Attracting Millennials To The Mission

“Millennials in the Corner Office, Gen Y Bosses Tell Us How They Lead,” was a headline of a Fast Company magazine story. The story’s guts were results from a survey on Millennial leaders conducted by Fast Company, Inc., and the career-development site Muse.

The survey stats should pique your interest more:

  • Relationships in the workplace matter to Millennials: 35% said they “relate to older employees as equals,” and 38% said they “want to learn from older workers.”
  • Millennial bosses are champions of transparency: 51% said that companies should practice “active transparency, making all financial information available to employees.”
  • A learning mindset beats other traits: “Is eager to learn” topped the list of traits that are extremely important to Millennials who hire. Compared to the trait of learning, only 32% of the Millennial bosses cited “has relevant skills” as an extremely important trait for new hires.
  • Millennial managers face challenges working with their Millennial peers: 19% say their peers require too much attention or feedback; 27% said they take constructive feedback personally; and 20% prefer managing Gen Xers compared to other colleagues.

A tangible takeaway from generational-based surveys is a reminder of the downside risks of buying into stereotypes about any generation of workers and donors, including Millennials. Generations are hard to define. If you were born between 1982-84, do you feel more Gen X or Millennial? If you’re older than 40, chances are you’ve been on both sides of a generational gambit.

A cultural generation is a specious definition at best. The only agreed-upon generation defined by the demographers of the U.S. Census Bureau is Boomers (1946-1964). Culturally, some of these folks were responsible for the DIY (do it yourself) ethic of Gen Xers (with typical birth years ranging from the early 1960s to the early 1980s), and for building the technology companies (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon) that powered the Millennial culture.

It’s easy to see why generational boundaries serve as shorthand, in place of a more nuanced narrative. To a large extent the media draws these boundaries to fill catch phrases and satisfy short attention spans. Some of the most common but damaging and unproductive stereotypes still heard include: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks and Millennials are entitled. Here are some ideas to change the perception:

  1. Make learning new skills a must for all staff;
  2. Model the commitment to learn;
  3. Keep it real;
  4. Remind yourself that it’s a job, not a tattoo; and,
  5. Sync what you do with what you say.

It’s time to revise “millennial” as a moniker of youth culture. Whatever you thought a millennial was, it now means an older person.

Melanie Lockwood Herman is executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Leesburg, Va. Her email is melanie@nonprofitrisk.org