Millennials are a generation whose reputation precedes it. Type the word ‘Millennial’ into Google and the Worldwide Web throws up a myriad of results that scream “lazy”, “selfish” and “workshy”. Probe a little deeper and you can add “narcissistic”, “entitled” and “selfie-obsessed” to this rather unflattering picture. Why are we seemingly so quick to write off a whole generation just because they happened to be born over a certain 15-year span?
It is true that those born between 1981 and 1996 generally grew up in a more sheltered environment than previous generations. In an increasingly health and safety obsessed society children were no longer allowed to roam free while ‘helicopter’ style parenting meant they were metaphorically wrapped up in a protective bubble. Many of them were conditioned by their parents to think that success would come easy and, as a result, they are often unprepared to deal with interview rejections, criticism at work or demanding bosses.
Now that the vast majority of Millennials are out in the world of work, what can they do to ease their interactions with other, often older, generations? And if you are the boss or co-worker of a millennial, are there any actions you can take that will lead to smoother working relationship?
ETIQUETTE tips for millennials IN THE WORKPLACE
Cultivate Basic Manners
Millennials are the first generation to have grown up in an era where technology and the internet have been a prevalent part of their lives from childhood. While they are not quite ‘digital natives’ in the same vein as later generations, being exposed to mobile phones and Facebook from an early age will more than likely have had an impact on their social skills.
In addition, they may not have had the importance of good manners ingrained in them by parents, teachers or other authority figures. Mastering the basics such as making eye contact, smiling, shaking hands and introducing themselves when meeting someone new will go a long way towards making a good first impression.
Our advice for Millennials would be to limit your mobile phone use in the office and never take a call or answer a text in a meeting unless it is an emergency. Do not share sensitive work information on social media and refrain from posting photos of your collegaues without prior permission. And, of course, remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when appropriate.
Use professional language
In an age where much of our day-to-day communication is carried out via instant messaging, social media or email, it is easy to fall into the habit of using emojis and abbreviations such as LOL, BTW and IMHO. While this is fine when chatting with friends and family (although older relatives may appreciate fully formed sentences in text messages and emails), at work it is best to stick to more formal language.
Treat emails as letters and always use the correct form of address, titles and salutations. Try not to be overfamiliar or discuss topics of a personal nature with clients or business associates. Remember that your work email address belongs to the company you work for, so take a moment to imagine your boss’ reaction to each email before hitting ‘send’.
Manners are even more important in a world where relationships may never involve eye contact. When communicating online or via email choose your words wisely as they cannot be mitigated by body language or tone of voice.
Be helpful in the office
Millennials’ familiarity with technology is a distinct advantage when it comes to navigating new software systems and internal communication tools such as Slack or Trello. If older colleagues are struggling to get to grips with workplace technology, step up and offer to help show them the ropes.
Tempting as it may be to keep your head down and leave others to figure it out for themselves, acts of kindness help establish trust and build relationships, both in and out of the office.
Tips for those working with Millennials
Let go of prejudices
Hard as it may be, try not to judge a book by its cover. Your Millennial colleague may dress and speak differently from you, but that does not necessarily mean that you have nothing in common. Look behind the exterior and make an effort to connect with the person inside, look for shared experiences and mutual interests. If nothing else, the fact that you work in the same environment is a good starting point for establishing rapport.
Do not make rude or disparaging remarks about Millennials as a group, even if you have just read another article dismissing them as “work-shy snowflakes”. Remember that each person is an individual and try to empathise with the challenges faced by a generation that is frequently ridiculed for its narcissism and sense of entitlement.
Set clear expectations
Having well-defined boundaries and transparent procedures in place is important for any company and if you are the boss of a Millennial you will find it helpful to spell these out from the start. More often that not, misunderstandings and conflicts in the workplace are rooted in poor communication and ill-defined job descriptions.
If you prefer employees to keep personal calls to a minimum and not post selfies of themselves while at work, make these expectations clear at the outset. Be patient with new recruits and do not bawl them out for every little misdemeanour. Instead take the time to explain the reasoning behind the rules and standards that you expect them to adhere to.
Lead by example
Actions speak louder than words so make sure that you set a good example for any junior staff members. If they see you making personal calls in the office, checking Twitter or Instagram in meetings and sloping off early to meet friends, it is likely to cause resentment.
Take the opportunity to learn from Millennials – the most tech-savvy generation currently in the workplace – and broaden your mind to explore new and non-conventional ways of doing business. Exchanging philosophies and skills in an environment based on mutual respect is far more rewarding, and ultimately profitable, than pitting one generation against another.