Millennial Mentors

Years ago, when the Millennial generation was first getting press, I heard the craziest things. For instance, I read articles that questioned whether this generation knew how to use dining utensils such as forks and knives. For a generation whose oldest members are just four years younger than me, this was shocking.

There was an article by Matt Hunckler, posted online recently by Forbes that got me thinking once again about Millennials. Fortunately, the piece doesn’t assume Millennials are barbarians, but rather looks at how companies can best motivate them.

The piece offers recommendations, such as offering these young employees “integrity and congruence” over money, and creating a work plan that is action, rather than deliberation, based. Millennials tend to be so vocal and enthusiastic that is important for companies to ask them to take action to make their ideas a reality.

One of my ideas, which I have mentioned before, is to turn Millennials into mentors. It must be frustrating to enter the workforce and have many assume you have everything to learn, and very little to teach.

As the most tech-savvy generation, the youngest Millennials are what’s been called “digital natives,” meaning they grew up in a world dominated by computers and mobile technology. They didn’t have to learn how to use these devices; they were as much a part of their lives as analog phones and TVs with rabbit-ear antennas were to older generations.

I’m not a digital native. I didn’t learn how to send an e-mail until I was 23. But even as a comparatively late bloomer, I’m shocked at how much is intuitive to me that is not intuitive to those 20 or 30 years older than me. For example, my manager, who is 21 years older, can’t wrap his head around anything more complex than links. If a digital process is any more complicated than “linking” it, he’s lost. He doesn’t understand the difference between linking to a video and embedding it on a page.

To begin with, Millennials can be encouraged to offer technology tutoring to the less tech-savvy members of their team. It should be openly acknowledged that these youngest employees are expected, as part of their job responsibilities, to serve a digital interpreters for peers who have had to learn digital as a second language.

Another Millennial specialty is multi-tasking. Millennials grew up with more demands on their attention, and more ability to do many things at one time. They can watch TV while texting on their smartphones and streaming a video or show on their iPads. I’ve noticed that many older employees need greater tunnel vision to complete tasks, and tend to consider tasks as individual entities to do separately, rather than in an integrated way. For instance, whereas I can write an article while on a phone call, or look up questions related to an article, while barely pausing to take a break from my writing, an employee less accustomed to multi-tasking might have to put the article aside and just concentrate on the phone call, or put the writing aside and just spend an hour doing research. Do you think multi-tasking tutorials are something your youngest employees could offer? Or do you think that’s a skill some simply have and others don’t?

Social networking is another place Millennials can help. Many are familiar with Facebook as a way to share photos and post news of their tuna sandwich lunch, but far fewer are aware of how to promote content on social media. If an older employee, who is less familiar with social media, is the manager, the usual hierarchy should be up-ended. The person who is less experienced overall, but more experienced in this one particular area, should be put in charge of social media marketing. What’s frustrating (even for a Gen Xer) is having to follow decisions about the online world from a manager who knows very little about it. Are many of your Millennial employees in that same position? How can you create a learning and task-fulfillment structure that puts the person who knows the most about social media marketing in charge of it?

The ’60s and ’70s generations were known for their crusading for causes, but today, the generation that is most tapped into global causes is the Millennials. Through social media and mobile technology, they’re connected more than any previous generation to the circumstances of both people outside of their own community and those within their own community who they otherwise wouldn’t have contact with.

Working for a company that supports values and community and global goals they can believe in is said to be important to Millennials. You can put that to use by having Millennials co-chair, or co-lead, your corporate social responsibility initiatives. Not only can they lend the social media savvy I’ve already mentioned, but they can give you ideas for what the company’s youngest employees care most about. You might find that the charitable causes your older employees care about differ steeply, or are narrower, than those championed by your youngest employees.

How does your company view Millennials? How can you organize programs that turn Millennials into mentors?


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