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The “M Word” in the workplace

Politics, Religion, and Millennials: The 3 most controversial topics in the workplace today.  Go to nearly any office building in the Lehigh Valley, or the U.S., and say the word “Millennial” and you’ll receive polarizing reactions, ranging from subtle eye rolls and sighs to more blatant laughter and name-calling.

Millennials, the common term for the generation born between 1980 and 2000, are often labeled as: Entitled, Lazy, Not motivated or driven, Unable to communicate, Addicted to their phones and social media, Job hoppers, Disloyal.

While much debate exists about how this generation got tagged with these stereotypes, it’s a fact that the workforce is changing rapidly.  Time Magazine reports nearly 10 thousand baby boomers retire each day, and the millennial generation is expected to make up half of the American workforce by 2020.  While the sheer numbers demand attention, this segment of the workforce brings several advantages as they become a larger part of the workforce. These advantages include increased involvement and personal improvement, greater adaptability to change, greater knowledge of technology, and greater innovation and creativity.

Not long ago, the employee held most of the responsibility to adapt to their manager’s style and a company’s culture. Generally speaking, baby boomers’ loyalty was to their company and were glad to have steady jobs after the depression.  Similar to the baby boomers, Gen X focused on their careers and generally didn’t want to risk missing the next rung on their climb up the corporate ladder by changing companies. In the current environment of a low unemployment rate, the responsibility to adapt is becoming increasingly shared between the organization, the manager and millennial employees.  Much like cold calling, you can choose to like it or not. You can also choose to embrace it or not. However, organizations that adapt to this generational shift will be in a better place to retain talent in a tight job market, as well as leverage the strengths of the millennial generation.


What are the keys to engaging this generation in a manner that allows organizations to leverage their strengths?  Studies show the four common characteristics as key factors to leading millennials in the workplace. They are concerned about vision, mission, and company culture than previous generations.  

  1. In today’s economy, with low unemployment, millennials have job opportunities that allow them to choose who they work for.  What this often means is they want an organization whose culture, mission, and vision align with theirs. They don’t view work as the same 9-5 as their parents, and view their role at work just as strongly as their role in the community.
  2. Young workers want a roadmap to success.  This generation has grown up in an environment where the requirements for success have been clearly laid out.  Fifteen years ago you could hand a sales rep an atlas (remember those?), a laptop and an account list and set them loose.  The young workforce wants a clear path to success, with measurable milestones so they can measure success along the way.
  3. Millennials respond to strong leadership.  This also means they respect strong leadership without micro-management.  They engage with leaders who are able to communicate with clarity, give clear boundaries, and who will engage with them to help them improve. 
  4. This group of workers is optimistic, ambitious, and more flexible in learning new skills.  Millennials prefer a clear roadmap and don’t like randomness or chaos. As a result of their ability to adapt to new technologies quickly, they are also the extremely optimistic when faced with change.  They are flexible when learning new skills or overcoming challenges.

What can be done to adapt to this generation, and leverage their strengths as the workforce shifts?  

Leaders can stick their heads in the sand and continue complaining (not recommended), or they can embrace the opportunity:

  • Define company culture so you can clearly tell your story.  This may also present a good opportunity to update your mission, vision, and place in the community.  
  • You can begin working on management (current and future) to ensure they are equipped with the tools to communicate and lead effectively in the future.  

Bottom line: While Millennials may not technically make up 50% of the US workforce until next year, it’s not as if a switch flipped on January 1.  If you’re struggling to recruit, retain and maximize the potential of this group of employees, the challenges will only likely increase as the workforce changes.

Dan Storm is president of Sandler Training by True North Performance Advisors in Bethlehem. He can be reached at 610-509-1869 or

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