This past summer I was asked to manage the intern program. I was glad to do so; one intern – no problem. Then the company decided to hire four interns for the summer. My enthusiasm started to waver a bit. Sounded like a lot more time and effort involved and, oh my, they were all Millennials! According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials (people born between 1982 and 2000), make up about a quarter of the country’s population.
As someone firmly entrenched in the Baby Boomer generation (those born approximately between 1946 and 1964), I grew up in a world of black and white television. The remote control was my Dad asking me to get up and change to one of the other 4 available stations and while I’m up, jiggle the antennae to make the station come in more clearly. There was one telephone in the house mounted to the wall in our kitchen with a shared party line with the neighbors and the only portable part about it was how long you could manage to stretch out the cord around the corner to get some privacy. Keyboarding was on a manual typewriter and social media? Why in the world would you want to share all of that personal information?! By comparison, Millennials are digital gurus who have cut their teeth on computers and grown up with the latest in technology, carrying around smartphones so as to never miss a call and microcomputers where they can catch the latest television episodes wherever they go, post, tweet and follow others to their hearts’ content.
In preparing for the arrival of the interns, I read many articles about Millennials and their distinct ideas and job expectations. How they are more concerned about work life balance, with emphasis on friends and fun first, rather than working hard, how they don’t take well to orders, are impatient and need constant feedback, praise, and a sense of entitlement, and how they tend to stay in a job no more than three years before moving on. To be fair, the positive traits mentioned are that Millennials are team-oriented due to having been taught in a cooperative learning style, they are highly skilled and comfortable in using technology and social media in the workplace, are great at multi-tasking and more tolerant of other ideas and people. Still, I worried that I may be spending a lot of time “hand holding” the interns and wondering just how much work would they actually accomplish. Fortunately, I like a good challenge and was looking forward to what the summer would hold.
I met with each of our interns individually on at least a weekly basis to discuss projects they were working on, any challenges they may be facing, and just generally to touch base with them to see how things were going. We also met as a group for a weekly book club discussion. I very quickly found my preconceptions totally turned upside down after meeting these talented individuals. I was impressed by the level of professionalism, confidence, work ethic, and creativity shown by each of the interns. They jumped into the experience with enthusiasm and commitment, more than surpassing expectations for the quality and quantity of work produced.
As a company that provides change management and business process reengineering services, change is something we embrace at netlogx. Considering that Millennials will soon make up the majority of the workforce, netlogx COO, Nick Taylor, wanted to tap into the Millennials’ perspective on what appealed to them from a marketing, recruiting, and sales perspective. One of the interns was asked to come up with ideas and photos for the company website, marketing materials, prezis, and video presentations that would resonate with his generation. I was amazed by the creativity I witnessed.
As I interacted with the interns, I was surprised by how my thinking was challenged about how things should be done in an office as the summer progressed. I felt I learned as much, if not more, than the interns did from the experience. First, I learned that I should ignore some of what I’ve read in those articles about Millennials. If our interns are a good representation, then I’m looking forward to bringing on more Millennials into the workplace. They are every bit as hard working, professional and productive as the Boomers. I learned about vines. (Thank you Joe H. for giving me street cred with my granddaughter who thought she was talking too cool for me and was surprised when I knew what vines were.) I learned that the marketing ideas and humor that appeal to Millennials is very different than what appeals to someone of my generation and needs to be considered as we look to update our website and marketing materials. I also learned to consider that the evolving workforce will impact other areas such as how we recruit, the types of training we offer, the way feedback is presented, what motivates employees, career path development, retention efforts, dress code standards, flexibility in the workplace, leveraging social media, and advances in technology.
As Bob Dylan, a famous Baby Boomer, once sang, “The times, they are a changin’.” Are you ready for the changes?