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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Tomorrow’s Business Leaders: Meet Gen Y and Millennials

As a working professional or executive leader, how can you give Millennials all the tools they need to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace? The answers are more complex than you think, as we found out by speaking with Lindsey Pollak, author of The New York Times bestseller Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. As touched on further in our own bestseller Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap, there’s more that goes into empowering tomorrow’s leaders than you might think:

Q: What constitutes a Millennial in your mind? And what notable characteristics, behaviors, and perspectives most define this generation from your standpoint? A:

Millennials (ages 18-33) are digital natives who want instant gratification, expect customization, and love to share their lives on social media. They are the most diverse generation in the U.S., according to Pew Research Institute. They are also leaders who want training, coaching and work-life balance from employers, according to The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey.

Q: What are some of the most important trends and happenings we’re seeing emerge amongst people who hail from this age group?

A: A key trend for Millennials is their desire for work/life integration. Most Millennials don’t see a distinct separation between their professional and personal lives, and they want to work for employers that understand that. They want flexible work schedules and locations. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, we asked Millennials about the top issue they would tackle if they were the leaders in the workplace today. Their answer was work-life balance. Flexible work options come up in our newest research on Millennial parenthood.

Q: What are a few unexpected things people would never guess about members of this generation?

A: Millennials are not just kids anymore! They are parents! And they are very committed parents, including the men. According to The Hartford’s 2015 Millennial Parenthood Survey52 percent of Millennial dads are taking extended time off from work after the birth of a baby. Millennial dads also said they are sharing child care responsibilities, which is impacting their careers. The main takeaway is that today employers need to factor in fathers when creating benefits and work-life balance programs.

Q: How does this generation fundamentally differ from those which came before – and those who will follow after?

A: Millennials want what all generations want – fair treatment at work, time to enjoy their lives, products and services that meet their needs and desires, and authentic relationships. What is different is that they tend to expect these things in a shorter time frame. For example, in the workplace, Millennials desire flexible work situations from day one. They want great training, mentoring, and benefits without having to “pay their dues” for years to get them.

Q: How might Millennials be unexpectedly similar to other generations in ways casual observers might not expect?

A: Some might think the friction between generations would be between Boomers and Millennials. Actually, the generational tension is between Gen X and Y. The friction is not unlike sibling rivalry, where the older sibling (Gen X) feels the younger (Gen Y) is being treated better. Eighty-six percent of Gen Xers in The Hartford’s annual consumer survey said “entitlement generation” is an appropriate nickname for Millennials. And 70 percent of Gen Xers said too much attention is being given to Millennials. At the same time, that survey showed the Boomers and Millennials have an appreciation for each other’s skills and experience. So my message is: Don’t forget Gen X. This small but mighty generation can be the bridge between the two giant generations around it. Gen X can help knowledge transfer from the retiring Boomers to the next generation of leaders.

Q: How are Millennials changing the way we communicate and interact?

P: It’s a misconception to believe Millennials only want to communicate and interact through technology. Yes, this is a very important communication tool for this generation, but Millennials often tell me they get frustrated when other generations think they only want to communicate through text or social media. What Millennials want are options. They want to be able to use whatever communication tool they choose to use to interact with brands, service providers and, increasingly, in the workplace.

Q: What are some of the best and most effective ways to connect with and speak to members of this generation?

A: While Millennials gravitate toward digital communications, they want options. This can be expensive to provide, but, like all generations, individual Millennials have different communication preferences and appreciate organizations and people that provide a variety of options.

Q: What advice would you give businesses or brands hoping to more effectively engage Millennials?

A: Millennials want:

  • Coaching – Because of the “peerenting” trend, a generation of young people expect authority figures to support them, coach them and celebrate them, not yell at them. Training and development was the No. 1 thing that Millennials in The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Surveysaid they want from employers.
  • Customization – Millennials have never known the world without complete customization. It’s only natural that they expect it in the workplace, too. Offer options. Are you holding a workshop or training session? Consider offering it as a live event, Twitter chat and/or Periscope feed. Don’t forget to offer audio, video and a transcript after the event as well.
  • Transparency – Make the invisible visible. What if you’re losing people because they don’t know how to transfer within divisions? Don’t let little misunderstandings or un-promoted mobility programs build a barrier with Millennials. Measure everything and share your data: Millennials trust data and expect it.

Q: What does success look like for today’s Millennial in your opinion, and what’s driving them as they go about making decisions in business and life?

A: Millennials are redefining leadership. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, 83 percent of Millennials said they are leaders today and 73 percent aspire to be leaders in the next five years. The top area where they want to lead is business. And when asked what they would tackle as business leaders, they said work-life balance first and then leadership development.

Q: Anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to add with regard to Millennials that individuals or organizations should be aware of?

A: This year, I’ve been talking to companies about the Countdown to 2020 – the year 2020 is when Millennials are projected to be 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. I recommend that companies have a 2020 Millennial Action Plan (2020MAP) that outlines strategies to hire, retain and engage Millennials. Get ready for the Millennial majority. It’s coming.

For more on how to effectively manage, lead, and communicate with every generation, be sure to check out Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.

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