Millennials: A New Kind of Employee?

Despite the headlines claiming the newest generation to enter the workforce has special needs and requests, experts say their behavior is the same as any new employee. Our experts also share tips to be the best employee you can — no matter your age.

“Stereotypes about millennial employees” — search for this online and you’ll find thousands of articles that attempt to characterize the latest generation of professionals. But few characterizations flatter millennials, people born from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Some might say: “High-maintenance millennials need special hand-holding at work.” Or: “Millennials want constant review and recognition.”

But is this need for extra guidance and feedback unique to millennials? Career and human resource experts at Indiana State University say your birth year has little to do with it.

Tami Weinzapfel-Smith

“My experience has been that all employees need some level of guidance and feedback,” said Tami Weinzapfel-Smith, director of employee relations and immigration at Indiana State’s department of human resources. “I have found that millennials are no different than other generations. We all need someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re on the right track,’ or ‘You did a good job,’ or ‘You didn’t do a good job.’”

Rather than an employee’s particular generation, “there are a lot of things that play into (this particular workplace behavior),” Weinzapfel-Smith said. Education, years of work experience, abilities, upbringing, personal experiences and personality are more likely to determine an employee’s need for guidance and feedback.

And education and work experience, in particular, may have a large influence. Brand-new, inexperienced professionals are simply more likely to want or need guidance and feedback from their supervisors — but that’s been true across generations.

Tradara McLaurine

“I think that the transition from college to career is something that is challenging for any new professional,” said Tradara McLaurine, associate director of the Career Center and director of student employment. “When you’re in the collegiate atmosphere, you’re constantly given guidance and feedback about what you’re doing. But when we’re thrown into the workforce, that level of communication just stops. A lot of times, I don’t think we know yet whether we will sink or swim without it.”

Some might interpret the need for extra guidance and feedback as an employee’s unwillingness to take initiative, be creative, work hard or manage a fragile ego. But for most employees, it’s about striving to produce high-quality work, supporting their supervisor, advancing their organization’s goals and becoming a better professional.

“I just think that we want to do a good job naturally,” McLaurine said. “Employees are being proactive. They’re saying, ‘I’m not going to wait for you to come and tell me this was wrong — I’m going to ask you right now so I can plan and prepare for next time.’ I don’t think that they’re trying to add more work to their supervisor’s plate (by wanting more guidance and feedback). I really do believe that we are just trying to get better and figure out the best way to do that.”

For new professionals who may want frequent communication with their supervisors — but feel unsure about how to ask for it — McLaurine has some suggestions for how to open a dialogue:

• Ask for weekly, biweekly or monthly meetings. “It’s okay to say, ‘I’d like to schedule a one-on-one to make sure that I’m doing my job appropriately and meeting the organization’s goals,’” McLaurine said. “Or you might say, ‘I enjoy receiving feedback from you on how I’m doing with my job. Could we schedule regular meetings?’”

• Ask well-phrased questions for feedback as you go, McLaurine said. Make sure your question communicates that your intent is to help others and produce high-quality work. “When you send something out, you can ask, ‘Is this what you’re looking for?’ or ‘Am I right on track?’” McLaurine said.

• Portray confidence and positivity when you seek guidance or feedback on something specific. If you’d like feedback on an important email you’re about to send, “I wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, could you just read my email really quick,’” McLaurine said. “That would make it look like I don’t know how to write an email. I would come to my supervisor and say, ‘I’m emailing a department chair. Can you make sure that I’m getting my message across?’ It’s not saying I don’t know how to write or that I’m not confident in myself, it’s recognizing that written communication is very important but tricky.”

• Ask for guidance and feedback sparingly to avoid overwhelming your supervisor. “We all need to look at where we are in our own skill set,” McLaurine said. Understand what tasks you really need guidance or feedback on. If your writing skills are weak, ask for help with important written communications. But if your presentation skills are good, trust in your own judgment and abilities.

• Be patient and courteous of your supervisor’s busy schedule. “If you’re turning in a project, I wouldn’t expect a 24-hour turn around,” McLaurine said. “Allow their schedule to catch up and for them to set a time to review your work.”

• And, of course, ask others in your office or search Google for information. “There’s nothing wrong with getting information from multiple sources,” McLaurine said. “It doesn’t necessarily always have to be from your supervisor.”

Whichever approach an employee might use to request guidance and feedback, he or she must take responsibility for initiating the conversation, said Erica Myers, human resource generalist.

“But you have to be flexible with that and know it’s a learning experience for both the employee and the supervisor” as they discover how best to communicate with each other, Myers said.

And from a supervisor’s perspective, more extensive communication as employees begin their new position can pay off.

“As a supervisor, I learned that the guidance and feedback that you provide early on frees you up later,” McLaurine said. “After I’ve already walked through the steps and I’ve given (employees) the verification they need to do the job correctly, typically I won’t have to go back and do that again. They’re good.”

“It goes back to employee engagement for supervisors,” Weinzapfel-Smith said. “You’ve got to know who they are, what motivates them and what they need … You can’t paint all employees with the same brush.”

“And that’s whether you’re a millennial or a member of any other generation,” Myers said.

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