Understanding Millennials


There’s a slew of articles that bust myths and debunk millennial stereotypes. What readers fail to realize is that these articles are lessons learned from non-millennials. As accurate as the observations may be, millennial perspective is rarely included to explain why or how we are the way we are. While last week I shared dos and don’ts for millennials using lessons learned from my experience, this week I’m offering tips from other government millennials to give our colleagues and supervisors some ideas on how to work with us, manage us, and/or understand us.

We struggle with the concept of seniority. We come from backgrounds based on skill and competency. It’s strange for us to belong a workplace where there are certain perks (like window cubes or desk sizes), justifications, or authority based on tenure. Especially in circumstances where it’s authority by seniority, we’re not being rude or disrespectful if we push back. We’re just trying to figure out how things work.

Let us to try to implement one of our ideas. Millennials are a generation that likes to try ideas, even if they fail. If our idea fails, then we’ve learned something very important. If our idea succeeds, then everyone has learned something. As government becomes agile, our innate ability to try, learn, and adapt could make us helpful allies…or guinea pigs.

Our brains work differently. We think differently. We’re going to do things differently. To us, it doesn’t matter how we get things done or how we arrive at the solution. It’s more important that we get there in the first place. If the methodology or the process matters, explain that. Chances are, we didn’t know there was a methodology or a process in the first place.

Train us on standard operating procedures before turning us loose, especially for your office’s legacy systems and technologies. It’s second nature for us to click around until we learn how something works. The flip side of this means that we break things. It could be dangerous and risky to let us poke around, especially if the systems and technologies have specific sensitive procedures or irreproducible single-copy data/information. Want to blow our minds? Show us a real fax machine and teach us how to use it.

Treat and respect us as your peer, not your kid’s friend. We know we’re young. We know you might have children our age, or close to our age, but we’re also your colleague. As strange or awkward as it may be for you, know that it’s just as odd for us to be on first-name basis with people for whom we previously would address by titles.

Don’t mistake our requests for engagement or feedback as neediness. We have been spoiled by our ability to obtain real-time feedback and data in our personal lives. It makes sense to us that we should be able to obtain real-time data on our performance at work. When we submit reports, make presentations, or turn work in, we’re likely to follow-up with you for feedback—and we want real constructive honest feedback, not praise. Use these opportunities for one-on-one coaching sessions to help us enhance our skills.

Review and revamp training campaigns and materials that use statistics and data for shock value. This is especially important for violence awareness programs (like active shooter or antiterrorism courses) that use shock-and-awe. Shock-and-awe doesn’t work for us. Contrary to popular opinions held by pundits, parental associations, and watchdog organizations, this dissociation or desensitization isn’t because of violent video games or violent movies. It’s because of real violence and the long dark shadows it has cast on our childhoods. Consider the following facts about the current cohort of millennials entering the workforce now or who have entered the workforce within the last six years:

  • Columbine High School happened when we were in grade school. Active shooter drills have been an annual occurrence since before our permanent teeth came in.
  • September 11th happened when we were in middle school. World affairs and terrorism became part of our daily vernacular since before we learned about American civics.
  • Virginia Tech happened when we were in high school. College tours and orientation sessions highlighted safety, security features, and alert systems before academics and extracurricular programming.

See, the millennial generation could be a very cynical disillusioned one since we became keenly aware of The Real World at such young ages. It’s not at all unlikely that the ripple effects from these moments allowed us to develop unique perspectives. These perspectives may cause us to question the status quo in the office so when you get frustrated, know that we only mean well. But above all, know that our end goals are the same as yours; to make a positive difference and to serve our communities.

Meganne Lemon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Are Millennials not curious about how others work? Differences could be generational to individual. We see so many articles about how to treat Millennials. Does it go the other way around?

For instance:
– Some of us expect you to discuss your differing opinions and ideas, not push them. You’ve had coaches and teachers, so the concept of “seniority” is not foreign. While encouraging ideas and discussion is valued by many, everyone has to respect the person in charge of making the final decision.

– If you’re working for an organization or boss who doesn’t allow you to offer ideas or help the organization grow, you’re working for the wrong people. Asking them to respect you isn’t going to change them. In fact, don’t expect to change people. Be ready to influence and be influenced.

– Please stop making us out to be alien to each other. We may have different values and methods, but our brains are both human. If there is a methodology, you either learned about it in college or your organization is lacking in training programs. Every employer should offer some sort of training. One more thing, plenty of employers care less about how you arrive at a solution as long as it doesn’t take extra $ out of their budgets.

– Could you – like we all have been told – possibly also learn to ask for help before you dive into new-to-you tech? It’s between people afraid to explore and those who explore too much. No one really wants to ask for help. All of us should be encouraged to do so more.

-Treat and respect us as your peer, not your aunt, uncle, mother, father, grandmother or father. Yeah. Ageism is insulting to us too. As strange or awkward as it may be for you, know that it’s just as odd for us to be on first-name basis with people for whom we previously would address by titles.

– Don’t mistake any sign of impatience as a sign that we don’t value you. We’re used to having a little space to think through anything we may want to share. Make sure to give us a little time before you follow up.

– When faced with shock-and-awe video training, the type of training EVERYONE thinks is corny (except for some odd reason human resources), make sure to filter what is important. You took notes in high school and college. Expect to keep with that trend for the the rest of your life. This is not to dismiss requests for updated material, most organizations get that. Make the request, but be ready for people who can’t or don’t want to spend the money.

-Respect our experience. While you have newness, we have ideas as well, but we also have that experience. Find us analytics or proof of concept to help sell us on your ideas. Don’t expect to run with everything. We’re all part of organizations with limited funds and time.

Some of us remember separate fountains for different types of people.
Some of us didn’t know what a safety warning was. If we swallowed a Lego, all you could do is hope mom or dad could somehow help.
Some of us feared having a nuclear bomb dropped on us at any time. We even had drills where we hid under our desk.
Some of us were in college during 911. Some of us were 30 or 40 or even 50. We wore latex gloves to open mail for a year.
Learn about and ponder these things.

Just like there are lists of what Millennials have lived through, there are lists for other generations that are also readily accessible on the internet. Compare it to your own experiences. What has shocked or scared or pushed you? Take that feeling and try to imagine it at another point in time.

By the way the generation seems to span 20 years or something. Some Millennials are already closing in on 30. Isn’t it time to stop making generalizations about an entire – and very diverse –
younger generation and lumping all the older generations together in one group?

Anyway. After a million and a half articles by Millennials asking older generations understand them, maybe there should be some give and take. Older people want to be understood too.