Mentoring Millennials By: Eileen Marshall
Every generational workforce has brought its own stereotypes and perceptions - and the latest workforce is no different. Millennials – those born 1981 to 2000 – number nearly 90 million of the U.S. population and are now the majority of the workforce. They are considered the "social media” generation and are very tech-savvy. They prefer life experiences over material gains and are marrying later, having kids later, and owning homes later.
But millennial employees are still young and have a lot to learn before they become the next wave of leaders. They tend to leave a job earlier than their older colleagues after only a few years unless they have a compelling reason to stay.
This is where mentoring programs can play a vital role in the retention of this emerging talent pool. Traditional mentoring relationships aren’t particularly appealing to millennial workers – just as they don’t respond to the same recruiting strategies and have unique and different expectations of their employers - so it’s worth reconsidering how we approach mentoring them.
The first step is understanding what’s different about the millennial generation. Millennials are generally regarded as quick learners, are comfortable with change, and incorporate and appreciate creativity in their work life.
The following tips will help you mentor, manage and motivate this younger generation:
1. Mutual Respect
If you’ve ever had a tech problem and immediately turned to a millennial for help, then you already know there are just some skills they have more experience with. From social media to cloud storage, concepts that still seem unfamiliar to older generations, millennials are digital natives and technology has almost always been a part of their lives.
So, a millennial mentoree will have a considerable amount of tech savvy they can teach their mentor – and they WANT to. If you’re facing an issue, consider bringing your mentoree into the problem-solving process. Ask them what they think is the best option. Don’t be surprised if their answer sheds some much-needed light on the situation.
Furthermore, for millennials, honesty is the most important quality in a leader — more so than their vision, confidence, or patience. Even if the truth involves negative feedback, millennials would rather hear it straight.
And don’t withhold vital information from them as a learning tool. The adage "you learn more by figuring out the truth for yourself” won’t cut it. In fact, this group will more likely feel betrayed, and it will do more damage than good. Millennials prefer that you save them time and energy by giving them all the information they need up front, so they can properly apply it.
Millennials want more than the typical boss-employee relationship where the boss directs and reviews the worker. Millennials crave feedback and collaboration and working with a mentor over the course of 9-12 months can help satisfy this need.
Millennials also have seemingly unlimited access to information. They can watch how-to videos on YouTube to learn how to network effectively, and they can follow industry leaders on Twitter to get up-to-date tricks of the trade. But they still need the guidance and the wisdom of experience of a mentor who knows how the organization "really” works. Anyone can write a blog about being successful in business, but that doesn’t make them an expert.
Help millennials navigate through it all by connecting them to real-world people and places they can turn to for more advice and tips. Introduce them to collaboration partners in your own network, as well as worthwhile podcasts and insightful articles. That way, you play a role in providing reliable sources to them to gather the information that is right for them.
Going hand-in-hand with the previous point, as the most collaborative and inclusive generation to date, these young adults expect their place of work to share the same idealism and values they embrace. A recent survey found that 82 percent of millennials who stayed with the same organization for more than five years felt their values aligned with those of the organization.
Here’s the thing about millennials: if they’re not happy, they will leave. The Millennial Generation is the most educated generation, meaning they feel secure moving from one job to the next if they are dissatisfied. A perception of knowing what they want and having the confidence to seek it out can be misconstrued as void of agency loyalty.
While you don’t need to agree with every opinion they have, a good mentor will show their millennial mentoree how to incorporate his or her values into their work, making the job more meaningful.
For example, if a millennial feels strongly about environmental sustainability, encourage them to find ways to help their department incorporate "green” initiatives. Also, take any opportunity to tie those values back to the organization so they can see their personal values at every level of what they do.
A strong mentoring program can be an integral element in employee satisfaction and talent retention — particularly with this younger generation which continues to grow. Tailoring mentoring relationships and approaches to workforce needs will keep top-notch employees from moving on!
ASK A MENTOR:
Mentors are more often than not of a different generation than their mentorees, which has its advantages and drawbacks. Advantages are many – more technical experience, political savvy, institutional knowledge – the list goes on. The drawbacks can include differing value systems, ideas about the importance of stability and loyalty to an organization and expectations about a company’s social responsibility. Take some time to ask your mentoring partner about their perspective of mentoring (or being mentored by) someone from a different generation. Here are some possible questions you might ask:
- Have you ever been matched with someone from a different generation? If so, what were the benefits? What were the challenges?
- What are some of the strengths (technical/political) that you bring to the mentoring relationship? What are some ways to best showcase and share these strengths?
- What is the best way to approach leadership with a new idea or process improvement?
- What opportunities are available to collaborate cross-functionally? Who should you be networking with to better understand the organization’s mission and values?