Millennials, Time Management, and Helicopter Rescues

Iconic Boomer Yoko Ono once said, “The thing that would improve my life is 27 hours in a day. Then I could meet all my deadlines.”

As an Xer, I think I speak for my generation when I say that is a stupid idea. Generation X works within the time constraints of reality by developing their own structure, systems and rules in a scrappy, purposeful way. Our rule is simple: There is no structure—so make it yourself, do perfect work, or lose your job.

Fast forward to the Millennial generation—what is their deal with time management? Well, first off, it is a bad idea to tell your Millennial employee, “There are no rules for time management—you need to figure it out.”

Millennials are Kind of Awesome, Actually

My unscientific, anecdotal observation is that Millennials are kind of awesome. Generally speaking, Millennials really, really want to do the right thing. They want to achieve their goals, they are committed to the company, and they don’t want to let anyone down. In other words, their intentions are good. In fact, their intentions are probably better than yours when you were a new GenX worker. For Xers it was just making it through the day to get your paycheck.

The Helicopter Rescue

If these chipper young professionals are so dedicated, why do they struggle with time management and meeting deadlines? Because their personalized parental unit helicopter dropped them in a vast work ocean of unscheduled days.

As children and young adults, their days were scheduled full of activities and events, with parents, coaches or teachers telling them what to do and when. In an unintentional perversion of outcomes, the adults in their lives micromanaged them, but never taught these Millennials how to micromanage themselves. So then they get to work and they are set adrift without helicopter Mom and Dad. As a manager, you need to pull off a rescue operation—to get the Coast Guard and get them on solid ground.

Stuff You Can Do Now

There is some really simple stuff you can do directly with them. One thing is to introduce a structure for prioritizing tasks and projects. Have them organize their to-do list by “urgent/important,” “high priority” and “low priority” based on their deadlines and the importance of the task.

Also, help them see how they can break projects down into smaller pieces. The feeling of accomplishment itself can spur Millennials to keep going. Breaking down large projects into their smaller component pieces can make these tasks seem less overwhelming, help Millennials prioritize and encourage them to keep moving forward. The positive feeling of crossing something off the to-do list feeds their need to achieve.

Promote teamwork and communication. Millennials need to have a good understanding of how their tasks and projects affect other members of the team, the company and the company’s mission. Because Millennials are team-oriented, they may find motivation in understanding how their contribution matters to others.

Training, Training, Training

There are a zillion companies that can help you with time management. Pick one to provide the proper resources and training for this critical topic. As an Xer, your training took place on the street, with trial and error. As a young worker in the 90’s, I remember discovering the Franklin Planner system from a colleague, which was a huge breakthrough in my career. For Millennials, it will help if they are taught in structured, classroom setting to be effective and productive with their time. Millennial are good students. They didn’t skip classes like you did. If you schedule it, they will come.

There’s an App for That

Some workplaces have incorporated “gamification” into their workflow, rewarding employees for meeting incremental goals or deadlines and promoting teamwork to accomplish large projects on time. Many of these work gamification systems are available as mobile apps, allowing Millennials to be productive no matter where they work.

For individual time management, Millennials may respond well to cross-platform apps. The app you recommend may depend on the challenge Millennials are facing. If they suddenly realize hours have passed and they don’t know where the time went, try Rescue Time. As a training tool, the app will send weekly reports with feedback on what tasks are “stealing” time, and it provides accolades when the user makes improvements.

If they just need help focusing, Focus Booster is modeled on the Pomodoro method, with timers for “focus time” and “break time.” For the environmentally-minded, the app Forest lets users plant a virtual tree and watch it grow the more productive the user is at work.

Bottom Line: Help them with the training, skills, and tools they need for time management… then, and only then can you get out of their way and do your happy dance.

How Reverse Mentoring Can Benefit Millennials and their Managers

Generation X and Baby Boomers are increasingly serving as mentors to Millennials in the workplace, but the new trend is reverse mentoring, where Millennials provide guidance on new and innovative ways to approach the ever-changing demands of work.

The benefits of traditional mentoring — where an older, more seasoned professional trains, teaches and coaches younger employees — are well documented. Mentoring young employees helps them learn more about their jobs, their role in the company, their potential career trajectory and how to advance professionally; it also gives older employees an increase in job satisfaction and purpose, builds their career legacy and gives them a unique professional outlet.

While the benefits of traditional mentoring relationships are known, the benefits of reverse mentoring are less known. Reverse mentoring is the practice of matching older, seasoned professionals with younger employees with a focus on having the Millennials mentor up.

What Millennials Can Bring

Millennials often have a reputation for being lazyentitledneedy — the list goes on, and the majority of these negative stereotypes about Millennials don’t hold up to the light. Millennials are loyalteam-orientedinnovative and goal-focused.

Millennials often bring a new perspective to the workplace, with a desire to see the “greater good” in their job, their role in the company and the company’s role in the world. Giving Millennials the opportunity to convey that passion to older employees who have been with the company a long time can re-energize and reignite the dedication and enjoyment long-time employees and managers once had for their jobs.

In addition, Millennials’ desire for transparency and honest communication can lead more seasoned managers to question the way they’ve “always done” things. This can lead to positive changes throughout all levels of the company, with an increase in experimentation, newly discovered efficiencies and new business development opportunities.

Reverse mentoring also gives seasoned professionals an opportunity to reflect on their own way of doing things and may widen their understanding of the way their organization and industry are changing. With reverse mentoring, older professionals have a unique opportunity to close their knowledge gap in areas like technology, social media, work-life balance, workplace trends and more.

In addition, a long-term Sun Microsystems study of about 1,000 employees found that employees who participated in a mentoring program were 20 percent more likely to get a raise — and that went for both mentors and mentees. In addition, employees who received mentoring were promoted 5x more often than those who did not have mentors.

How It Works

For companies, setting up reverse mentoring is easy, as it can work within the structure of the company’s ongoing, more traditional mentoring program. Cisco, for example, started their program by finding a champion within the organization to promote the program, set goals and metrics by which to measure success. Then, the company focused on recruiting mentees (i.e. older employees), and then recruiting mentors — the younger employees who indicated interest in participating. The company also provided the mentors with resources, tips, ideas and best practices for mentoring, as many had never been a mentor to someone in the past. Cisco’s former Business Operations Manager Laura Earle declared the reverse mentoring program a success, as it built relationships and helped all participants develop a better understanding of the company.

For a reverse mentoring relationship to work, many of the same rules apply as for a more traditional mentoring relationship. Both younger and older participants must keep an open mind and a positive attitude, trust each other, respect each other’s viewpoints and find ways to seek common ground. Both parties should set goals and commit to scheduling ongoing meetings to keep the relationship strong and growing.

How Many Generations are in the Workforce?

How many generations of people are in the workforce today? The answer may be fewer than you think.

It is often said there are four or even five generations of people in the full-time labor pool, but the answer hinges on the definition of generation and simple math.

A generation typically spans 18 to 22 years. Currently, 97 percent of the workforce in the United States is 18 to 73 years old, a 56-year spread, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That means it is unlikely you will have more than three generations in your place of business — at least legally — at any given time.

Right now, the generations in the workforce are Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom are in their early 70s, Generation X members, and Millennials, the youngest of whom are just entering their teen years. Generation Z members are barely old enough to stay home alone (see Busting Myths – Generation Z).

Although there are only three generations in the active, full-time workforce, the generational differences are significant. A survey of thousands of employees in the insurance industry, for example, revealed that three-quarters of respondents agreed that there are important generation differences, and those differences “sometimes” or “often” pose challenges in the workplace. (See more about this in “Why Generations Matter” from LifeCourse Associates.)

These differences include how members of each generation set goals for themselves and others, what members of each generation wants from their managers and coworkers, and even how they communicate. Learn more about how Millennials are changing the workplace here.

Boomers v. Millennials: Who had More Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll?

Just to set the record straight, the Guardian did a short piece on the reality of boomer behavior v. Millennial behavior. It might surprise you.

“Parents reminisce about how things were different back in their day – but how much has really changed? We asked millennials and their parents how they think attitudes to sex, drugs, jobs and living at home have shifted over the generations, then we dug into the data to see how big the differences really are”

5 Terrible Ways to Manage Millennials

With all the attention on the right way to manage Millennials, I thought I would share some ‘worst practices’ that I have seen in recent months as a way to help managers avoid irreversible errors in managing and coaching Millennials.

Turnover remains high with Millennials, but research still suggests that Millennials would rather work for “one perfect employer” than hop from job to job. So, here it goes… 5 terrible ways to manage Millennials:

1. Practice Tough Love

Most middle managers and even senior managers fall into the Generation X (ages 32 – 51) category. Xers came of age at a time of economic malaise and cultural tension. For them growing up, the world was a dangerous place. Generation X was the latch-key generation. Unwanted pregnancies reached a peak in the US in the 80’s and early 90’s, risk behavior such as drinking and driving and drug use increased. While Boomers practiced ‘free love’, Xers worried about AIDS.

Because of their tough gritty experiences, Xers entered the workforce, fairly successfully on their own with no help from anyone. They were the survivalists and entrepreneurs that embraced risk with a fiercely independent spirit. I see many Xer managers treat Millennials with the kind of ‘tough love’ mentality that they experienced when they entered the workforce.

News flash: Millennials don’t ‘get’ tough love. Their experience was entirely different growing up. They were raised ‘carefully’ by their helicopter parents who surrounded them with teams of teachers, counselors, physicians, and tutors that worked on every aspect of their development. Their expectation for the workplace is the same.You can’t give a Millennial too much attention.

2. Give them the Big Picture on an Assignment

For as empowered and confident as Millennials are, they need descriptions of assignments in detailed clarity. It is not enough to say, “read through this 1,000-page document and create a 3-page summary”. You would need to identify for them exactly how the summary should be developed, what font and format you want, when you want it by, and what resources are available to help them complete the assignment. Millennials prefer step-by-step explanations in as much detail as possible.

3. Take Their Toys Away

A few years ago, I was doing a research project for a U.S. government agency. We were trying to identify the drivers of satisfaction among Millennials. While the top results all had to do with feedback, two elements emerged that were unexpected: they wanted larger monitors or even two monitors on their desks, and they wanted to be plugged into to their social network throughout the workday. Now, I realize there are some jobs where this would not be possible, but consider the two things that have always been a priority for Millennials– cutting edge technology, and ability to connect to their social network. One hotel manager told me, “I tried to stop them from getting on Facebook, but it was impossible.  Instead, I have designated times for Facebook breaks throughout the day, and this really has helped, not hurt productivity and moral.”

4. Don’t Offer/Explain Benefits

One of the most remarkable and unexpected characteristics of Millennials is their interest in benefits like 401k, retirement, health benefits, wellness and flex programs, etc. It was always assumed that young people don’t care about these things– after all, retirement is a long way off, and young people are generally healthy, but according to a study by MetLife, this does not appear to be the case. In fact, Millennials actually value benefits more than older generations! This is a reversal in thinking, as it was always assumed that phase of life would influence attitudes toward benefits. There is also emerging evidence that Millennials are investing a higher percentage of their income into 401k’s compared to older generations. So, don’t assume that Millennials don’t care about these issues, and make sure you provide plenty of opportunities to explain these benefits in great detail.

5. Try to be ‘Cool’, like Them

This is an awful strategy. Millennials expect older generations to act their age. Millennials already have a very positive and informal relationship with authority figures. Studies have shown that Millennials have a far better relationship with their parents compared to Boomers and Xers when they were young. And Millennials also share many of the same cultural interests as their parents– they watch movies together, listen to the same music, and communicate far more frequently than previous generations. But Millennials value interactions with their own generation. Don’t insert yourself into their friend network and start posting stuff on Facebook and Twitter. If you do, you will not be cool, you will be weird.

What are some of the ‘worst practices’ you’ve heard about in Managing Millennials? Better yet, what works best for you in managing Millennials?

-Warren Wright

It's the Long Weekend: Set Your Millennials Free!

You will thank me for this advice. It’s Friday of Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer.  All those projects that are piling up? They will just have to wait.

Just because you, as a Boomer, or an early wave Xer like me, grew up in a “Work Is Life” culture, does not mean Millennials feel the same way about work.

All Work, No Play?

In the 1980’s, Boomers changed the definition of work. Work used to be punching time cards from 9 to 5 in factory-like precision. Remember when the work whistle went off for Fred Flintstone—Yaba Daba Do! But in the Boomer world of work, it was in early, out late. Once they were through their rebellious adolescence, Boomer adult took work seriously, some would say too seriously. They shattered the 9 to 5 paradigm and put meaning to the term ‘workaholic’.

BOOMERS on work: Work-Centric

The Ends Trump the Means

In the 1990’s Generation X redefined the work environment once again with a pay for performance mentality. For a GenXer, it didn’t matter how long you worked, it mattered that the job got done. These techno-literates used their creativity and adaptability to find new way to solve problems. And still find time for work/life balance. GenX Google founders Larry Page and Sergi Brim personified this ethic and built their $50 billion tech juggernaut.

GEN-X’s on work: Work/Life balance

Ummm… I just want a Life

Now here come the Millennials and once again, they will be redefining the work environment (but probably not until over 50% of them are over 30 in the 2020’s, replacing GenXers in management positions). In the meantime, what are their priorities on work and what is best way to motivate them?

First, recognize that family and friends always come first for Millennials. Their parents are BFF and their friends are their lifeline to… life—companionship, entertainment, activities, romance, etc. This does not mean that work is unimportant, but it does mean you have to understand their priorities.

Second, meaningful work is a meaningful life. Millennials want to do work that has an impact on the world around them. Can you connect the dots between their work and how it improves the lives of others? Barney & Barney, a successful insurance broker in California, has a thriving Foundation that contributes to the communities they serve. This really attracts the Millennials and they will put in the extra hours if they know it has meaning.

Lastly, and this is my GenX voice talking, define the goals you want them to achieve, and don’t meddle in the means to get there. Be clear about the goals, check in frequently on their progress (be positive and constructive) and give them the tools they need, but don’t make them stick around on a Friday if they can manage to finish the work on Thursday.

Millennials on work: Work-life Integration

Don’t stress out you Boomers… there’s always Monday… or in this case, Tuesday.