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Zap The Gap

Managing, training and maintaining your sanity with the New Millenium Generation

I was nervous. I mean, I was really nervous. I was about to speak to 1,500 recent college graduates. My client wanted me to give them some guidance on how to be successful in the workplace, including the material handling workplace. I speak to thousands of people every week on the complexities of a multi-generational workforce, and I was never this nervous. The big difference was I was used to talking to Traditionals, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers about how to work with the New Millennium Generation (NMG). Now, I was about to speak to 1,500 NMGs about how they could be successful as they were about to embark on their new careers. This was nerve-racking. They already looked bored—slouching in their chairs, clicking their tongue studs against their teeth and busily text messaging each other.

I put up a PowerPoint slide and read a list of words and phrases: Bad Attitude, Continually Complaining, Gossip, Lazy, Rude, Apathetic, Wants Reward and Wants to Have Fun. I told the group, “This is what corporate America says about your generation. You are one of the biggest concerns, topics of conversation and expenses for corporate America. Companies do not understand your values, your dress code or general attitude about work. You have countless bosses, CEOs and managers losing sleep over the chaos you cause. They wonder if you are going to show up on time or even show up at all. You are the thorn in corporate America’s paw.”

All 1,500 of these future leaders of society began cheering. It was the most excited and interested I had seen them all day.

This is the NMG, the 72 million people born after 1980. They are the second-largest generation in our country and they are leaving managers scratching their heads in bewilderment over just how to manage, train and retain their sanity while working with this new generation.

Generational Signposts
Ironically, the list of words I read to the grads is not new. We use the same list of words to describe every new generation entering the workforce. The same words were used to describe Generation X (my generation) and Baby Boomers. I would guess we will use the same words to describe the generation that follows the NMG. When we use those words to describe the NMG, what we are really describing is a youthful generation. The definition of youthful is inexperienced and new.

They are different, however, from Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionals. That’s because the childhood experiences that formed their attitudes, values and ethics are different from ours. I call these formative experiences “generational signposts.” We may use the same list of negative words to describe the NMG, but their generational signposts are completely different than yours and mine, and trying to force them to conform to your beliefs and expectations will be an exercise in futility.

They have Baby Boomers for parents. Only ten percent of the NMG has a non-Baby Boomer parent. The NMG has a set of older parents that have gone to great medical and financial lengths to have them. The NMG has grown up in a child-focused time in our country. We do not use the term “latchkey kids” to describe this generation like we did for Generation X. We use words like play dates, soccer mom, family time, quality time, take your kid to work day and stay-at-home dad. This generation has had a set of parents that are heavily involved in their school activities, extracurricular interests, college choices and job prospects.

How does that impact the NMGs’ performance at work? The NMG expects the same level of interest from their managers regarding their performance that they got at home. What can you do? Talk to the NMG about what they want from their job experience. Explain to the NMG what they can expect regarding pay raises, promotions and additional responsibility. Don’t do this just once, but frequently. The more time you spend with the NMG, the more connection they will feel to you and the job.

Find New Motivations
They live at home. According to the American Sociological Association, fewer than 50 percent of NMGs are financially independent from their parents and live on their own. The typical NMG is not dependent on a job for survival. The old way of motivation—fear of getting fired—is not going to work with them. You can scream and yell at the NMGs, threaten to give them the boot, and they will just smile at you and say, “Go ahead and fire me. I wanted to go to a party tonight anyway.”

Corporate America has only itself to blame. There is no longer a stigma associated with job-hopping. Corporate America has gone from lifetime employment with the Traditional generation to where two years is considered long term. Companies and employers do not bat an eye when people list six jobs in four years on their résumés. Combine that with the financial freedom many NMGs have and you have an employee looking for something more than just a paycheck.

What can you do? Create an experience for the NMG. What does your company, industry or team offer that is unique? Capitalize on that. Does your company have travel benefits, job sharing, true flex-time, no dress code, an allowance for bringing your pets to work, cool contests or any opportunity for NMGs to do something different in their job? Think about what makes your job special to you and put an NMG spin on it. The more you can take the job and change it into an opportunity to have an experience like nothing else—not just a place to get a paycheck—the more your workplace will resonate with the NMG.

Use Relevant Terminology
“Congratulations, you are hired! Now you are on probation.” I could just scream when I hear about companies that put the NMG on probation. Could we shoot ourselves in the foot any more? It would be hard to find a more negative word in the workplace today than probation. The NMG is just entering the workforce. This may be their first or second job. Companies should be excited to have this generation on board. The more excited and interested you are in them, the more excited and interested they will be in you and what your company has to offer.

What can you do? Change the language. Instead of probation, call it Success Gestation.

Be Creative
Think creatively when it comes to the NMG. What rules, policies and procedures can you be more flexible with or change all together? Instead of casual Friday, get company logo flip-flops, make it okay to listen to your iPod, or let the employee decide what his or her title should be. Whatever rules you are willing to bend, be very clear about what rules cannot be bent or broken and explain the importance of maintaining those policies.

The annual or yearly review meant something for past generations but holds little interest for the typical NMG who considers it archaic. Since the age of three, this generation has had information at their fingertips with the Internet. Their parents, teachers and peers are only a call away, and the microwave takes too long. The New Millennium Generation pities people who are on dial-up. When you ask them to wait a year to get information on their performance, you are telling them you are the equivalent to dial-up. The NMG will get bored and move on if you make them wait too long for information.

What can you do? Break the job up into smaller tasks that can be rewarded or corrected along the way. By breaking the job up into tasks, you give the NMG the feedback he or she desires and yourself a chance to correct mistakes before they become ingrained in the NMG’s routine.

A sales manager I spoke with told me she took every task that was required of her salespeople and listed them on a chart that was shaped like a ladder. Once an employee could demonstrate they knew how to do the task, meaning they could do the task without supervision, the employee moved up the ladder. Once the employee had climbed all the rungs, he or she was given VIP Salesperson status. The manager told me, “The key is to give lots of feedback along the way. Be enthusiastic but not hokey. This way you are there to reward the performance you want and correct the performance you do not want. The more excited you are about the NMGs’ journey, the more interested they are in coming to work.”

Why should you do all this for them? For completely selfish reasons, of course. The NMG represents an opportunity for you to leave a legacy long after you are gone. Think about the people who took the extra time with you in the beginning of your career. The people who took interest in your performance gave you some helpful advice or just a pat on your back. Those are the people you remember and emulate today.

You have the same opportunity in your material handling business with the New Millennium Generation. When we give NMGs the extra time and attention they deserve, we are truly taking all generations and working together as one.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Meagan Johnson Meet the Author
Meagan Johnson is a professional speaker at Johnson Training Group, located in Phoenix, Arizona, and on the Web at www.meaganjohnson.com.

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