Millennials. Coming soon to a workplace near you. Millennials, or Generation Y, account for one quarter of the Canadian population and a growing segment of the work force. Business basics, such as the meeting, have to be rethought so organizations can connect with the emerging “connected generation.”
To keep up with fierce competition and attract and retain the best employees, companies have to adjust to a multi-generational work force, and that means adjusting to constant connection. Millennials are always multi-tasking. In fact, studies show that they would sooner give up their sense of smell than their smartphone.
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Having grown up watching TV, while playing on an iPad, with their cells within reach, and reading a book while they’re at it, they are used to constant stimuli. They can take in and process information much more quickly, and it makes sense that they are only disconnected for an hour or less each day.
While millennials excel in this crowded environment, older generations feel bombarded by this constant influx of data, images, sounds, and experiences. Because most executives are older and not part of this culture, their immediate response tends to be, “Stop it! Pay attention.” Many members of senior leadership require employees to check their mobile devices at the door of meetings, so they are fully present for the duration of the meeting. After all, flow experiences can’t occur unless you are 100% fully engaged in a task and are impossible to achieve while multi-tasking.
But that’s a little like Prohibition. We’ve got an alcohol problem, so let’s make it illegal. That worked out tremendously well, about as well as a “no device” policy will work. We have to plan for it. Say a meeting starts at 10:00. Schedule a smartphone break at 10:20, with the theory that people can make it 20 minutes without checking in. Companies have to meet their younger employees halfway.
This is another concept that is difficult for many boomers, and even Generation Xers, to grasp. Since the majority of executives are either boomers of Gen Xers, they tend to think and manage their staff the way they always have – believing what worked for them in the past will again. In reality, corporate values and culture need to be revisited to accommodate the millennial workforce and demonstrate to them that the company is willing to meet them halfway. The onus for work satisfaction is not entirely on the individual. This is a shift that organizations have to address as costs of employee turnover continue to rise. You want to retain the best people – those in whom you’ve already invested. But millennials are willing to move from job to job, in search of one that makes them happy.
Businesses have to acknowledge that they need to provide an environment of continual learning, challenge, and responsibility if they want their top talent to stay. Meetings can be a key vehicle for this, particularly as millennials are team-oriented. They need smaller bites, but better quality bites. Think TED talks instead of hour long PowerPoint presentations. Just 18 minutes, these types of talks force speakers and presenters to be disciplined in what they say, to be concise in their message and grab the audience’s attention.
Millennials have a variety of key skills and characteristics to add to the workforce. They are philanthropic, tech savvy, collaborative, pragmatic, and optimistic. To tap into that immense potential, businesses have to adjust and recalibrate “business (and meetings) as usual”, and start meeting in the middle.