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With an unearned bad reputation, some might dread working with the millennial workforce, but there is more to value about the much-maligned generation than scorn, says Ronan Colleran.

It’s predicted that by 2025, 75% of the world’s workforce will be made up of millennials. If we follow the Oxford dictionary definition of millennial, many of them are approaching 40 and have the experience, skills and leadership qualities to be at the forefront of business. They are driving our business forward. How do we guide these leaders to help our business?

What is it that will sustain them in our workforce?

Before I delve into the more specific management strategies and philosophies that can answer those questions, I think it’s essential first to establish some context. Let’s start by addressing the perceived image and often negative stigmas attached to this generation.

The oft-repeated stereotypes are rooted in two separate but intertwined elements: the self-empowerment philosophy of “you can do anything you put your mind to” and the slightly more troublesome “you deserve anything you put your mind to”, which many millennials were imbued with from an early age. These mantras, combined with the realities of the always-online digital native, created the popular image of a self-entitled, overly sensitive and impatient millennial with poor social skills who wants everything now for as little effort and cost as possible.

The modern millennial workplace

What do millennials look like in reality? For me, there are three critical elements to the modern millennial workplace that help sustain and grow our business: values, autonomy and technology. Millennials want to be part of a cause and work with a purpose. So, it is vital for CEOs and owners to ensure the organisation is clear in its values and mission statements. Team members and leaders must understand what it means to be part of the business and what they are working towards.

For example, at Azon, our mission is quite simple. We offer both job seekers and clients a knowledge-driven, highly consultative recruitment solution. Our employees are empowered to achieve this mission by being given the flexibility to utilise their experience and expertise instead of being handed a rigid playbook.

This mission drives everything, demonstrating how any individual consultant can make an impact on the company as a whole. We strive to give autonomy and create agility, producing an environment that allows these tech savvy millennial’s to make speedy improvements. Autonomy gives ownership and the opportunity to show their value. The agility gives them the flexible environment to take control of how they will work.

Alongside autonomy, it is vital to have controls in place. In many modern workplaces, setting goals and letting the team deliver in their own  way is important, but it’s not a laissez-faire culture; KPI’s should still be the foundation of any project. How those KPIs are achieved, however, is left in the hands of team members, rather than being part of a rigid process handed down from on high.

What is now the norm in most multinationals needs to become the norm in SMEs; laptops, wireless headsets, video conferencing, multiple screens, mobile phone packages (with no data restrictions!), zero outages and the fastest broadband going are just some of the things you should have in mind when you think about investing in your millennial workforce. We strive to enable our consultants with the latest technology tools, giving them the independence to do their jobs however they see fit.

The millennial impatience and their passion for technology are heavily intertwined. Technology has made everything instantly accessible, and we use this need for instant gratification to our advantage. It produces an eagerness, and it allows us to innovate quickly. Millennial’s ease with technology and, more importantly, their desire to implement and utilise it has helped drive the business forward.

A purpose-driven generation

The millennial generation has had it tough and has an unnecessarily bad reputation. They are purpose-driven and want to progress their careers. Many of this generation graduated from college during the recession. At its peak, youth unemployment rates in Ireland were 16%. Anyone who started their career in or after 2008, and has progressed to a leadership position deserves huge credit. Millennials are the next generation of leaders in our workplaces. It is not millennials we need to change; it’s the mindset of the people who guide, mentor and manage them. Their resilience, determination and outright drive shouldn’t be understated, and when given purpose, autonomy and technology, neither should the positive impact that they can have on your business.

This article originally appeared in the 1st August edition of the Accountancy Ireland Magazine
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