for the tension are not the same. Rather than becoming frustrated, a better choice is to become part of the solution.
Across The Board Magazine reports that 63% of top executives say, “Most managers’ careers are stalled because they do not understand others.”
Are things getting lost in translation with your team? Is the generation gap getting bigger instead of smaller? Here are three actions that will make you a more effective bridge.
- The most mature must take the first step. Don’t wait for Millennials to approach you. Approach them with the goal of helping them be successful. A barrier to this is the perception of a lack of respect. Respect is one of the most defining factors across generations.
For older generations, respect was shown by deferring authority and decision-making to elders. For Millennials, the approach is more casual. Respect is exchanged in conversations with one another. It’s more about the relationship than the position. A Millennial sees value, not just with the organization itself, but with the relationships embedded within the organization.
A key barrier to building a healthy relationship is our perception. Our perceptions are based on our assumptions. Assumptions form our biases. They affect our ability to interact with others. Everyone has a tendency to expect others to think the way they do. If we are not aware of this, we can find ourselves becoming inflexible – even antisocial. This can lead to unnecessary conflict.
A Millennial may avoid answering your call and instead text you back. They might wear jeans to a formal event. They might even call you by your first name! How would you interpret that? What you see as disrespectful may actually be a sign of respect for a Millennial.
This generation is more relaxed and enjoys relating to one another – laterally, not hierarchically. They crave flat leadership structures, not stacked ones.
Rather than wait for this generation to relate to you on your terms, make the move to discover a connection.
- Find opportunities to learn about them and their lives…not just their career aspirations. “What do you want to do after you graduate?” This is one of the most daunting questions a college or high school senior is asked. By the time a Millennial graduates, they will be asked what their plans are for their lives countless times. The message is clear: their career matters. And it does.
However, this generation does not want to be defined by their job. Millennials relate to one another through stories. They are the generation of Facebook and Instagram. These are high-tech storyboards. They want to learn about the lives of those they live and work with.
Millennials idealize work-life integration. Work and life are not balanced as much as they are fused together. What they do is not who they are. They are more than their job. For them, work serves their life…not the other way around.
Focus on areas of their lives that are not expressed in the office. Then watch how Millennials will begin to open up to you.
- Recognize they want different things at work than you. Millennials don’t care about everything you care about. And that’s okay. They tend to support causes more than institutions. They value the intrinsic benefits of volunteering. This includes networking (connecting).
They want to gain professional expertise, but at the same time are motivated by more than title or money. They are taking longer to settle down, and in many cases do not consider a house or car even necessary.
The top motivator for this generation is mission and impact. A recent Millennial Impact Report found that 73% of Millennials had volunteered for a nonprofit organization. When asked about their motivations, 79% said they were passionate about the cause or issue. 67% felt they could make a difference. And 56% wanted to connect with like-minded people.
Make the effort to lean into them. Take the time to ask them what their internal motivators are. Are they most alive when traveling, spending time with friends, working on a fulfilling project, or trying something new?
Questions open up the pathway for a better connection. They help bridge the gap. And that is indispensible to leadership.