Millennials Are People Too

Several of us at Talent Management magazine attended the IHRIM HRMS Strategies Conference & Expo here in Chicago last week. Our associate editors Frank Kalman and Deanna Hartley attended the opening keynote and some of the event’s concurrent educational sessions.

I chose a path through the concurrent educational sessions connected by a running thread of buzzy topics – generational differences, social media and recruiting, mobile apps, the workforce of the future, etc. In general I found the sessions spent too much time establishing a very boilerplate introduction to these topics and then when they got to the takeaway or a-ha moment, it was a software demonstration or a video. But I recognize that these things are not necessarily calibrated to what seems new to an editor covering the HR industry. The attendees generally seemed engaged; perhaps even moreso when the software was fired up.

One session in particular, however, got me, and the rest of the audience, thinking. “Keeping Up With The Kids: Millennials and Workplace Technology” featured Steve Boese, director, talent management strategy at Oracle. He began his presentation with a series of characterizations of millennials: they watch the Super Bowl just like anyone else; 9/11 was one of their first big shared experiences; they like to share knowledge via non-traditional means like social media, etc.

But then Boese got into a series of slides that started to blur the picture for me and others in the room. Breaking down how millennials feel about work, Boese stated that they understand it involves compromises; they prioritize work-life balance; and they want to make a difference at work but don’t see work as their entire lives – they don’t view what their companies do as life or death. Boese further stated millennials want to be trusted, want loyalty that goes in both directions, don’t want to be taken for granted, and expect feedback, set goals, rewards and recognition. Another slide presented five things millennials wish they could tell their bosses: teach me; mentor me; trust me; reward me; and don’t take me for granted.

That’s when it occurred to me; all of this sounded not like millennials in particular but just people in general. So it was gratifying when right then an attendee shot up his hand and said exactly that. Another across the room added a simple explanation for this: It’s because the successes of companies created and run by millennials – Facebook, Groupon, etc. – have been largely publicized and this has resulted in a rush to understand millennials and how they work in order to replicate such successes. He pointed out that in the past, the most successful companies were massive corporations like Coca-Cola and Ford; manufacturers defined by their products, not by the generations staffing them.

That’s a great insight, but I have another, slightly simpler theory I’d like to project on it: It’s just trendy these days for business writers and consultants to talk about millennials and how to hire, manage and learn from them. And this wasn’t necessarily the case for baby boomers in the 1980s and Generation X in the 1990s; back then it was more about diagnosing generations culturally rather than professionally.

Back to Boese’s presentation; to his credit, he presented some interesting findings in breaking down organizational attributes of millennials. He stated millennials need to like their peers in a company, which I think is a priority particular to them and a potentially refreshing one at that. He stated millennials move easily between personal and professional mindsets, which is something I’ve noticed; there seems to be less duality with how millennials approach their jobs versus their personal lives. He stated millennials expect corporate social responsibility from their employers, which, if true, would be a move in the right direction. He stated millennials expect advancement in their companies, which can fly in the face of organizations that have spent the last decade flattening themselves. Finally, Boese stated millennials expect to get paid, and that’s where he lost me. Doesn’t everybody?

What’s your take? Is there anything substantially new in general descriptions of millennials or are we just diagnosing the nature of youth itself?