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Millennials in the Workplace Still a Puzzle for Some Employers

Published: March 18, 2017

Employers who continue to struggle with how to attract, hire and keep millennial employees got a lot of good advice from a well-regarded author and leading voice on millennials in the workforce. Lindsey Pollak was the speaker for a daylong conference on the multigenerational workplace at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Thursday.

"I didn't mean to become an expert (on millennials)," Pollak told a large crowd in a morning session. "I meant to become an expert on careers and how to succeed in the workplace. It became clear that the generational differences we are all experiencing are critical to understanding how to build a successful career."

Pollak is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders."

Pollak said that many of the impressions of millennials at work, and the generation in general, might be humorous, but the people themselves remain a puzzle for companies when it comes to hiring.

"Millennials are now the largest cohort in the U.S.," Pollak told the audience. "They are also the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. By 2020, millennials will be 50 percent of our workforce. And, by 2025, less than 10 years away, millennials will be more than 75 percent of the U.S. workforce."

Pollak said a one-size-fits-all approach to hiring and keeping millennial employees is not effective. She cited the example of a major advertising firm, which had developed a reputation for being bad at the hiring process completely changed its process. By taking an Amazon-like approach to the application process, job seekers were able to track their applications and to receive regular updates. The company even notified applicants of other positions the applicant might want to consider.

Gen-X stuck in the middle

Despite having a reputation for wanting a workplace with ping-pong tables and generous vacation time, Pollak said many workers want many of the same things older workers sought. "Apprenticeship is an old word, but it's in demand today," she said. "Can you (as an employer) share more of your expertise through modeling and behaviors?"

She even suggested that company leaders who want to better understand their millennial employees take a trip to the bookshelf. She cited the classic business book, Kenneth Blanchard's "One Minute Manager," as a good tool for managers who struggle with not just millennials, but the entire multigeneration workplace.

As a member of Generation X, Pollak said taking care of the Gen-Xers is a challenge for employers. "We had to adapt to the baby boomers, and now (we) have to adapt to millennials," she said. "We're in a tough spot. But we're bilingual. We were tied to the strategies and successes of the boomers. But we are also adaptable to the millennials' style. In many organizations, Xers are the glue between those different generations.

"As you think about your company. Your team. Your classroom. Think about what your mix of generations is. We all need to be chameleons today. We have to understand there are different generational communication styles, and different career expectations that come from very different demographics."

Following her presentation, Pollak met with students. Her topic, succeeding in the multigenerational workplace, was designed to:

n Discover point of generation conflict and tactics to handle themn Learn how and why to defy multigenerational stereotypesn Gain specific strategies to strengthen cross-generational communication skills

Generational Changes at WorkThen—Command and controlNow—Personal development/varietyThen—UniformityNow—Customization/varietyThen—Need-to-know basisNow—Transparency

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