Millennials and Gen Zers want to work somewhere they’re proud of. What a company or organization makes, does, or contributes matters. It's not just about the money. They want to see how their work makes an impact. Transparency around how everyone’s job contributes to the whole, is really important to feel a sense of belonging. They want to be appreciated and acknowledged, compensated while also not being exploited. Younger folks reject the notion that we should be grateful for the jobs we get. They want to be part of teams that care for one another and see each other as people and not cogs on a wheel. Culture, mental health, and reasonable expectations are critical to attract younger employees and keep them. More and more, younger people are less and less interested in trading a toxic office culture for more money. And I think they just might change things for the better for all of us
So instead of complaining about the newest entrants to the workforce, adopt these four strategies and you just might end up a better leader for everyone.
Lead with your humanity/practice empathy. We are all people. We all have good days and bad days, we all wake up late sometimes or have bad nights sleep. And when regular life struggles and sufferings arise, work is often the last place you want to be. But a small pivot can change your workplace culture in ways that make the office, or that first thing in the morning Teams meeting, a respite.
The first step is taking the time to know your reports. Spend the extra 90 seconds listening to how their weekends were, what’s happening with their newborn, or how much fun they had at a concert. And if you're busy in the morning and can’t take the time to chat with everyone, check in with the folks who are quietest, or those looking the least happy. Not to call them out but to let them know you noticed and you care.
When our bosses notice our challenges and authenticly express concern, they affirm that its ok to struggle. We all do. By simply naming struggles empathetically, supervisors create space for reports to show up as their whole selves. And when they do, the workplace just might look like something of a sanctuary. A friendly word, a kind look or heartfelt expression of care, is often all that’s needed to motivate someone to dig into work as a distraction. “Work cares about me. So it’s not part of my problem”. And similarly when we feel supported on our hard days its a lot easier to dig in all the rest of the time.
Clear direct feedback is the only helpful feedback. Younger generations have spent time in school thinking about and practicing having hard conversations. They are often better than us at them and consequently expect us to be competent at the very least. That means embracing opportunities for feedback giving, fostering a culture of constructive feedback, and investing in relationships with reports that allow feedback to be received constructively.
And that starts with soliciting feedback yourself. There’s nothing more powerful than asking reports for feedback. I like to do so in planful, coordinated ways, but it’s important to receive feedback from reports. After all, they are your job so if they need something you’re not offering, you need to know. But even more than just using feedback to stay in the know and ensure you’re properly supporting your team, inviting feedback allows you to model how to receive it as well.
Constructive feedback helps me do a better job. It doesn't make me feel bad about myself. It's not personal. It isn' a reflection of who I am, but rather who I can be. Feedback giving is an important skill and art a supervisor should master, especially when working with younger reports. And so is feedback receiving. When our posture towards feedback is the same as it is towards any other important data, and when we internalize the understanding that feedback is an expression of investment; feedback becomes the most exciting and important news you’ll get all day. My team knows I love feedback because I want to know how I’m doing, and they in turn appreciate it because they want to know how they’re doing too.
Everyone appreciates mentorship. Sure, you can’t be a mentor to everyone you supervise or manage, but you can approach supervision with a Mentor’s Mindset. Younger people are a wash with concerns for the future. Does my job offer advancement? Will I ever be able to buy a house, have kids, etc? Am I in the right place/position/profession? Am I doing a good job? While these questions are common among all of us, young people often experience them with a lot more anxiety. A Mentors Mindset and mentoring strategies are a great way to mitigate those anxieties and help your reports see more options and opportunities. They're also a great way to message your investment in your reports as whole people.
First, take the time to meet with your reports regularly, and pay attention to all the data. 1 on 1s are important for both reports and supervisors alike. Its the best place to learn how folks are really doing. And how your younger reports feel about their work is really important to them, so it should be to you as well.
Another important Mentors strategy is to focus on growth opportunities, and I don't mean feedback. Help your reports see how the skills they've sharpened or developed are transferable. Talk with them honestly about new jobs and positions, chances to grow in the organization as well as outside opportunities. Mentors recognize its both a job and a relationship and the best way to support the job is often by focusing on the relationship.
Celebrate wins! We all long for affirmation and a Mentor's Mindset encourages supervisors to pay attention to positive feedback, affirmations. Notice the wins, the hard work, and call them out. When our bosses see us, our work and our efforts, we're more inclined to keep it up.
Focus on belonging. When we feel we belong, whether it’s at work or home or in community, we have one less really big thing to worry about. And that really big thing, feeling like I don’t belong, can get in the way of all sorts of productivity, ultimately resulting in low morale and ultimately staff attrition. For younger people in particular, not feeling like they belong is arguable the biggest issue in performance. Engendering feelings of belonging is critical, but good news. If you've adopted some of the already talked about strategies, you're well on your way.
Belonging comes from welcoming reports to show up as their whole selves. Belonging is encouraged when we we openly practice and reward empathy. Belonging spreads when time is consistently taken to be together, share time or meals with no expectation. Belonging is experiences when supervisors and leaders notice, name and celebrate wins. And belonging is felt when the littles things are done to make each of us more comfortable, anything from a more acessable workplace to sober happy hours for our colleagues in recovery.
Belonging comes from taking the time to see, consider, care about, and then stretch ourselves in the interest of meeting someone else's needs. As leaders, supervisors and managers, when your team feels like they belong; when everyone knows how they contribute to the overall goals and each in their own specific way, a culture of belonging is supported. And for our youngest members of the workforce (and all the rest of us too), that's really all folks are asking for.
With these four approaches to leadership and supervision, you’re younger reports (along with everyone else) will feel a lot more supported and inspired at work, which is really all you can hope for.