Career Advice

How to Smash The Millennial Stereotype At Work

Freelancer during the work in home office

Myopic stereotypes inevitably describe millennials as childish and needy. However, generalizing a generation’s tendencies and isolating those from the greater context that shaped their experiences, yields inaccurate and unfair assumptions.   

No strangers to struggle, millennials have weathered hard times. The burden of college debt exacerbated by the Great Recession has financially impacted many. Persistent global unrest has also shaped this generation’s perspective. The Millennial Impact Report Retrospective notes: “Millennials were the first young people whose growing-up years are forever characterized with the frightening unpredictability of terrorist attacks, global government crises and a periodically unstable U.S. economy. These dynamics have taught millennials that the only certainty in their lives is uncertainty.”

In response, millennials have honed unique strengths. They are passionate, philanthropic and socially conscious. Millennials tend to be perennial volunteers who espouse a value system that displaces wealth as their goal. The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey finds that “Millennials who enter the boardroom and those in senior positions have a desire to rebalance business priorities by putting people before profit.”  

According to 2015 Pew Research Center data, one in three American workers was born in or after 1981 and is, therefore, a millennial; the Millennial Impact Report Retrospective notes that one of two workers, 50%, will be a millennial by 2020.  The most diverse generation in American history, 43% of millennials are non-white. “Digital natives” their technological savvy enables them to continually push the boundaries of how work and life interplay.   

Millennials have a lot to offer. But they communicate differently than their counterparts, perhaps this renders them misunderstood. If you’re a millennial, consider these easy adjustments for more successful intergenerational communication:

1. Employ strategic body language

Be mindful that using your device is, in itself, a communicative act. Your fellow millennials may not mind this, but older co-workers may. If you can’t think of something to say to a co-worker, don’t reach for your phone. Break the habit in favor of body language that benefits you more.  

Challenge yourself to attend professional events without your device. It can feel awkward. But learning to strategically fill that silence is a strength. Plus, it’s a perk to have the opportunity to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Take the risk. People are endlessly surprising.

[Related: 5 Things Millennials Can Teach Baby Boomers In The Workplace   ]

2. Listen

It’s so tempting to be a listen-to-responder. This means waiting for the chance to jump in rather than absorbing content. It’s a roadblock to meaningful communication.

Listen patiently, without interrupting. It’s a surprisingly rare quality and a remarkably rewarding way to learn about people.

Note well-articulated points your coworkers make. Then play them back: “It’s like Nico said…” “Sylvia put it perfectly when she explained…”

The world is full of smart and interesting people. Add their insights to your ever-growing bank of professional knowledge. People deeply appreciate it. Plus, it adds positivity to your workplace’s communication culture.   

[Related: 7 Work Habits Millennials Need to Break ASAP!]

3. Call or stop by

Communication is the lifeblood of the workplace. Written correspondence may seem easier because it doesn’t invite the real-time variables that a stop-by or a phone chat may. But it’s flat. Because of this, emails and texts can lead to miscommunications. If your message is difficult or detailed, talk it through.

Initiating a chat builds rapport and gives you the chance to exercise your professional persona. You need that to advance professionally. So welcome it.

[Related: How to Master the Art of Bragging Like a Pro]

4. Good things come to those who wait

According to Pew Research Center “fully a third of older Millennials (ages 26 to 33) have a four-year college degree or more—making them the best-educated cohort of young adults in American history.”

Well-trained pros expect feedback. It’s exciting to get a good review and super exciting to get an advancement opportunity. Generally, though, employees can’t lobby for recognition or advancement. If there’s an opening, you can certainly throw your hat in the ring. Otherwise, advance by doing a stellar job and graciously bide your time.  

Feeling bored, overqualified or unappreciated aren’t what earn promotions. If you’re feeling that way, take the initiative to bolster your resume: take a class, find a mentor, join a professional society.

Also, observe the leadership at your workplace. If your goal is to be a manager, start learning the trade by examining what you see in action.

Be a humble student of the workplace. Communicate politely and strategically, and learn everything you can.


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