The Millennial Generation

“Kids These Days!”

We have all heard this saying; in fact, we may have even said it ourselves. This is not a statement of appreciation, but frustration. We are frustrated because they seem self-absorbed, with no loyalty and demand information now. This is not just how we experience them, it is also how the media portrays them. Magazine covers and new stories abound with stories about Millennials and their shortcomings. Leaders are able to see through this perception and not just work with this generation, but encourage them to develop their strengths to benefit the organizations they serve.

In the last 3 years, the Millennial generation has been a hot topic in blog posts, magazine articles, news reports, YouTube videos and tweets. They have been labeled as narcissistic, entitled, job hoppers, with no work ethic, in need of constant affirmation and afraid to abandon the security offered by their helicopter parents. In headlines, they have even been referred to as "Generation Y Bother" and "Millennials: The New Office Moron."

These are the same people who are spending their summers working for us and are some of the year-round staff helping to shape our camps for the future. The young people I interact with are dedicated to youth, socially conscious, service-oriented and determined to make a difference. 

So why do they have such a bad rap?

First, it’s good for us to remember that every generation has said similar things about previous generations. This is because different generations not only think differently, they think about how to think differently. The view is different, the experience is different, and the people are different. This difference represents a diversity that effective leaders will use to strengthen their organizations.

Second, like most generations the Millennials are a product of their environment.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, Millennials are upbeat about their future, in fact, 85 percent of them believe that they either earn enough money now or will in the future to live the life they want. They believe in themselves and in their abilities ... that's not narcissism, it's optimism. We have spent so much time telling them they can do anything and be anything that they believe in their own destiny. They believe that they can make a difference and they want to do it now.

What may be most difficult for us to handle is that they haven't paid their dues. They have not gone through what we have and yet they want more responsibility, more decision-making capability and more answers. 

So what?

Our goal as leaders is to support and empower our staff to achieve more, to help our organization grow. Why does it matter how quickly they succeed or what they have gone through? 

If our focus is on outcomes then all we need to do is figure out who they are and where they are coming from so that we can help them succeed in our organizations.

Here are a few things to help;

Explain The "Why"

This is a point of contention that many people have with the Millennial generation. They always ask why. This can seem like they are second-guessing our decision-making and being disrespectful, but we need to remember that this is a generation that has had answers to questions at their fingertips since they were born. They want to know why, so tell them why or tell them why you can't. They are not being disrespectful, they are seeking information. They are inquisitive and problem solvers and may actually have a better idea. Sometimes the best answers come from those who do not know about all the failures, and the true leaders are the ones who can accept the best solutions regardless of whose idea it was. 

Model The Behavior You Want To See

The Role Model Principle: People pay attention more to what you do than what you say. We all know that this is true, and we have all heard it before, but we do not always act like it applies to leadership. As a leader if I want my staff to listen to me, I need to listen to them. If I want my ideas heard, I need to hear their ideas. As leaders, we need to go above and beyond to create an environment of doing and saying the same things we expect from staff.  The culture in our organizations starts with us and millennials respond to this kind of integrity.

Use Technology And Make Training Fun

This generation is used to getting information quick and in a multimedia way. If you stand and lecture, they will check out and your message will be lost. Use technology to communicate and to train. Facebook messenger and text messages will get a response quicker than email or voicemail. Short bullet point lectures combined with written material and video clips will help staff retain more information than lectures and re-reading the staff manual.   

Connect Them To The Outcomes

This is a generation that had service hours as a requirement for graduation. They are socially conscious and are interested in the greater good. We need to understand that while this generation may move from cause to cause and organization to organization, they really seek being connected to the outcomes. Make sure that your staff feel connected to the whole organization and the good that you are doing. 

Let them help or lead in making significant decisions that help reach these outcomes.

Right now, Millennials make up 45 percent of the workforce and each year that number will continue to grow. They are the most talked about, marketed, tech savvy, and socially conscious generation in ages. It is our responsibility to help them use their strengths and teach them to grow. Leaders don’t look past the differences in their staff, they utilize the differences to enhance their organization and empower the next generation.

Kurt Podeszwa is a camping professional, husband and father.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Education, and has spent much of his adult life working in outdoor and adventure education, with over 20 years of professional youth development and nonprofit management experience.  Kurt is committed to safety, fun, and learning in the outdoor environment.Kurt is an accomplished presenter and author and the founder of Journey Consulting.  He is a faculty member of Expert Online Training and has presented at national and regional conferences as well as for companies and schools on topics ranging from staff training and development to adaptive programming and processing.  Kurt has held various positions within the American Camp Association and currently serves on the national board.