There are now countless think pieces littered across Entrepreneurs and Business Insider’s twitter feeds with new strategies to work with millennials. From office parties to casual dress codes to any number of quick-fixes, many writers think that their one-off tactics will be sure to get the buy-in from employees young in the workforce.
The overall mindset has been that employers need to pander to young workers, placating them and offering them superficial and fleeting encounters instead of meaningful interactions. During her bid for the presidency, Hillary Clinton was accused of pandering to voters of color rather than addressing their concerns. She infamously published a listicle entitled, “Nine Ways Hillary Clinton is just like your Abuela,” to pander to Hispanic voters rather than speaking specifically to their comments. The poorly-calculated move has since earned the verb, “Hispandering.”
The truth of the matter is, young adults in the workplace don’t want your silly games or attempts to be “hip.” Young workers want to feel listened to, cared about, and engaged in their work. Many young workers have expressed anxiety about how their time in college will translate into their work experience, especially if the people with whom they work come from a less technological upbringing. The generational gap can create some differences in desired work environment that will be difficult to navigate.
The best way to find out what to do? Ask. Talk with your young employees and see what it is they’re looking for. Where do they need direction? Where do they need independence? There’s no need for guesswork when you can get what you’re looking for directly from the source. Rather than attempt a half-hearted gimmick, engage on a meaningful level about what young people are looking for in a work experience.
Of course, you’re not on the hook to give young workers everything they want, but calibrating expectations is a crucial part of fostering engagement. Enter a negotiation about what’s realistic and what’s not and what a suitable “end goal” would look like both for you and for your young employees. By treating your new hires as people rather than foreigners to decode and decipher, your team will bond more quickly and cohesively.
The key to overcoming any friction at work, from age disparities to personality clashes, is to create engagement with each other and with the ultimate goals of the company. Rather than try for some pithy activities to pander to your employees, ensure that their input and feedback are valued and being considered. Instead of trying to use modern slang, talk to them earnestly. Pandering is temporary. Engagement is sustainable.