How I Spent My Summer Vacation - as a Millennial

Summer is hard. Juggling four kids with varied schedules, while running a business, is a little like herding... well, I was going to say cats - but cats are easier! 

As challenging as summer vacation can be, it used to be even harder. Today, as I excused myself from another meeting to shuttle kids, the stress I felt a few years ago was noticeably absent. Advances in technology and mobile responsiveness have made it possible to be engaged where I needed to be, while present where I wanted to be. In other words, instead of impatiently waiting to carpool kids home from soccer so I could get back to the office; I was able to slather on a little sunscreen, intermittently respond to emails, cheer on the team and send my wife a quick video.

The meeting I left was about leadership dashboards, so in fair disclosure, I work at a human capital software company. As such, we have daily confirmation of the importance of mobile as the device/delivery of choice for the millennial workforce. While it is generally accepted that mobile is the work and training answer for the foreseeable future, some managers still have reservations. There remains a perception that millennials (Gen Y) are entitled. The fear is that providing too much flexibility will feed into that sense of entitlement. Some Baby Boom and Gen X managers still question whether millennials are as productive - engaged - or accountable when on a flexible schedule. Is it really a case of out of sight, out of mind?

According to a study by Brookings, 87% of millennials are looking for something much more significant than a paycheck. Balance, flexibility, and development opportunities are what they want in their work environment. And what don't they want? I think I learned a little about that at the swim meet. 

Misinformed question #1: "It's so nice that you took off work to see your son play."

I did not take off work, I took my work with me - right here on my mobile. Nothing at work suffered. I suspect that millennials, and even non-millennials like me, aren't fond of this skepticism. It feels a little like being reproached by a disapproving parent, something employers should (and can easily) avoid. One of the fast growing requests we deal with at work is for tracking, reporting and analytics. That makes it possible to take a stealth look at objectives and progress before questioning how/when/where employees have been working. Maybe some peace of mind can be found in the fact that remote workers are often more engaged in their work than those in a traditional office environment according to Scott Edinger, Harvard Business Review. Contributing to that increased engagement is that teams with remote workers have to maximize the time they do have together.

Misinformed question #2: "Do you want me to tell you when your son's on the field?"
No, I'm good. As a heavy technology user, like those in today's workforce, I have developed the ability to switch quickly from task to task. We've all heard of the recent report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information regarding the average attention span of a human being falling to eight seconds. Also in that report is the very positive finding that the ability to multitask has improved significantly. That means unless my child breaks the sound barrier running down the field, even if checking email, I will be there cheering with the others when he makes an attempt on goal.  

Well intended, but misinformed question number #3: "Would you like me to bring your son home so you can go back to work?"

No, my priority is being here, right now. The flexibility of  mobile delivery results in increased choices and life balance. I appreciate that balance and millennials really place a high value on it - after all, they have never lived in a world without that connectivity. 

No wonder Gen Y gets a little testy when behavior they view as "normal" is in question.  In just a couple of years, questions like these will have disappeared from our vernacular. After all, by 2020, their generation will make up the majority of the workforce. The bigger change might be the conditioning of all age groups as remote working/learning out paces traditional work environments. Until then, there still exists a bit of a learning or trust curve when it comes to remote and non-remote workers and students. So, along with avoiding comments like those above, the following are three simple suggestions to foster a more positive and trusting relationship with millennials in your workplace.  

  • 1.  Just let it go....
    Or rather, let them go. When searching for positions, millennials look for options like telecommuting and flexible schedules. They work best when allowed to work whenever/wherever they want. Productivity and retention will follow. Millennials respond to well-communicated expectations. Provide those expectations, then offer options to achieve those expectations and opportunities for feedback. 

  • 2.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T....
    Find out what it means to them.  It means an acknowledgment of their       abilities and in a lot of cases, superiority, when it comes to technology. Their efficiency and confidence in social media and all things web does translate into time savings. Offer opportunities for them to represent their views in multi-generational conversations and on committees. Better yet, demonstrate respect by asking them to take responsibility in areas where their strengths can shine.

  • 3. Gimme gimme gimme...
    Go ahead, give them more. Far from lazy, this generation seeks ways to experience new things, to hone their skills and move up the career ladder. Leadership development, especially self-leadership, is key to keeping them engaged and employed. Let it be known that the opportunity door is open, and encourage them to speak up when identifying something they wish to pursue.  

Yes, summer is hard, but it is also very short. With technology that allows us to be productive and in touch at anytime from anywhere, why not take a page from the Gen Y playbook? When you eliminate the often times non-existent restraints tying you to your office desk, who knows what you can get done and where? Channel your inner millennial, and go where summer takes you....and if you'll allow this one slip back into a parental role, don't forget the sunscreen.  

Rich, along with his wife Dena, Bartlett is a  founder of CD2Learning. As respected  industry pioneers, they launched CD2 Learning following the sale of  nursing e-training leader, ATI.. As parents of  four children, the Bartlett's are committed and invested in the future of online learning.

CD2 Learning - an award winning human capital software that offers the only complete, cloud-based solution with LMS, CMS, built-in content authoring tools, gamification, and social collaboration capabilities. Finally, a system flexible enough to allow you to quickly and easily create, deliver and track customized content.