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Susan Adams

It seems like whenever older and younger generations try to understand each other, there’s a language barrier. If you’re a parent who has tried to reason with a teen, you understand all too well. It’s also true when it comes to millennials in the workplace, mostly because of the labels that come along with them: entitled, lazy, demanding. The truth is, if we sit down and talk to young employees, we might find out that what they’re asking for isn’t all that bad. And with a little give-and-take, we can hone in on a pool of talented, loyal workers.

There are a few steps that managers can take to make connections and create inroads:

  • Start with a one-on-one conversation with millennials to find out where they’re coming from and what’s important to them. Research by Bentley’s Center for Women and Business touches on major points: better work-life balance (time for family); a “work family” where they are valued for who they are and the work they do; and opportunities for career growth.
  • Share your personal constraints as a manager. Educate millennials about business issues like tight budgets or your inability to create a new position for them, because millennials may be able to find creative ways to help get what they need for career development and personal development without major budget impacts — if given enough information.
  • Let millennials know that their work matters. A Bentley intern in a major company loved her summer job because once a week she would visit other departments that used her work. She ultimately learned the impact of her work on the company’s ability to serve its customers, which allowed her to feel valued.
  • Provide flexible work arrangements to allow both male and female employees to spend more time with their families.
  • Offer parental leave in a way that both parents feel their jobs are secure. Take an interest in the individual’s career aspirations by hiring and supporting/sponsoring for career success.
  • Create a “work family” that engenders loyalty to the company.
  • Create multiple paths for individuals to reach leadership positions. The ability to jump back into a leadership track later in one’s career — such as after taking time off or working flex hours to focus on family — is an option that appeals to this generation.

Many companies have already caught on to how to foster employees’ relations. Take the fact that nearly one in five men who are fathers says that his ideal career would allow him to take time off to be with his children before re-entering the workforce (based on a survey by Bentley’s Center for Women and Business). Paternity leave appeals to many men but also helps women’s careers by reducing the career setbacks often associated with maternity leave. Microsoft offers paternity leave that can be taken all at once or spread over time so fathers can spend time with the family when it is most critical. Re-entry programs and a changed mindset about the need for uninterrupted careers will appeal to both men and women. Such programs exist at Deloitte and PWC, where employees can cut back on work hours for a few years and re-enter fulltime work as children grow. As more millennials populate the workforce, other companies will be expected to offer similar programs and other flexible work options.

Does this mean that employers have to meet every request by millennials? Not necessarily. By educating them on the “business of business,” we can implement policies that will benefit all employees and create a healthy workplace that caters to career and personal aspirations. If we don’t make an effort, though, millennials are more willing than older colleagues to walk away and find a company that will, or better yet, start their own business.

This is the final in a series on millennials and the workplace. Susan Adams is professor of management and senior director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley.