Here's Why You Should Be Mentoring Your Millennial Employees

Lauren is a millennial. Her ambition is to become a top executive before she reaches her fortieth birthday. Through her work as an administrative intern supervising two hospital departments, by networking, and studying (and completing) a dual MBA/MHSM degree, she hopes to land an associate managerial job where she will become eligible to be fast-tracked for a leadership program. In her spare time, Lauren also teaches exercise classes at various gyms. Her passion, she says, is to empower young adults to pursue a healthy and fulfilling life.

In 2016, Lauren gave a talk on why employers should be mentoring their millennial employees, and she drew on her own experience in the workplace to illustrate some interesting points. She began the talk by announcing that there are two things she is most proud of; being an older sister, and being a millennial. Both these factors have fuelled her trail-blazing mentality. They have also given her something to blame her shortcomings on, she explained, with a wry smile.


Career as adventure

As a representative of the millennial generation, Lauren admits that she seeks adventure through her career aspirations. And she is not alone. On average, millennials change their jobs every two to three years, often moving to completely different industries and business sectors. Why? Because, according to Lauren, they grew up under a lot of pressure to prepare themselves for the 'perfect job.'


But when she left the educational environment and stepped into the workplace, Lauren found that everything slowed down. "It was the first time I'd been told NO while trying to advance my career," she said and added that she learned very quickly that individuals who wanted to progress forwards in their jobs needed at least three to five years experience.


But work experience isn't the only indicator that someone is willing to work hard. Lauren, for example, preferred to show her initiative and leadership skills, rather than notch up a few years of work placement stuck behind a desk. It is this misalignment between what millennials aspire to, and what employers expect, that causes the rift between them.


Tips and tricks

Most of the research Lauren did to prepare for her talk showed that managers are constantly being offered tips and tricks on how to deal with 'the millennial problem.' But what millennials need most in the workplace is mentorship, she explained. And not a structured mentorship program that feels like an arranged marriage, but something that is closer to a mutual relationship.


Lauren continued, "It's unfortunate that the word 'millennial' even carries such a negative connotation. Most millennials have a lot to offer, but they feel like no one really listens to them just because they don't know their way around the office. The truth is that they can be highly flexible employees and a lot of them place huge value on training and development.


"On one side, we have these young professionals who have been shaped by technology, where Bachelors Degrees are common, and Master's Degrees are becoming the norm. Millenials' minds are ingrained by education, an environment that focusses on feedback, structured learning and an abundance of available professors. But when they arrive in the workplace, they find a whole new environment with an entirely different concept of classroom learning. Quite often, millennials are openly discouraged from seeking out a mentor, or there's simply no one available to guide them.


"On the opposite side, we have the seasoned business professionals who could indeed benefit from being challenged by their younger colleagues. They could gain new insights into working smarter rather than harder and even be trained on the new interfaces that millennials are growing up with. But are apparently blind to the value of investing in the younger members of their workforce.


Millennials have already surpassed the baby-boomers to become the largest generation with around 80 million people in America alone. By 2020, they'll reach globally two billion. Like it or not, this racially diverse, economically stressed, and politically liberal group is taking over the workplaces of our planet.  Millenials will be shaping the decades to come, and they'll be altering the business world as they do so. But when a manager sees very little work experience on a young candidate's resume', they invariably think that person will probably turn out to be unreliable, and possibly even a liability to the company.


Goals and reality

Millenials, Lauren insists, are not being utilised to their full potential. Yes, she understands that in the cut and thrust of a busy day at the office, managers have difficulty connecting with people of her generation. But, she says, any preconceived notions of entitlement simply do not belong in the workplace. Lauren has herself witnessed many of her peers struggle to distinguish between their goals and reality. And she admits that she too was once in a dark place, career-wise, but was lucky enough to have a manager who helped guide her focus and align her ambitions with her career. "He saw the value of growing me as a leader, and so I became loyal, and I invested a lot in myself."


Lauren finished her talk by leaving the audience with two main takeaways. The first was for the millennials. "In an intimate, face-to-face conversation, and even on social media," she advised, "you must take ownership of creating your own opportunities. No one is going to serve you your dream job on a platter. You absolutely have to prove your worth in the workplace first."


And to the managers, she had this to say. "You have a great opportunity here. You're faced with young, forward-thinking individuals who are eager and driven. But they need your continuous and constructive feedback. Why not pause for a moment and to think back and recall how you felt when you took your first tentative steps into the workforce? How much could you have benefitted from a trusted, patient mentor to have helped you move forward in your career?"

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