Millennials are continuing to pour into the workplace, and by 2020 they are expected to represent nearly half of the workforce. As managers and leaders, how do we best communicate with this generation? What are their common behaviors that we need to adapt to, and what do millennials want and hope to get out of their work? Lee Caraher, author of Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work and founder of Double Forte, joins the podcast to discuss these questions and much more as it relates to managing and working alongside millennials.
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Brandon: Welcome to the HR for Small Business podcast, this is your host Brandon Laws. Today I’m with Lee Caraher, the author of Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work and founder of Double Forte. They’re a communications firm located in San Francisco, but you have maybe a couple of other locations, Lee?
Lee: Yes! We have offices in New York and in Boston as well.
Brandon: Well, as I mentioned before we started recording, I read your book Millennials and Management cover to cover. I felt like you gave away the farm in this book!
Lee: That was my point! I wanted to give away the farm.
Brandon: You had so many tangible takeaways and guides all from your own experience and the research you’ve done. I felt like you started the book by you painting a very beautiful picture. It was a little bleak in my opinion, but it set the landscape up well.
You mentioned that employers in workplaces are in this funky little spot where Boomers are not retiring as soon as they thought they would. They’re not financially in a great spot. So they’re staying in the work place longer and meanwhile, employers are trying to figure out ways to offset the overhead costs, so they’re hiring cheaper labor – folks who are coming out of school with less experience.
So you have this kind of clash of generations where Millennials are like, Hey, why are these Boomers still here? But at the same time, Boomers aren’t going anywhere, so these two generations need to work together. Can you just sort of paint the picture a little deeper for the listeners?
Lee: Sure! So I think we’re in a situation where we have actually four generations in the office together right now. So the Silents, people who are over 68, the Boomers who are between 53 and 68 or 69 this year, Gen-Xers who are 37 to 52, and then Millennials, so 20-year-olds to 36-year-olds. This is the first time in American history we’ve had four distinct generations working side by side.
There are a few things in there. One, obviously those generations are very broad and we shouldn’t say all Millennials are the same and all Boomers are the same and all that kind of stuff. But there are definitely things that are in common in those generations, right?
One thing that is definitely providing a lot of suppression or is definitely a push down is that Boomers and Silent Generation people thought they would not be working at this point, right? They thought they would not have to work or that they would do something different in the world, maybe for money, but the money wouldn’t be a huge concern.
Well, it is a huge concern because so many Boomers and Silent Generation people lost so much money in 2008, 2009, 2010 and are still recovering from that. I’m a Boomer, I know how much I lost, I’m still recovering.
So it’s the need to work versus the want to work, right? At the same time as we were coming out of the Great Recession, a tsunami of Millennials were coming out of college. It just created a lot of hardship in terms of keeping jobs, finding jobs, and then having a lot of mobility in jobs.
There are just a lot of bitterness, right? A lot of Boomers who don’t want to work and Millennials who are like, How come I’m not getting the job that I was promised, basically, by my education? That sets up a lot of tension in the workplace. At the same time, Millennials are so much more adept technically and also have many different expectations based on their upbringing, education and parenting.
So it’s just a clash. At the same time, if you ask Gen-Xers, Gen-Xers would say Boomers are much more entitled than Millennials. So, you know, we just have a big melting pot of conflict if you don’t get in there and try to understand each other.
Brandon: It’s so interesting because later in the book there’s a short chapter on mentorship and what I find interesting is that these generations are very different, but they each have something to offer each other. I feel like especially as Boomers have gone through this period where they didn’t set themselves up financially and they’re delaying retirement, it seems like that’s a really nice learning lesson for these Millennials. And Millennials can teach maybe some technology skills to some of these Boomers. But at the same time, Boomers can teach some life lessons about working hard and being smart about finances. What do you think about that notion alone?
Lee: I’m a strong advocate for mentorship and mutual mentorship where the mentor and the mentee sort of flip roles every once in a while. There’s lots to learn from everybody. It is my shortest chapter. My publisher was like, Can you make that longer? And I was like, I have nothing else to say except go do it!
Brandon: I love it, I love it!
Lee: It’s also a different relationship. Mentees today, younger people, they want mentorship. It’s the number one request of young people coming into the workplace – Who’s my mentor going to be? That’s number one.
And then number two, it’s not the same kind of mentors that I would have had. When I was that age, I was trying to emulate people and Millennials in general are trying to learn from other people’s experience so they can create their own experience, not to emulate.
So that is interesting. I think the most important thing for a good mentor-mentee relationship is to share your reading list. Like, what do you read every morning? And then have your mentor read what you read and have the mentee read what the mentor reads. And because it’s a very different worldview based on what we read every day, which is new – that’s a new phenomenon. Everyone read the same things when I was a Millennial’s age. But there are so many more places to get information today. If we can adopt each other’s reading lists just for a month, it will help us understand each other better.
Brandon: I know you did a ton of research for this book. One of the questions you asked was How do you describe Millennials? You ask not only Boomers and Xers, but you also asked Millennials about Millennials. What are some common things you heard? I think we’ve heard entitlement, trophy generation, those sorts of things. What would you commonly hear?
Lee: Well, first of all, Millennials don’t like being called Millennials. In the end, all it does is tell you when you were born, it tells you you were born between 1980 and 2000. That’s all it really says. But it’s such a weighted word because there’s so much negativity imbued in it by Boomers in the workplace.
I actually didn’t set out to write the book. I set out to fix the problem in my own company, and when I started researching, everything was so, so negative. I was just determined not to believe it – it’s impossible that 80 million people are all negative! So I sort of stripped that away and figured it out.
I thought here are the top things people say about Millennials: they’re entitled. They want a trophy just for showing up. They aren’t hard workers. They can’t get anything done. The list goes on. And when I was asked to write the book, I was determined to really look at those myths and see are they real, are they contextual, or are they absolutely false?
For the most part, I thought they were false. I don’t think Millennials are entitled, I think they’ve been conditioned by their growing up, by the technology and by their parenting, which I think has been terrible, and the education system which has not helped them, frankly, in terms of grade inflation and expectations. It is definitely true that the expectation for reward and money and title and all that kind of stuff does occur a lot. There’s a lot of research in the back of my book of all those different sources. You can go read them all if you want! But parents have done no favors with everybody wins soccer and participation trophies, because that is not the way the world works. The world does not work with, Thank you for coming! Here’s a prize! It doesn’t work that way. Game shows don’t work that way and life does not work that way. And business definitely doesn’t work that way!
So particularly in the first three or four years of someone’s career, it’s about getting used to not getting huge accolades for just showing up on time. You’re supposed to show up on time! You’re supposed to be dressed. You’re supposed to like have good hair. You’re supposed to not smell. Those are the things we expect, you don’t get a gold star for those things.
In terms of another pieces, I totally disagree that Millennials are lazy. I totally disagree that they can’t get anything done. It just looks very different and the people who say those things aren’t looking hard enough. They aren’t looking at the changing workplace, changing work styles and how things happen.
We really just have to understand what we mean when we say certain words. So I will give a good example. Send me a draft, right? I talked about this in my book.
Brandon: You do.
Lee: Send me a draft. When I say send me a draft – and I’m 52 years old. I mean send me a Word document without any typos, without any comments, without any word changes, whatever. Just send me a clean draft and I will comment on it, thank you very much.
What Millennials often do is send me a Google link to a Google Doc that has lots of comments down the side that aren’t resolved, typos, different colors, lots of people in there at the same time. This is not a draft to me! This is nowhere near a draft, this is a live document.
When I am editing something as the head of my agency, I am the word, right? And this collaboration is something I really had to learn. This live collaboration on documents – I had to totally learn that this is natural. This is how kids are learning in school today and just because I didn’t get what I wanted doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I asked for, right? I asked for a draft and I got a draft, from your point of view. I didn’t get a draft from my point of view. So there’s this language issue that we just have to break through and understand.
Brandon: I found myself highlighting the main section about giving clear direction – I think you have a whole chapter dedicated to that. I found myself highlighting most of that because often we’re saying like, hey, I need this – you know, vague instructions – by end of day. What does that really mean? You painted the picture perfectly to say I need this. Two pages, no more than two pages long, with clear instructions, by 5:00 PM on Tuesday.
Brandon: It seems simple on the surface but that’s genius. I found myself, as a manager, thinking, Gosh, I could get better about how I communicate and give direction.
Lee: Well, I think that when you’re a manager, the worst thing you can do is give direction that lets the person you’re directing be right and wrong at the same time. I could say, Please give it to me by end of day next week. Well, I get it at 11:59 PM on Friday. That is not end of day! It is technically the end of the day at the end of the work week, right?
Lee: But that is not what we mean by it! The things that we say like end of day or close of business or later or tomorrow, those actually used to mean very specific things. Close of business was 5:30. Beginning of business was 9 o’clock. Later was before you closed your computer or you left the office that day. Tomorrow was first thing in the morning, meaning 9 o’clock. Those don’t mean anything today. In our 24/7 world, your time zone might be different, you might have a flexible work schedule and decide, I’m going to go and go to my kid’s ballet lesson and then I’m going to finish my work later tonight.
So by just saying, Oh, I will give it to you later, we let the person be right and wrong. That is the worst place you can be as an employee, to be right and wrong at the same time, because if you’re right and wrong at the same time, your manager thinks you’re wrong.
So it’s the manager’s responsibility to say exactly what they want because there are so many different meanings today. There didn’t use to be so many meanings, right? There didn’t use to be so many different modes of communication, different modes of presentation, all these kinds of things. But today, there are. So it’s on us to be very specific and it’s on the person being directed to say, Ok, do you mean by noon Pacific Time tomorrow? or I’m on East Coast, do you mean noon Eastern Time tomorrow? Because that specificity alleviates so much drama, right?
And that’s the number one complaint, that they’re always late. Well, duh! They didn’t get it to them late from their point of view. It’s 11:59 PM on a Friday. It was the end of the day, end of the work week. The more you can do on that, the better it is.
Brandon: You talked a little bit ago about grade inflation, and in the book you discussed this at length. I wanted to ask you about schooling and the education system and the behaviors and habits that Millennials developed in school, like around acing tests or trying to ace tests and move on to the next subject immediately. How do you think this sort of behavior has molded their habits in the workplace?
Lee: Well, the one and done – not to be political, but particularly No Child Left Behind was all about the test and not necessarily mastering the content. Just mastering the test and moving on. And what we know now – you can read in my book all the data, but most higher education grade institutions, UC Berkeley and these other schools in the last 15 years have had to increase the percentage of their students who have to go into remediation for reading and writing. At one time, Berkeley, which is one of the top institutions in this country and the world, had more than 50% of its students, the top students in the world, going into remediation in either reading or writing because they hadn’t mastered it. They had done really well on the test, but then they had to move onto the next thing so they could achieve, so they could get into college and get the degree.
So the one and done phenomenon, that has happened, right? That is clear. So when people get into the workplace their attitude is, I’m done. Here it is! And it’s not done. It’s not to standard. It’s not client-ready. It’s not work-ready. You can’t present it, it’s subpar. But there hasn’t been enough time in the education process to really iterate, right? There’s not a lot of time in the test, test, test world to have an iteration, right?
That’s changing now. Younger kids today are having a different education system than the kids who are getting out of college today, but it’s going to take a while. But often Millennials in their first year, they’re like, I’m done! Well, yes, you’re done with your first try. Now here’s what you need to do. No, but I’m finished. Well, it’s not ready yet. But I’ve been an A student my whole life. Well, this is not A work, right? And that phenomenon is relatively new. That is a millennial phenomenon, given grade inflation and what has happened there.
Brandon: Early in the book you talked about the two informational interviews you gave. I’m sure you’ve done many over the years, but there is the tale of two where they are completely opposite of each other. Can you describe that?
Brandon: I thought that story was awesome.
Lee: I give any informational interview that is asked of me. This is how I got my career off the ground and it’s something that we can do to pay it forward. If I can’t do it myself I arrange for it, right? And I’ve probably given – my assistant counted. It’s almost 2,000 in my career now.
Lee: I don’t remember all those people. I’m always embarrassed when someone says, Oh, you gave me an informational interview. I’m like, I’m so sorry, I don’t remember you! Anyway, I remember these two really well because they were next to each other. One day and the next day. This was in 2010 or 2011 when no one could find work and I was doing favors for two of my friends. Their friends’ kids, there were on boards together or whatever.
The first woman showed up and she had graduated from college and she walked in and she said, So when do I start? and I said, uh, start what? The interview? We’re starting right now! She was quite indignant. Like, my father told me there was a job here. I’m like, well, no. We don’t have a job open, but I’m very happy to talk to you about what you want to do in your career and help you connect with people and look at your resume.
No, my resume is perfect. I looked at it. It was not. All that kind of stuff, right? Then she said, Well, I got a job offer. But I can’t take that job offer because they don’t pay enough, and I said, Oh, well, who was it? And she told me. It was a great firm. And she told me how much. It was a good salary. I said, well, why didn’t you take that job? Well, I want to live by myself in San Francisco. Most young people cannot live by themselves in San Francisco. They either have a roommate or have help from their parents.
So I was just so irritated as she just kept going and going and going. I literally dialed her dad. I said, Hello, Jim, your daughter Sally is here. I think we have a miscommunication because there is no job here. But I’m very happy to help her. She seems to think there’s a job. He was silent on the other line. And I know because I was back and forth on email and he had emailed me back absolutely. I told her there was no job and she had a job offer. Don’t let her not take the next job offer.
I shouldn’t have done that, but I was so irritated. Anyway, so I got off the phone. I said you need to – she was living at home. I asked are you working? Are you contributing at home? What are you doing? Nothing, nothing, and nothing. So I said, well, go get a job, because you’re living at home on your dad’s dime. You’re not going to get a job like that. In this environment, we want people who have initiative. She sort of stormed out.
The next day, a woman came in and, same situation – she had a degree in costume design from Emory University in Boston. She had been in a theater group as a costume designer. One day she looks around. She goes, Everyone in my group here is 50 years old and has three jobs to make it work. I could do costume design on the side so I don’t have three jobs when I’m 50.
So she moved home and she got a job as the Genius Coordinator at the Apple store near her house. She paid her parents rent and she did chores. So she came into the office for an information interview the next day and I said, “Tell me your story,” and I was determined to be better because I – sort of mortified that I had called the other person’s dad the other day.
She told me her story. I was like, do you want a job? I didn’t have a job!
Brandon: You made one.
Lee: I asked, do you want to be an intern here? You can start next week and she goes, Really? I’m like, yeah! She goes, I don’t know if I want to do this kind of work.
I told her it doesn’t matter. You’re going to have great experience, you’re going to learn a lot. We would love to have you here. So she started the next week and I went out of my office after that night. I told my CFO, I said, I just hired an intern for $15 an hour. He goes, What? We don’t have a job. I’m like, yeah. Now, we do! So I think that’s the tale of two people who, in same situation had different responses to it and different expectations around what their responsibility was as an adult to make things happen for themselves and their career.
Brandon: I think regardless of the generation, everybody likes feedback. Maybe Millennials like feedback a little bit more and appreciation and those sorts of things. In your chapter on acknowledgement and appreciation, you talked about the two powerful statements that could just make the difference in managing Millennials and letting them know that you appreciate the work that they’re doing. What are those two statements?
Lee: Please and thank you!
Brandon: So simple, right?
Lee: This was really hard for me to learn though! My father is a cardiac surgeon and we grew up with again the thought process that “please” and “thank you” are implied because as he described to me – you know, Lee, if I said please give me the retractor or please give me the scalpel every time I asked for one in the operating room, the patient would die. You know, cardiac surgeons are a certain way. Whatever you see on television is true! I just grew up without really saying it that much as a result.
When I started researching this, there’s a ton of research from places like Harvard, the London School of Economics, Wharton, Stanford, about the role of happiness and appreciation in work and it’s empirically true that the teams that feel appreciated outperform the teams that don’t. You can measure it to the bottom line.
So if you can help just say “please” and “thank you,” that’s the easiest way to have people understand that you understand that they are people and they are making an effort, but they don’t have to, because they don’t! They could walk out the door.
So please and thank you, please and thank you. When I started doing this I felt like I was being such a tool. I mean, Brandon, I was like, No one is going to believe me. Everyone is going to think that I’m just trying to kiss their butts and blah, blah, blah. But I just stuck with it and by the end of the first month, everyone was saying “please” and “thank you,” and by the end of the first quarter of doing this, we could see – we tracked all our time in the agency – we could see that there was less time spent in non-billable activity. Less time wasted and the only thing we could figure out that we had changed was saying please and thank you.
When people feel appreciated, that you understand that they’re making an effort, that you understand that they have done something for you, that – you’re going to interrupt their flow by asking to do something new, with appreciation comes less resentment and comes no resentment really, right? When you have resentment in your organization, what you have is waste. You have a waste of time, waste of energy and it’s a downward spiral of unproductivity.
When you have appreciation, you don’t have any of that. You have nothing dragging you down in terms of emotion. The more light-hearted, the more you are, the less negative energy you have, the more productive the organization is because they’re working better because they’re not being dragged down by their feelings, because we’re all human, right? We want to be appreciated. I don’t want to show up at work if people don’t care if I’m there.
There are lots of ways to do it, but please and thank you will save your day.
Brandon: Ok, two more questions for you and then I got to cut you loose, because I know you have to go. It sounds like you’ve really put a lot of thought and probably some trial and error into this work-life balance thing. What have you found Millennials want from the work-life balance thing? What should employers be doing to set expectations around a proper work-life balance integration?
Lee: I think work-life balance is a misnomer. Work-life balance says there’s work on one side of the scale and there’s life on the other side of the scale. In today’s world, our work and our life are really integrated in and out of our daily flow, in and out, in and out. The first thing I tell all of my employees is to read your personal email all day long because if you’re volunteering somewhere, if you have kids and – you know, every parent now volunteers at their school. They have to.
If you don’t read your email at the end of the day, you are stuck cleaning up and setting up, right? Instead of bringing brownies with no edges! So read your email all day long. It doesn’t mean like three or four times a day go look at your email, because our lives are totally integrated, right? It used to be for parents they would send home a note. Well, that doesn’t happen anymore! We get emails. There are systems, all this kind of stuff that pings us all day long.
It’s true with our volunteer work. It is true with the world. So understanding it’s not as much balanced as it is, meaning like one versus the other, life ends and work starts or work starts and life ends. It’s more about, did I get to the end of the day and did I have a good work experience? Did I have a good life experience? Did I have a good self-experience? You know, those three things for every person.
The self-experience could be, did I work out? Did I have time to be quiet with myself? Did I get to do something I like to do today? The life experience could be family, volunteer work, or school, whatever it is. You know, husband, your wife, your kids, whatever it is. You know, you need another set of the scale, so you have three things there, right? Then how do you manage your day so that by the end of the day you can say, yeah, I had a pretty good experience in all three things?
So that’s important. Number two is important – how do you do that, right? How do you do that? It’s to be over-communicative. It’s to say my – I don’t get the good life and the self unless I get the work done first because the work is paying me so I can do these other things. That’s just empirically true.
So how you arrange your work so that you can have the least friction is all about communication. So Brandon, if you and I are working together and you’re going to leave at 3 o’clock – I work for you. You’re leaving at 3 o’clock and you’re not going to be back online until tomorrow morning at 9:00, but I need to get you something. Well, you telling me the previous day that your leaving at 3 o’clock says I’m going to get something to Brandon by 5 o’clock today, so that tomorrow he can give it back to me. It can be done and I don’t have to be running around with my head cut off.
If you tell me that day you’re leaving at 3:00 and I haven’t planned for that, well, there’s no way I can actually satisfy your need to have something done by 3 o’clock because I didn’t know, right? So it’s a lot of communication, much more communication than we ever needed before in the workplace. But if we can’t do that, we can’t have these three things.
And I think saying you can do it all is crap, right? Particularly women tend to like to say, I can do it all. You know, I’m a woman and I have a great life. I have a great family and I have great self-time. I have a great career. But I don’t do all of those things at the same time. And men never did all of those things at the same time. So the expectation that women should be able to do them is false. We could talk about that for days, though!
Brandon: We could keep talking forever! But I did want to wrap up by asking you one thing about career pathing. Do you feel like there’s a disconnect between what Millennials say where they want to be or what they want to do and the actions that they actually take to possibly achieve those desires in the end?
Lee: I think young Millennials, like young people throughout the centuries, don’t really necessarily know what they want, because they don’t really know what it is to work and what the possibilities are. I was just having this conversation earlier today with a young person who is getting out of college soon. They were saying, oh my god. I have these two job offers but they’re just so different. I just looked at him. I said, well, where do you want to live? Where do you think you want to live?
Well, I would rather live in San Diego. Well, then take the job in San Diego. But what if it’s a better job over here? It doesn’t really matter. Just getting your first job is the first job. Then you will figure it out. I think people put a lot of pressure on themselves saying, This is the only thing I’m going to do in my whole career. Today we know that people will have at least three or four careers, not like linear jobs up the chain, right? That really doesn’t exist anymore. It’s more of a latticing situation today where you’re in a job and like oh, I would rather do – I like to do this. So I go get some schooling. I get some education and I go do this and then I go do that and lily pond around. But there’s a lot of pressure, particularly from Millennials who are graduating college with lots of student debt, to get the job that’s going to pay it back. My point of view is Boomers and managers have to help Millennials sort of ease the pressure off themselves, so they can actually discover what they really are good at and what they want to do.
Brandon: Lee, thank you so much for joining the podcast! You’re the author of Millennials and Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work. I read this, loved it. I encourage everybody to go out and get this book. It’s so great and you can find it on Amazon, I believe, and probably other places.
Brandon: You have another book coming out though.
Lee: I do!
Brandon: Just briefly talk about that and it’s available for pre-order, I believe.
Lee: It is! My next book is available in April. It’s called The Boomerang Principle: Inspiring Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees Even if They Don’t Work for You. This is all about how companies need to adjust their thinking from, if you leave me, you’re dead to me, to how do I keep you loyal for your entire career regardless if I pay you or not? There’s a lot of benefit to creating a culture like that, particularly in a situation where we think Millennials are going to job hop, because they do. They job hop a lot. They’ve been told to and if you stop worrying about them job hopping and start worrying about making the best experience possible, one, people stay with you longer and they’re more productive. Two, they stay loyal to you even when they leave you and they may even come back to you, which if you have an organization that people want to return to and are allowed to return to, your business is set up for the future.
Brandon: Amazing. Lee, thank you so much for joining the podcast. You’ve been amazing today and we appreciate you big time!
Lee: Thank you so much, Brandon. It’s such a joy to talk with you!