Creating better work relationships with millennials

Millennials, the generation between 21 and 32 years old, are currently the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, according to a 2014 study by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding. Nearly a million millennials will be entering the workforce this year. Though nearly 28% of this age group is already in a management position, there still seems to be a disconnection between these younger workers and Baby Boomers in upper management.

Eric J. Troy and Mayor Michael Coleman at the Small Business Conference and Expo

Eric J. Troy, program director of the Keith B. Key Social Entrepreneurial Program at The Ohio State University, says that the cultural differences between millennials and their older bosses are leaving both sets of workers at a loss.

“Every 24 months workers in this age group are looking for other opportunities because they aren’t being challenged enough,” Troy said at the 13th Annual Mayor Michael B. Coleman Small Business Conference and Expo at his session on how small businesses can recruit and retain millennials.

The goal of the session was to connected small business owners with a panel of millennial workers for a cross-generational dialogue that would help millennials feel empowered to make a difference at work, while business owners can better utilize the potential of younger workers.

“Small business owners are ambassadors of wisdom,” Troy said. “However, in your job descriptions you must also emphasize that you are looking to learn from younger workers too.”

Business owners were able to talk openly about issues with integrating younger workers into the workplace. Although many are highly educated, they often lack relevant work experience and the social graces that older workers value including proper dinner etiquette, business communications and dress code.

Ezra Johnson (l) leading a breakout session on millennials in the workplace

Ezra Johnson, program manager of COWIC’s S.O.A.R.hire! youth and young adult employment initiative, was a panelist for the session and pointed to several ways that employers can mindfully cultivate young talent.

“We are very heavy in education, but lack experience. A lot of us started out in call centers or warehouses and only have a year or so experience in the area we want to be,” Johnson said. “When job descriptions say, ‘four years of experience,’ we are automatically disqualified because we’ve been in school so long. When it comes to job qualifications, have more confidence in the education that we’ve had to make us good workers.”

Johnson adds that young workers must also work hard to overcome the stigma of millennials being unprofessional by being detail oriented and ready to take on challenges.

“Someone from the older generation told me the other day that we don’t ‘dot I’s’ and ‘cross t’s,’” Johnson said. “That is something that we have to take note of to be impressive workers.”

Troy encouraged the business owners to build professional development and mentorship into the framework of the job, which will help them balance getting things done and cultivating talent.

“Millennials want to belong and want to be responsible, but they also want patience and direction,” Troy says. “They are multitaskers, but they don’t want a helicopter boss.”

During the session, Troy offered advice to small businesses on how to empower young workers, including asking them to run company meetings and take the lead on projects. At the close of the session, Troy challenged the business owners to actively identify and recruit millennial workers and customers using social media and rebranding efforts.

“Your millennial employees are ultimately your customers,” said Troy, adding that millennials will spend $200 billion annually by 2017, and $10 trillion as consumers over their lifetime.