Lay the foundation for a strong and sustainable working relationship by being pro-active and flexible says Diana Brandl
Millennials have been taking over the workplace for the past few years and it goes without saying that it affects our profession when it comes to working with them. Time to panic or simply learn how to deal with them?
Who are Millennials?
According to Wikipedia, Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years. Millennials, who are generally the children of baby boomers and older Gen Xers, are sometimes referred to as “Echo Boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s.
I am currently working for a grown-up ecommerce company (10 years old) in my hometown of Berlin. My previous working environments had been global players and midsize companies so I knew this job would be different. I was right! I literally landed in the world of Millennials – colleagues, the office team I supervise and my two executives. Although born in 1977 and 1972 they showed typical millennial characteristics. I had heard many stories about working with Millennials so my fear was: How on earth will I survive?
These tips and tricks have helped me in the past 18 months to tackle the pros and cons of my working relationship with Millennials. Let’s dive in!
Become a techie
Millennials are mad about technology. Picture your millennial executive in a toy store with all these shiny new gadgets. Millennials are obsessed with such things. Their toys are the latest apps, mobile tools and digital devices. “Diana, you need to download this app immediately. It will save you so much time.” You can imagine that I am not over the moon in these moments as it seems that I have to adapt my online toolbox twice a month. And before I even get to the download, my manager is not using the app anymore as he found a better toy. A continuous wow effect for him, a “been there, done that” moment for me.
You need to be proactive and one-step-ahead in order to keep up with these changes.
- Try to stay up to date with technology. Read the magazines, blogs and websites your executive is reading and follow his trends. You will be surprised what a product guru you will turn into after only a few weeks. Plus, this knowledge is not only helpful for your executive but also for you and the whole company.
- Meet the real techies and ask questions of your IT department. As new technology is constantly being introduced try to take an interest in the industry. Getting to know it better will relieve the stress you feel trying to keep up with changes.
- After a while you will feel comfortable even suggesting your own gadgets and introducing the toolbox you find useful to your executive as well. Millennials love such input.
No matter how annoying it feels for you, millennial executives don’t care, they want to dig into every single topic and receive as much input as possible.
It goes without saying that they need to be informed about the business and strategies. But do they need to be involved in our work? I have been irritated many times when my executive wanted to be included in details such as selecting the sushi my team was asked to order for a board meeting. Are we not able to do our duties properly? Of course we are, but this simply happens all the time when dealing with a Micromanager.
- Get organized and discuss project objectives early on so that you understand what your executive wants to accomplish. With this knowledge you can be proactive and stay ahead of them.
- Set up regular meetings to review and discuss information that your executive is interested in. If they know what’s going on they are less likely to want to keep interfering.
- Show them that you have got things covered and that you value their input so that they understand that while they need to check-in occasionally, they don’t need to be overbearing.
And above all: Take the input from your manager no matter how frustrating it may be. And do not forget: It is not about you so never start taking it personally. Try to focus instead on the goal you want to achieve together.
Speak their language
Sad to say, face-to-face meetings and calls are not effective for Millennials. They hate talking on the phone. It’s already having an effect on society; European telecommunications company O2 produced a study that showed that “telephone” apps on smartphones—that is, using your phone to make actual phone calls—are only the fifth-most-used app among the general public. Phones aren’t used to make phone calls anymore. This generation grew up with the gradual introduction of instant messaging, texting, email, and other forms of written communication. Be prepared to meet them in “their world” of mobile devices.
I have seen many Office Professionals chatting with their executives via their company’s internal chat system. Collaboration tools provide such a function; I have worked this way before. Be prepared to find the right communication instrument and make yourself an expert in the technology behind it. You may need it for your daily work.
All millennials have short attention spans. This has a major impact on working relationships between an executive and an assistant. One week they like the way you put something in the calendar, the next week they want to have it differently. No week of work with a millennial executive is likely to be the same as the week before. To be honest, it took me a while to get used to it. I constantly had doubts on my own competence and quality when things were asked for in a different way over and over again. Millennials are continuously having new ideas. But they are never fully thought through or explained to their counterpart which makes it even harder to fully understand the reasoning behind the request.
Please do not get frustrated about such behaviors – instead keep a cool head. Be the calm voice. Whenever they come up with a new idea, be the one to assign timelines to the goals and put them in a calendar. Check in with your executive occasionally to review them and to keep your executive on track.
What’s in it for you?
Millennials are super flexible with regard to a flat corporate culture.
Hierarchies? Not in a start-up environment with Millennials. There is no “Mr. or Mrs.” in their language set. You simply call your executive and co-worker by their first names. This was strange to me in the beginning, I have to admit. But it does break the ice even faster and helps you with onboarding.
Millennials also have an emphasis on work-life balance and social awareness which is extremely valuable for the company. I can work from home whenever I want which helps my own work-life balance enormously.
The workplace is constantly changing. By 2025 millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. So, we cannot ignore them. Believe it or not, millennials and non-millennials can benefit from each other. By understanding the mindset of millennials, the transition will be less painful than it needs to be. Take a deep breath and consistently try to find a middle way that allows you to develop and relate to your executive. It will pay off in the long run because you will keep your sanity!
Every generation looks down at the next and wants to make sweeping generalizations about its principles and values. And my generation is no different. I am a Generation Z girl. One of these typical statistics is being called a Digital Native. And yes, I certainly am. Constantly online and involved in social media activities.
Looking back now at the past 18 months with Millennial executives on my side, I have one clear finding: They are not that bad at all. Even though they are taking workplace dynamics and turning tradition on its head, you will definitely survive with the ideas mentioned above but most importantly you will learn a lot. I am currently sharing an office with my two executives and, although a bit scary in terms of privacy in the beginning, I could not think of a better way of communication. I hear, read and see everything of them and they openly talk about business and strategies while I am in the room. I gain full transparency, full knowledge and can even take part in conversations where my input might be valuable for them.
My final advice to you: Become your executive’s ally from day one, and you will lay the foundation for a strong and sustainable working relationship that can help you advance your career no matter what generation you and your executive may belong to.