On Millennials in Business (and Beyond) . . .

This week, I attended a stimulating “Lunch n’ Learn” hosted by the Saskatoon Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Host Jacqueline Gallagher (VP of Recruiting, David Aplin) chaired a discussion that featured Alex Fallon (President and CEO of Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority [SREDA]) and Derek Lothian (VP of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters; and Executive Director of the recently formed Saskatchewan Manufacturers’ Centre of Excellence [SMCoE]).

You could say that the topic was not original. What Millennials are like in the workplace has been debated for years (Millennials were earlier called “Gen Y,” those age 33 and under, or born between 1981 and 2000). By contrast to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the discussion focused on what Millennials’ contributions will be. What aspirations, values and practices they have. Since I meet Millennials frequently in the work that I do, I gladly took in the talk.

Gallagher provided the background that there are 8.9 Million Millennials in Canada, who account for 29% of our labour force. Their life defining events have included 9/11, the Digital Age (since they embrace the technology they were raised with) and the Global Financial Crisis. Although it’s ultimately reductive to characterize a generation in this way, Gallagher (citing Karsh and Templin’s book, Manager 3.0: Millennials’ Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management) reported that Millennials tend to be collaborative (working in teams rather than alone). They are often flexible in their work (e.g. often valuing family time more than work time). They are often transparent (sharing information that they know with peers). Evidence shows that they are casual in their approach to work (preferring an informal office environment). And they seek balance in their lives (perhaps not “balancing” work with life, so much as integrating work with it). The Millennials whom I shared discussion at the event were also obviously often tech-savvy and confident. Gallagher said that they tend to “vote with their feet,” if a job or organization does not meet their needs and interests.

The same study Gallagher said that this generation is concerned about how things get done. But they often don’t care about why or when.

Fallon and Lothian, like Gallagher, are Millennials themselves, but shared insights borne of their experience working in the high stakes government of the UK and Ontario.

Here are a few insights that Lothian shared, which have remained with me:

–What we think of as work/life balance is in fact dead (for Millennials and older generations alike), because of the mobile tech age. (Who doesn’t both start and end the day with their mobile devices?)

–Companies now value effectiveness, and that is not the same thing as efficiency. (You can be efficient at work but that is not necessarily being effective.)

–For this generation (now making inroads in managerial positions), ideas are easy to come by, but it’s not enough to have a good idea—you must be able to enact it and prove yourself, in the process. “Great ideas don’t change the world; initiatives do” (Lothian).

–Millennials often want to team up with people who balance their lives and in particular those for whom work is not the first of their priorities.

–Credibility and capability coincide for Millennials. So do fear and credibility (heading into Seth Godin, perhaps?)

–The most crucial skill is “change management.” Change management is crucial. (Lothian cited the Psychology study of the monkeys in a cage with a banana positioned at the top of a ladder.) Cultures are the products of behaviours. (In his example, the monkey enclosure became a violent space, since the animals fighting behaviour long surpassed the removal of the banana). Our culture changes markedly as the behaviours of youth change.

–Millennialism is not the same across other cultures and we shouldn’t assume otherwise.

–By 2050, more than one million people will live in Saskatoon—different cultures’ Millennials and subsequent generations will have much to teach us.

Are you a Millennial? Do you have experience working with or reporting to a Millennial? Do you find revealing patterns in this generation’s approach to business? What do you think unifies those born after 1980 with earlier generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, etc.)?

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