Let me start with an apology. I’m sorry for the way my generation talks about yours. We complain about “millennials” because it seems more enlightened than complaining about “kids these days.” But if we’re honest with ourselves, every generation since the beginning of humankind has been accused of being young and immature before growing up to dramatically change the course of history. It’s disingenuous to prejudge an entire generation simply because it’s now their time to discover the complexities of adulthood. My generation tripped through that phase of life, and the American economy seemed to survive just fine.
To be clear, I’m neither a demographer nor a clinical psychologist. I don’t even watch Dr. Phil. But in my experience, millennials are hard workers, disruptors, and collaborators. They value community and inclusion. They want a better life, and they’re optimistic they can make it happen. Mark me down as an advocate for this current crop of young adults. I’m excited to see the impression they leave on this world.
So I’d like to offer Millennials (and anyone else who will listen) three simple workplace tips from a business leader, a Gen Xer, and a dad whose passion in life is to see his kids succeed.
1. Be on time.
In fact, be five minutes early. It’s a little thing, but it’s not. When you don’t respect the start time of a meeting, the drop time of a deadline, or the time constraints of a lunch appointment, you disrespect your peers who do. This is a hard truth for any of us, but it’s a timeless fact that will advance your career quicker than anything else: It’s not just about you. To earn respect, be savvy enough to give it.
2. Be present.
Answering that text is important, but not so important to interrupt a real live conversation. Put your phone away until you’re done with your boss, your customer, and your friend.
Studies in recent decades have shown us the significance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – the ability to understand our own emotions, to recognize the emotions of others, and to navigate an appropriate response accordingly. Some even believe that EQ is a more accurate predictor of success than IQ. But I’m afraid that today’s device-driven lifestyle is dulling our EQ senses, regardless of what generation we claim.
You won’t enjoy the best of this life from behind the safety of a backlit screen. Relationships can be hard. Emotions are messy. But you need relationships to experience community and collaboration. The contributors in this world are interacting with their peers, competitors, and managers. Interact intentionally with the real world around you.
Be patient. You’re hungry for more, you’re champions for change, and I really respect that. But you’re not ready for the corner office without a little experience. The scars I carry were earned through painful experiences. They remind me of what I’ve learned, and they shape my decisions today. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay, because learning from your mistakes will sharpen your skills. When you prove yourself in the little things, you’ll soon be handed bigger things to manage. The ladder to success isn’t an escalator. You have to work for each step, and each step will condition and prepare you for the next.
3. Be yourself.
Don’t be discouraged by the wailing of the elders — you have so much good to offer this world. Because the millennial workforce values meaningful work, you’re pushing organizations to pursue purpose as well as profits. In turn, the companies you work for are discovering that these goals are equally good, perhaps even mutually dependent.
Because the millennial workforce values healthy balance, you’re pushing organizations to care for the whole person rather than simply extract productivity from human capital. And because you value something bigger than yourself, you’re driving organizations to become better corporate citizens, engaging and improving their local communities.
Isn’t it a great time to work among four active generations? Each brings so many unique skills, experiences, and values to the workplace. Don’t apologize for who you are. Lean into it. With respect, hard work, and a little humility, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together.