12 Ways to Connect with Millennial Employees

This summer has been a new learning experience for me--this is the first time in a number of years where my two oldest sons returned home to work and live. I must admit that I have not been forced to relate with these two twenty-somethings for such an extended time in such close quarters. I had to relearn how to connect with them as adults. Interacting with them has taught me a lot about myself and about how important it is to understand how their generation relates to and approaches their work and relationships with others. Taking the time to learn what is important to these young adults will help you forge a stronger relationship with them and help you make the most of their talents and abilities. 

Here are 12 keys I have found helpful in connecting with young adults, especially in the workplace:

 1. Call them by their names. Referring to those born between the years of 1980-2000 as “millennials” is an overly-used stereotype that has more negative connotations than it does positive. Learning to look at these younger employees as unique individuals with a number of positive traits and characteristics allows us to understand them and the many influences that shape their behavior rather than making sweeping generalizations based on their age.  

2. Establish a relationship. Building rapport with these young people is a very important step in helping them feel valued as employees. One way to connect with them is to become knowledgeable about what is important to them. Ask them questions and listen to their responses. Get them to tell you about their dreams, aspirations, and desires which are often woven into their stories about themselves. If you take the time to learn about them, they will become more receptive to learning and understanding your story and what is important to you.

3. Be vulnerable. These younger people don’t want to be peppered with unsolicited advice. Rather, they are interested in learning about your struggles, successes, and strategies for success. Share with them how you may have made mistakes and what you learned as a consequence of those mistakes. If you can couch your advice within the framework of your experience, they will listen to what you have to say. I have also found it helpful to ask their permission before sharing a personal experience with them. When I have done this, anything I offered has been well received. 

4. Be real.Being authentic with these individuals is important. They want you to be honest and truthful with them. They also appreciate it when you are willing to admit your mistakes and sincerely apologize when you are in the wrong. Being authentic demonstrates that you care enough to tell it like it is.

5. Provide clarity. Be concise, specific, and direct. Long conversations are not the preferred means of communication with this group of people. You can be very specific about expectations and parameters for the completion of projects. They respond best to direct verbal or written messages. You would be wise to ask questions to insure that they have understood. If you discover that there has been a misunderstanding, provide clarifying details and answer their questions with respect.

6. Offer constructive feedback. These younger employees thrive on feedback. They love to know how they are doing. If they are not performing up to standard, then they want to be told as soon as possible. After providing clear expectations, be sure to share concrete examples and details when providing constructive feedback.

7. Establish a clear purpose and vision.This is your opportunity to enroll these individuals in your vision and to bring purpose to their work. They like to know that what they are doing makes a contribution and will make a difference to others. Because they like being part of something that is bigger than themselves, helping to build a clear vision and purpose for their work creates a sense of belonging and motivation for their efforts. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

8. Be inclusive. Don’t slight these young adults because of their age and inexperience. Allow these junior employees to be part of a team or group which will provide them with opportunities to learn and grow. Having them sit in on meetings where they can learn from more senior and experienced individuals creates value for their limited expertise while building their capacity and understanding of your business. They can also add another important perspective to the group that may have been missing.

9. Provide positive reinforcement. These younger individuals are often struggling to find themselves and to determine where they fit in. Consequently, when they do a great job or make a contribution, don’t skimp on the positive reinforcement. This positive feedback needs to be sincere and truthful for it to be effective.

10. Be patient. Sometimes this group of younger employees lacks humility and tact. Take them seriously, but not personally. Don’t let their delivery of a message impede your understanding of that message. Ask questions to clarify your understanding. Be grateful that they are willing to share their opinion where other employees may be more closed-mouthed.

11. Seek growth opportunities. When I was younger, I remember patiently waiting and enduring whatever people thought I should do to demonstrate that I should be rewarded with developmental opportunities. Seek to identify what is important to your younger employees and how you might help them to develop their skills and abilities. They are eager to learn.

12. Make them a significant part of your team.One of the greatest fears of this group is that they will fail and be labeled as unimportant. Connect their work and contribution to a higher purpose. Find tasks that they can take on and allow them the autonomy to do their work. Take the time to mentor and coach them to be successful.

This younger generation is made up of wonderful individuals who are just beginning their professional careers. Afford them the opportunity to explore, learn, grow, and be part of something that has purpose and impact. They will reward your organization with their passion, commitment, and loyalty in all that they do.   

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