Working Across Generations: What We've Learnt from Mellennials

By Clive Potter (Operations), Sherry Butler(Learning & Development) & Yolandi van Aarde (Human Resources)

Millennials are the first generation in history that have grown up totally immersed in a world of digital technology, which has shaped their identities and created lasting political, social, and cultural attitudes. These Digital Natives – the largest, most educated generation in western history are technologically savvy, civic-oriented, and socially conscious.

Creating a growth mindset environment is one thing but sustaining it is the challenge. We have found that upholding and fostering this mindset is not only about persevering through challenges and learning from mistakes but also in creating opportunities for fresh ideas and views, those perspectives not influenced by the current way we go about our business. So, enter our senior internship (sales) program where, during a two-year program, graduates have the opportunity to learn about the business bringing with them fresh perspectives, ideas, and thinking. It’s about being mentored, coached, and trained. And, more importantly, it’s about being able to make a difference.

Our graduates are encouraged to have a questioning mind, to challenge the status quo, and share innovative ideas so that we too, as an organization, can learn and grow alongside them no matter what generation we spring from. It is this mindset that allows us to maintain momentum, move forward, and remain agile.

What our experience has taught us with this generation in recent months:

Teamwork makes the dream work

  • The eight graduates hired have developed a very strong camaraderie within the team. It’s been very important to treat them as a team, always.
  • The entire team has asked questions and challenged the status quo from the very beginning and has wanted to contribute with new ideas in whichever department they are working in.
  • Whilst it was immediately clear that the team did not particularly enjoy boring or repetitive work, whenever a clear project plan was provided, all the team showed strong drive and passion to establish the correct action plan and pursue this to completion.

Pragmatic idealists value purpose and communication

  • They want a sense of belonging both to their team as well as to the company at large. Communication has been key, and the vision, mission, and culture of the company is very important to them.
  • They have a strong eagerness to learn.
  • Ongoing support from management, regular communication, and feedback is critical and well received.

Confidence is inherent

  • Confident in their own ability to do the work and develop relationships, this generation is highly ambitious with expectations for growth and mentorship.

They are flexible and entrepreneurial

  • In some cases, more efficient processes were suggested for the labeling of products to reduce outdated manual methods.
  • In other instances, something as simple as turning a loan-set upside down to confirm that the screws loaded into the trays was the correct size and length was ingenious.

Now human beings are very fascinating, ask anyone in an HR role. What makes for an even more interesting and dynamic time in the workplace is having no less than 4 generations in the workplace, and slowly making way for Generation Z. The question everyone is asking is: how do we manage all these different generations and get the best out of each and every one? Each generation comes with its own values and perspective of the world based on their lifetime experiences and if we as leaders understand this critical part, we can tailor our interaction style to get the best results from each employee, no matter what generation we are. And in saying that, have we not done so in any case, all these years? If, as a company, your goal is to be the employer of choice, is it then not to make every person reporting to you, feel like they matter, and that you understand them – not just Millennials?

Based on previous experience we can always learn from each other, and working with the next generation, if engaged correctly they are just as committed as any other generation believe they are. Ensure you recruit correctly, pursue them for the right reasons and ensure your business is truly their passion – channel their directness positively, and be ready to learn from them!

What we’ve learned from our graduates is that good innovative ideas are not the exclusive domain of the more experienced; that fresh ‘eyes’ aren’t limited by a history of “but we’ve always done it this way”; that good communication remains good communication no matter the generation; and that having a true focus on people no matter age, gender, education or background is what matters most.

Contributors: Clive Potter (Operations), Yolandi van Aarde (Human Resources), Sherry Butler (Learning & Development)