Why Millennials Are So Different From Gen-Xers On The Job

What is the work ethic of the millennial generation? originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Maria Matarelli, Founder & President at Formula Ink:

Millennials are a generation built around certain expectations. Expectations they have of themselves, of their duties, and of their place of business. And many companies are going out of their way to try to appeal to this generation new to the workforce, offering on-site benefits like ping pong tables, oatmeal bars, or yoga studios.

And while those bells and whistles might be nice perks, or might sway their decision to one place over another, they’re not what millennials are truly looking for at work. What they’re really looking for is freedom. The freedom to create, to innovate, to express themselves and their ideas.

Millennials are simply looking for the freedom to be heard and make a difference.

Life In the Fast Lane:

Millennials grew up with the latest innovations right at their fingertips.

Think about it. This is the generation of kids that grew up alongside every major technological innovation of the last 30 years. From video game systems, to computers, to phones, and now apps–which combine all of the above. These are people always looking for the next best thing. But that’s not a bad attitude to have.

The next best thing usually means more innovation, making something simpler, easier. Look at online food-ordering apps. GrubHub was a major revelation years ago, coming onto the scene and eliminating the old phonebook way of ordering food. And it was all the rage until UberEats reared its head–taking the delivery time from 60 minutes to 20-30 as they utilized Uber’s fleet of drivers. As of the first quarter of 2017, UberEats sees about 9 million monthly users, while GrubHub sees just under 4 million monthly users.

The millennials didn’t switch apps because one had shinier packaging, they switched because it was more efficient.

It’s About the Outcome, Not the Journey:

Millennials are less concerned with the approach to the work than they are with the outcome.

Because they’ve been exposed to so much ease and innovation, millennials work toward outcomes with efficiency in mind. They look for the expedient route that won’t waste time. If they need to know a piece of information, they will either Google it, email, or send a quick text.

Just look at how much more time they spend texting versus Gen X. According to Forbes, 68% of millennials text daily, compared to only 47% of the generation above them. They text more as a means of efficiency. They send out a quick text, get the information they need, and then move on to work with that info.

They’ve maximized efficiency on their own terms.

So, if they skirt traditional approaches and practices, they do so because they know there are more efficient means available. This is far from the labels of “lazy” that many older generations have placed on millennials. Yes they look for ease, but only in as much as it helps them to accomplish what they need in as little time as possible, freeing them up to keep pushing and accomplishing more.

But in order to arrive at those innovative outcomes, they need to have the freedom to control their path to get there.

Handle With Care:

Managers of millennials need to learn how to foster their spirit of innovation in order to maximize their potential as employees.

This doesn’t mean they need to cater to their every whim–a pinball machine in every room, bean-bag office chairs, or free popcorn. What it means is that they need to create an environment where they can feel comfortable to create, to experiment, and to express their ideas.

The worst thing you could do with your millennial employees is to confine them to only doing things a certain way. The second-worst thing you could do is to ignore them. Both lead millennials to feeling oppressed, underutilized, overlooked, or that their ideas just don’t matter. Pretty soon they’ll become just another employee punching a clock–likely looking for another company that will cater to their need for freedom.

Giving millennials their freedom shows confidence and trust in their individual value to the company–and that’s what they’re truly after.

You don’t have to reinvent the office wheel in order to get the most out of your millennials. You just have to give them an environment where they can become their most productive selves. An Agile environment, an environment that allows for freedom, collaboration, and creativity. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about how people are more motivated by internal factors than external drivers. Traditional means of bonuses and incentives are not as effective as you might think. People tend to be more motivated by autonomy, having a sense of purpose, and a desire for mastery. All of us are the products of our environment, and for millennials, there is no exception.

Growing up alongside such dramatic innovations is like growing up in another world, a world with its own language, customs, and practices. Technology and innovation are a second language for them. A language designed for ease of use. A language of efficiency. You don’t necessarily have to learn the language, you just have to give them the freedom to speak it.