In the last month, Neil Howe has updated our understanding of this generation with his latest book, Millennials in the Workplace (co-written by Reena Nadler). What Howe reveals is a continuation of the same generational characteristics that he and William Strauss outlined as early as 1991. The seven core traits that underlie their description of this generation are: Special, Sheltered, Confident, Team-Oriented, Conventional, Pressured and Achieving.
These traits have followed this generation as they have progressed through each stage of their lives to date and are essential as employers seek to understand what makes their newest and youngest contributors tick. I highly recommend this book and will even go so far as to send a copy signed by the authors to the first reader to provide a personal anecdote on what it's like to work with Millennials in their own work environment in the Comments section here.
I'll start with our own Gen Y workplace anecdote. Back when we started SurveyU (a company we've since merged with Ypulse), we decided that we should practice what we preach and set about to hire the best and brightest member of Gen Y that we could find. Our candidate participated in an ongoing program that we have with the Illinois Institute of Technology, wherein we put live ammunition into the hands of college students that are studying research methods, allowing them to conduct their own research projects with our panel, research platform and support.
Our target candidate immediately stood out from the pack so, once she graduated, we made her a job offer. After several iterations, we realized that we weren't negotiating with our prospective employee, rather, we were in reality negotiating with her mother (see core trait #2 - Sheltered).
In an attempt to speed along the process, we invited both parties to the negotiating table and managed to bring her aboard. Over the course of the past three years we have witnessed these seven core traits in action on a daily basis by each and every one of our Millennial colleagues.
While it is, at times, frustrating to a pack of Gen X workaholics -- who were trained to do as they were told -- to have to explain the context and import of each daily task required from Gen Y colleagues (see core trait #1 - Special), their sheer productivity as they manage information unlike any staff we've ever seen before (see core trait # 7 - Achieving) is well worth the effort in keeping them aligned with corporate goals.
Interestingly, Gen Y is very sensitive to what technologies you provide them to do their job. According to a 2008 study by Accenture, "New-Generation Workers," 52% of those aged 14-27 said that state-of-the-art technology is an important consideration in selecting an employer. In the same study, more than 20% (of those that had a job) said that the technologies offered by their employer did not meet their expectations.
It used to be that the most senior employees received the newest equipment, creating a waterfall of increasingly obsolete equipment down to the most junior staff. Turning this around to where each generation gets an appropriate level of technology based on their role and technological profile may be in order -- ASAP.
I had a chance to discuss the issue of cross-generational work styles with Stephen Covey in 2007 and he said to me, point-blank: "Any organization that doesn't align itself with the goals and aspirations of its staff will fail." His insights take on a new level of relevance as Gen Y enters the workplace.