This is the first in a series of articles focused on Millennials in the workplace.

There’s been an increasing amount of chatter over the past few years about the Millennials or Generation Y. It seems that every time you go to your favourite website there is an article either praising them for their community values or berating them for their lack of work ethic (not to mention everything in between). Regardless of which camp you fall into, one thing remains true, they are a growing segment of the work force and you will have to learn to embrace them if you want to keep your competitive advantage.

The reality is that like every generation that came before them, the Millennials have been influenced by certain societal forces and have some things in common. And just like those previous generations, everyone is still an individual and there are lots of differences as well. While we may speak in broad generalities, because those generalities are what are most likely to shape the future, we need to always acknowledge the individuals and their particular circumstances and differences.

The truth is that the previous generation is always hyper-critical of the generation immediately following them. Back in 1990, Time magazine wrote an article about Generation X with the tag-line “ laid back, late blooming or just lost?”. The article began:

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes.”

Any chance this sounds suspiciously familiar?

Look, there is no avoiding that some of the traits we associate with Millennials have less to do with their generation than with their “stage” in life. And herein lies some of my personal and professional issue with the terminologies we associate with the various generations. I have been working with Millennials since they were in grade school right up to the present day. Truth be told depending on what you believe about the dates of the generations, I too can be considered part of Generation Y. So  let’s start with defining what a Millennial is.

Depending on your source, the birth year for Gen Y ranges anywhere from 1976 to 2000. Recently, the unspoken consensus in the media seems to be that anyone born between 1981 and 2000 qualifies as a Millennial. Although this is a highly popular opinion, I disagree with this commonly accepted definition. In fact, I think that this is a marketing ploy to be able to apply the term “Millennial” in a way that makes sense when writing or speaking about them. Truth be told, there are no hard lines defining a start and end point to the generations (perhaps with the exception of the Baby Boomers thanks to WWII) however, in my experience and in my opinion, I see Gen Y as having been born between 1978 and 1995. If it were up to me, I would apply the name Millennials to the generation following that 1996 to 2014 or thereabouts, but that’s going down a whole different track! For the ease of this series and to avoid confusion, I will use the commonly accepted definition of a Millennial or Generation Y.

It’s important to note some of the commonalities in this generation, especially those that are relevant to Millennials in the workplace.

  1. They are highly intelligent and educated. Perhaps sometimes overly educated.
  2. They are very focused on community and family and are not interested in working 80 hours a week to the detriment of those things.
  3. They are willing to speak up for what they feel they deserve instead of accepting what is given to them.
  4. They require a lot of feedback, especially in the form of praise, but also constructive.
  5. They are exceptionally hard workers; they may just not work in the “traditional” way nor work the “traditional” hours.
  6. They believe that the person who does the best work should be rewarded, not just the person who has been there the longest or who has seniority.
  7. They expect access to leadership.
  8. They want to be included in conversations and decisions and feel like they are valued.
  9. Technology is a part of their identity.
  10. They are team oriented. This makes them very loyal under the right circumstances.
  11. Learning and growing is fundamentally important to them.
  12. They need to understand why they are doing things.

As the number of Millennials in the workforce increases, the more leadership teams and companies are going to have to begin to adapt to their influence on the workplace. In fact, the companies that will be able to maintain and increase their competitive edge will be the ones that embrace the changes this generation brings and learn how to attract, retain, and develop Generation Y.

Be sure to read the second post in this series, Attracting Millennials.