I can’t help but laugh when I Google “Millennial” and look for the latest news on my generation. Nearly every article is a new insight into how to motivate millennials, how to work with millennials, how to keep millennials happy, how to understand millennials, and so on. Are we that much of a mystery?
My response to the mysterious millennial conundrum is we aren’t the ones who are hard to work with. Sure we do things different than the older generations, and yes we jump jobs faster than any generation previous, but when it comes down to it, we get things done (and do a good job of it too) and that’s why other generations think they have to figure us out. Here’s a fact: Gen X-ers don’t really like millennials. They distrust us, try to peg us as lazy, and generally want to keep us in a preconceived box. So how do we work in an environment surrounded by detractors?
There are three parts to working successfully with the previous generations that surround us, but the bottom line is to maintain an attitude of respect and you’ll get it in return.
Part 1: Ask for help: I know this grates against the nature of the true millennial, considering we are a self-serving, self-important, self-motivated bunch, but this may be the most important way to get the older generation to stop thinking you’re a total jerk. Whenever you run into an issue that you know is only solved by tacit or tribal knowledge, find either the most outspoken/popular gen x co-worker and ask for help, or go my preferred route and ask the quiet, impersonal, never makes eye contact with you type. Your co-workers will either hear about you asking for help from the loud guy, or see and respect you approaching the scary guy.
Part 2: Say thank you: Following asking for help is saying thank you. I don’t just mean after you’ve received help, I mean after you’ve been hired, after you’ve been helped on a project, after you’ve been taken to lunch. A lost art among the younger generation is the handwritten note. Nothing says, “I can get along with oldies” better than the archaic form of communication known as handwriting. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but very much believe the underlying message.
Part 3: Don’t back down: The third part involves making educated, defensible decisions and sticking to them. There is a way to be firm in your opinion at work without being called any combination of arrogant, pompous, naïve, young, ignorant, or a variety of other adjectives. Use the generational advantage you have been given of ingrained tech savviness to find solid empirical, and expert knowledge to support what you say. Always be prepared with solid facts, and expert quotes. When challenged by co-workers, stand your ground but give reasons why you are so firm.
Sure, this is no foolproof, comprehensive plan for every situation any millennial will be in, but generally these three actions, done consistently, will garner you the respect you think you deserve.