Everyone is talking about Simon Sinek’s discussion about millennials in the workplace – at least, it’s become a hot topic in my social network. Being a fan of Sinek’s work, I took the opportunity to watch the video over winter break and was inspired to share my thoughts on his message.
Sinek makes some relevant points, but what struck me most wasn’t his explanation of the stereotypes and misconceptions of millennial employees but rather his discussion of the negative impact of handheld technology and social media on our communication, relationships, and self-esteem. Our attachment to our phones and social media, or “addiction” as Sinek refers to it, is not isolated within the younger generation. As much as we attempt to deny or prevent it, it’s challenging for many of us to not seek validation from social media and internalize a false sense of personal worth or value, especially since we habitually rely on the technology to manage our work and lives
The definition of connection means something different today. It is now often determined by the number of people within our online networks and the amount of likes or shares we receive as opposed to the quality and depth of our personal relationships. This is why my most requested topic for employee and leadership training is Communication. Whether it applies to effective leadership, coaching, or conflict management, many people just don’t know how to communicate well with each other. I see people struggling to develop genuine connections and leverage those connections to inspire others and influence behavior. It can be easier to blame our struggles on “difficult people” or “generational differences” rather than recognize that we actually have an opportunity each day to connect and relate to any individual with whom we work – regardless of background or demographic. It just requires a personal commitment and shift in our perception and behavior.
I am also seeing an influx in Training and Development requests from clients with a large population of millennial employees. These employees are hungry for emotional intelligence skills and communication strategies. They get energized when gaining insight into their communication styles and those of their colleagues. There is no doubt that we are hardwired to emotionally connect with people; it feels good, and we can apply these skills to enrich and expand our professional opportunities.
Millennial employees value and expect professional development and growth opportunities. Many grew up with tutors, extra coaching for sports, participating in multiple activities and lessons, etc. As a result, younger employees often feel that they will fall behind or not be perceived as valuable if they do not have ready access to training and resources that build upon their knowledge and skillsets. This coupled with impatience is why millennials often leave their employer for another that promises those things.
In my experience raising two boys, ages 9 and 11, I am not seeing significant shifts in the parenting of our next generation of employees. Like all generations, we have the best of intentions and want our children’s lives to be better than our own; and many of us today are more fortunate and financially stable than our parents and grandparents. Because we want the best for them, we value and require flexibility so we can be highly involved with our children. We do whatever we can to make things easy for our children. We orchestrate connections and resources to ensure they excel academically and/or athletically. I find myself participating in these behaviors and worry about being a good parent. It requires a consistent focus on modeling self-awareness, open and thoughtful communication, and healthy coping skills in hope that my sons will develop an authentic sense of self, high esteem and self-efficacy.
In a fast moving world with increasingly accessible technology to fulfill our every need or function, skills that foster social connection and resiliency will be even more valuable and important for personal fulfillment and success. In my opinion, it is not so much about touchy-feely, “soft” skills but more about instilling practical life skills. When you get to be an adult and in the world of work, skillsets like communication and influence are much more difficult to acquire.
As employers, we have an opportunity to identify the development needs of our people – not only to attract and retain high performers, but to stay relevant and expand our organization’s capacity for growth.