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Millennials bring a set of challenges to the workforce we aren’t typically prepared for. That being said, they aren’t the problem! Their generational differences are just causing a symptom of a deeper problem we have overlooked in how we manage the workforce. The fact that I have had to use this particular phrasing in my last sentence points to the problem as well. Let me explain, if I had said, “in how we lead the workforce,” most people would at least stumble as they read it and many would even react, “lead the workforce?”. We are focused on developing, promoting and sometimes training people to be managers. Please don’t misunderstand! Training is important, promoting people is important too. If we don’t adjust and start developing, promoting and training leaders, we are going to lose. Lose new workers, lose managers lose a great deal of potential!

You are just dealing with semantics, some would say. In some senses, maybe but for the sake of overcoming this very real challenge, we’ve got to make this shift. Managers operate by authority and control. In other words, when there is a decision made and compliance is an issue, the manager says, “because I said so”! For Boomer’s and X’ers, that might work effectively. With Y’s and Millennials, it doesn’t fly. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it won’t work, at least not effectively. You will either get outright defiance from the stronger personalities to the other extreme of needing “safe places” because you have deeply offended them. In some cases, you might even get a visit from an angry parent, yes really! One solution is to respond as many have, “suck it up buttercup!” The reaction of, “because I said so,” will work to a point if you are happy with alienating many of the next generation of workers.

So you are thinking my next suggestion is to start singing Kum Bah Ya or having regular group hugs, right? Wrong! We can’t afford that either. We have businesses to run, products to get out and services to deliver, after all, these people expect to get paid, and they expect it to be top dollar to boot! OK, so we need to just lower our expectations and hand out trophies to everyone, wrong! The key is they, and we need real leaders! In the past, when we appointed managers, they quite often came with some inherent leadership qualities which allowed them to develop as a leader with minimal effort on our parts. They inherently came with some degree of problem solving and had a baseline understanding and ability with people skills (manners).

To know where to go from here, let’s explore how we got here to start with. I will attempt to give you a snapshot of each of the current generations in the workforce currently.

  • Boomers:
    • Many still from an agrarian culture or still influenced by it.
    • Two parent traditional families with moms at home and dads retiring from one lifelong job. Parents still the primary influencers.
    • Respect for, and compliant response to, authority
    • Technology was a radio and TV with some channels and even sometimes with color!
  • X’ers:
    • More from the cities and suburbs and might visit the grandparents farm occasionally.
    • More single parent homes and certainly both parents working. Peers and teachers are becoming the primary influencers.
    • Questioning authority, but will sometimes give in to, “because I said so.”
    • Technology was a color TV, sometimes more than one. Calculators readily available. Computers were a part of discussion and many people had pagers.
  • Y’s:
    • Mostly from the cities and suburbs and thinking that the farms are for rednecks. We need to “work smarter, not harder!”
    • More than half are in single family homes and the beginning of introduction of non-traditional families. Many times both parents working more so the children have more and see less of the parents and more of their friends and classmates. Peers, media and college professors are primary influencers.
    • I’m the authority and I will listen and comply if I feel like it or you can convince me, especially if you show me how I benefit.
    • Technology is TV with hundreds of channels. Cell phones are now the way to communicate. Desktop computers in many homes and some are many are now carrying there computers (laptops) with them.
  • Millennials:
    • Majority are aware there are farms because they hear about them and see pictures of them. The farm life is too hard and it is stupid to work hard. After all, I don’t need to because I have earned a degree.
    • Single family homes equal or even outnumber traditional family homes. Non-traditional family structures become normal. Somebody is responsible but not in charge.
    • I’m in charge but I’m not sure what to do and I will follow id you earn that opportunity with me.
    • Technology is TV is everywhere, all multiple thousands of them. Even the children have cell phones and their computer is in their cell phone. They have access to all the information they need because they can Google it!

As you track through the generational development and influences, you begin to understand where we are.  We have a lot of complaints about the Millennial generation.