Response to Reader: Motivation for Millenials

Reader Hana writes:

I would love your feedback on a couple of things, or maybe a blog post on it someday. I’m not sure if you read the silly Buzzfeed list that came out about Millennials a few weeks ago, but it caused a bit of controversy it seems. Mainly, people (Millennials included) found it to be a negative portrayal of the generation. That it made Millennials seem cocky and arrogant. And in my conversations with professional contacts lately, I have gotten the same treatment. Namely that Millennials are unwilling to climb the ranks, and instead want everything now, undeserving as we are. I was recently told that although Millennials have some valid points and offer distinct benefits to the workplace, that we are still largely working with Baby Boomers, and thus need to learn how to market ourselves to this generation in order to get our feet in doors and be initially successful in our careers. So, that’s the first thought I have. I LOVED your post. I guess my question is: for the majority of us who aren’t lucky enough to work for Google, how do we maintain the positive characteristics of our Millennial nature while still attracting the interest of employers and professional contacts. How do we tread the line between confidence and arrogance?

ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE! :D Excellent thoughts for a blog post!

I love this question and it covers something that many of us have encountered first hand. For example, I used to coach leaders in mines up in Canada who would complain about this new “entitled” generation (to my face, mind you…I mean… “hellerrrrrr??? Can’t you tell how old I am? I look like I’m 12… c’mon!”). I would hear the same things as you, “they don’t want to work hard” or “they think that just because they show up, they deserve a prize”.

I would like to start by saying that I appreciate you seeing this as a growing topic and not one that is fully formulated…by any one…at this point. At the moment I do have some initial thoughts on the matter. They include: 1) showing empathy and asking for it in return, 2) proving ourselves via our behavior and, in the meantime, showing respect for what Baby Boomers have accomplished- which is a lot. In my experience, Boomers are looking for us to be “respectful” of the years of hard work they put into a job. Many Millennials will never experience something like this since we are so mobile (ie. If this job in San Francisco doesn’t work, I’ll use social media and Skype to land this other job in Sydney that might work better) and because our histories have shown us that if we deserve it now (up for debate on occasion), we can get it now. Baby Boomers did not have these luxuries. They took a job (perhaps a mediocre one near home) and had to stick with it. Their generation stayed put, raised families younger than us and grew up as people WITH their job. We (Millennials) are raising families later and getting ourselves in the “right” careers first. We have different experiences and therefore different motivators. I would argue now, as ever, that the answer lies in Behavior Analysis when it comes to marketing ourselves.

Just like in any other situation where we need specific behavior from someone, we need to look at the environment to see what motivates them. Based on my own experience, I believe the watered down version probably looks something like this:

 …..or, if the Millennial wants to change this behavior in the future they need to create some antecedents for new behavior and REINFORCE, REINFORCE, REINFORCE!

They could show empathy and ask for it in return (remember to be respectful):

“Hey boss, I see where you are coming from. You have lots of knowledge about all of this that I’m really eager to learn from. My generation comes from a different place than yours and I respect where you are coming from. I’d like to have lunch with you some day to talk about the benefits that we both bring to the table given our histories. It could really help me learn about what made you successful and I could talk to you about why I (a Millennial) bring value from my own history.”

Then prove ourselves through our behavior (remember to be respectful):

This does not necessarily mean just in our ability to be successful at our craft but also in our ability to be successful in the workplace as a whole, which includes partnering and/or working for individuals from other generations.

In behavioral term this processes is about establishing yourself as a conditioned reinforcer. AKA- doing things that the Boomer finds reinforcing and you will then become a reinforcing figure to them. This will give you the “right” to then show your skillzzzz :)

A few behaviors you could try are….

  • Ask lots of questions and try their suggestions first for a time. Establish yourself as someone who is willing to learn and who doesn’t have all of the answers. After this, don’t forget to insert your own ideas and innovations when the time is right…especially if they present you with the opportunity.
  • Shut up. Stop talking about what you want and what you think you deserve. Do the work you were hired to do and excel in the ways that Millennials know we can. BUT THEN extend what exists by adding ideas and being a thought-partner but don’t try to re-create something on your own that someone else built and is proud of.
  • Ask for feedback when provided with the opportunity to be creative, innovative or lead something for yourself.
  • Do good work. If you take the job, take the time and make the effort to produce high quality work from day one. One problem that I see occurring is that in our puddle jumping efforts to get to the right career, we are not producing to our potential in the “for now” job. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t look good for you, your future in your career and quite frankly, it makes the rest of us look bad.

Some of us Millennials aren’t lucky enough to be the Founder and CEO of a fresh-off-the-Startup-train, 5 Billion dollar enterprise. And in that case, we WILL be working for/with or be hired by a Baby Boomer. We’ve beat the dead horse on the topic that we have different reinforcers for the working environment than they do. So if we are asking something new of them, let’s be flexible, smart and respectful enough to work to their motivators in order to establish ourselves as worthy colleagues in the greater organizational experience.

What do you think? Please help me extend the thinking on this topic by providing me with your thoughts in the comments section below!