I recently took the quiz, ‘How Millennial Are You?’, created by Pew Research Center as part of their February 2010 report, Millennials: Confident. Connected, Open to Change. It was not surprising to me that as I am on the tail end of Gen X (born in 1977), I have a great deal in common with the Millennials. On a scale of 1 to 100, I scored a 91 on the quiz, whereas the average Gen X’ers would typically score a 33. I guess that’s why I often find myself advocating on behalf of Millennials because in terms of age, it wasn’t that long ago when I walked many miles in their shoes.
Don’t get me wrong. I am proud to be part of Generation X, despite the less than favorable labels placed upon us. Some refer to my generation as the Slackers, based on the 1991 movie (which I have not seen) by Richard Linklater. When I first heard this description of Gen X’ers, I was quickly offended. For I am one of many civic-minded, purpose-driven leaders born in the ‘70’s, and my circle of influence has similar characteristics.
Regardless how I view myself and others within my generation, there is fungus among us. I know one too many Gen X’ers who insist on hazing Millennials in the workplace, overwhelming their plate with menial tasks and defining it as ‘paying dues.’ As a manager, the only dues I expect any staff member to pay are those required for joining membership associations as part of their professional development plan, and the organization should be footing the bill for it.
I know one too many Gen X’ers who feel threatened by Millennials who want to move on a much faster pace into senior level positions. Even though some Gen X’ers haven’t put forth much effort in advancing their career through professional learning opportunities, they expect to slide into leadership positions simply because they’ve stuck it out waiting for the Boomers to retire.
As many Gen X’ers are preparing to move into the corner offices, it is important that we are willing to step up and step aside in order to work effectively with Millennials.
- Inform and inspire Millenials, don’t just supervise. Provide constructive feedback about their performance, as well as offering resources, networking connections, and other tools that will help them along their career trajectory. It is your ability to lead – not your title – that truly interests Millennials.
- Create opportunities for advancement. Early in my career a supervisor told me that in order for me to move up within the organization, I would need to wait for someone to leave or retire. The next day, I was on the job hunt. People stay with organizations where their worth is valued. If you are interested in keeping Millennials around, be willing to invest in their career growth.
- Be understanding if Millennials chose to walk away. They may be too young to remember the song, ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers, you can bet that most have this same mindset when it comes to their career and personal brand. Because many Millennials view their career as a collection of projects, make sure their time spent within the organization is mutually beneficial.
- Share the spotlight. Accept it, if the Program Associate is the most knowledgeable person to deliver the Board Report for the 6-month demonstration project, let her do it! If the intern was the one responsible for the successful turn-out at the fundraiser, publicly acknowledge him for it! Their being recognized is not your loss. Instead, it speaks volumes about your ability to build a high-quality team within the organization.
- Expect to learn as from Millennials as you teach. – I’m talking about more than just how to manage your Facebook account. Tap into networks such as Brazen Careerist, Under 30 CEO, and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network not as the Gen X-pert or to spy on the ‘young folks,’ but rather learn about the innovative ways Millennials are navigating their careers. If you are open-minded enough, you just might walk away with a nugget or two that can help propel you forward along your career pathway.
Fellow Gen X’ers, it is time to stop being intimidated by Millennials. Rather than holding them back, seek ways to provide the opportunities they desire to learn, create, and lead within organizations. Let your past experience and current leadership skills empower Millennials to keep their passion, drive, and determination going strong.