As our employee pool changes from Baby Boomer to GenX, to Millennial, and now iGen (Internet Generation) we are seeing bigger differences between the generations. This has created fear of having to not only train a young person on their job but also on their life skills and this can feel overwhelming for a business owner. How can we relate to a person that does not share the same values in life? This new generation does not even hang out with their friends in person, they are less likely to drink alcohol or get in trouble (Jean M. Twenge PhD). They also are less likely to have had real job experience before they turned 18 years old. I know when my kids were teens (they are all iGens), I kept thinking, “why can’t they get jobs, I’ve been working since I was 12.” I know they are applying because I’m making them do it. They don’t hear from most, but they had talked with managers when handing in resumes, and that should count for something. I originally thought it was just my kids, but then I found many parents I knew or met had the same concerns.
I started reading research and articles on this generation and found some interesting things. (If you are interested, the best resource I have found is Jean M. Twenge’s book recounting her research on iGen). I did learn a great deal about the differences, challenges, and concerns of this generation. I started looking for more information on the other generations so I could understand what these differences meant for this new employee cohort that is currently entering the workforce, not only for my children’s sake but also for my business and my client’s needs. If they are so different, how are we supposed to train them and give them responsibility inside our businesses? Then I started looking at trends and events that shaped the past generations, like how the Baby Boomers were born mostly after the Second World War and during the economic recovery, which included the introduction of consumerism as a healthy way to help rebuild our Western economies.
What did we (the older generation) learn that the iGen did not? What did we have that they don’t? What did we have to teach them to bring them up to speed as an employee? I kept looking at this with an “us versus them” lens. We can do that they can’t? I built a talk around this to inform others of what these relationships looked like, but it never felt complete as it only increased the gap between what we needed and what we thought was available. Like any human interaction, if we focus on what the other person does not have, we don’t see the qualities they do possess. This was the key and it was not new with this new generation, it was as old as human diversity itself.
I remember when my neighbour’s girls were teens (they are millennials) how much I enjoyed talking with teenagers. I taught many teens in Sunday School, I’d chat with them at our friend’s houses and at the college, I just found them interesting. I often had adults tell me that they appreciated the way I talked to their kids. I treated them with respect and expected the same from them as I expected from other people, an interaction that was based on their core personality. I often thought, “Am I special?” “Don’t other people treat teens the same way?” I was surprised to find out they did not. People treated teens like they were not yet fully human. They didn’t yet deserve the same respect and understanding an adult had earned. They didn’t listen to them the same way they would an adult. Listening for the real idea or issue, and not what we thought was going on, while reserving judgment. It is the same as we would treat any human, and I was doing it instinctively.
So what does this mean for my talk and ultimately hiring iGen employees? When I realized the solution was not in the differences between the generations, but in the understanding of the diversity of our cultures, I started seeing the sameness. How do we interact, treat, and train people that don’t come from the same culture as us?
You might be thinking, but these kids are coming from the same culture, aren’t they? After all, they did grow up in our homes, with us as parents. The answer is Yes and No. The iGen generation does not know a time before the Internet. Research has found that they are spending more time online and on social media. They are connecting to their tribes online. Catherine Vellinga, Internationalization Lead at Georgian College, suggested that this generation has more in common with their online cohort from other countries in the world, culturally, than they do with different generations from their country of origin. It was an interesting thought, and both Catherine and I understood that it is much more complex than that, but the idea that your employee may disagree with you culturally is more easily understood when the global culture has a different view. So how do we engage this generation to become great employees, leaders, and future managers for our businesses?
Assuming you chose employees that are the right fit for your business initially, here are three things that will help create a stronger relationship with your iGen workers (Shhh, this also works with other generations).
Listening is a skill we know we are required to have if we want to be a great leader. You may have heard the old adage of how listening is so important that we have been given two ears and only one month. I have come across this in many areas of my learning, from my diploma on how to train adults, on conflict resolution in the workplace, to management training. When we are listening, I mean truly listening, the other person can tell that they are being heard. When the other person feels they are being heard, they know their ideas count, even if we don’t agree with them. This is true in marriages, parenting, family interactions, colleagues, salespeople, our bosses, and our employees. It is the foundation of conflict resolution and strong, healthy relationships.
To be a great listener:
- Don’t interrupt someone while they tell you their story. Give them the space to express what is going on.
- While they are speaking, don’t go into your own head to think of how you will rebut or question their ideas. Pay attention to them.
- In a short summary, repeat what they said to get them to confirm you understand. e.g. “So, if I heard you correctly, the back-room photocopier is out of order. Is that correct?”
- Ask great questions in between to show you are interested and want to completely understand their needs. e.g. “Is this photocopier being out of order a problem for our team? Has maintenance been contacted?”
- Offer your support. e.g. “Do you need me to do anything more about this situation?” I have found that often just offering my support is more than most people expect. In the classes I teach at the college, I have always offered my students the opportunity to get my support after college if they build a business and want some feedback. In the 8 years that I have taught in the Entrepreneurship Program, only two students have taken me up on this offer. But when my students of past years see me, they know I am always there for their support.
Accept / Understand / Respect
Accept that this generation is different. It is not a bad thing – it is just different. Look for and understand want they can do and may do, better than other generations. Teams that work using an online collaboration tool would benefit from iGen’s ability to connect online. They are already trained on how to interact, consume, and parse information from this type of platform. I know many older generation workers that curse having to check-in to their collaboration tools. A family business I worked with found that introducing a collaboration tool was successful at keeping teams connected, projects on task, communications open, and sales growing. Their biggest problem was the patriarch of the family, a Baby Boomer, was unwilling to use the platform and insisted on getting information through his email only. This generated multiple streams of conversations as emails and files were handled in two or more places and undermined the effectiveness of the cloud-based team collaboration. Here, the almost exclusively Millennial workers were stopped from doing what they do best and it affected the bottom-line of the business revenue. If you have a team that is willing to look for ways to make your business grow and capable of implementing and maintaining new systems that support the new ideas then respect the process they have put in place. Evaluate the effectiveness of the new process, ensure everyone is on board, and give the people with the skills permission to train and lead the way.
When I meet people and get a chance to learn a little about them, it is rare that I wouldn’t see where their brilliance lies. Their brilliance is where they shine most in this world, from being an amazing stay-at-home mom that works creatively to develop a space for her kids to grow into stable, happy adults, while looking after her own needs outside the family, to seeing the drive of a student to build a company that will not only feed their desire to work in their preferred field, but will also allow them to take charge of how they make money. Everyone has a ‘brilliance bead’, a term I use to describe the one bead on your ‘bracelet of life’, that is all about you and your core desires, skills, and experiences. When we don’t expect excellence we rarely get it. Know that your employees, with the right conditions and leadership, can reach increasingly higher milestones. This will help you create a business that can grow and compete. Expect excellence to get excellence.
These aspects are surely three of the most important contributions that have helped develop, and are still developing, my character.