11/12/2014 05:51 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST

12 Things Established Professionals Can Learn From Millennials

Young man standing in front of whiteboard
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Young man standing in front of whiteboard

The increasing influence of millennials on business culture is much-discussed, both in a positive and negative light. And you can bet that similar discussions will be had for years to come as new generations enter and shake up the business world.

My mentoring work has led me to conversations with millennials who have left a positive and lasting impression. I have learned much from them -- practically and personally. They have not yet been wired to fear setbacks or failure and see only opportunity. Some have gone on to do great things involving everything from starting their own businesses to launching successful fundraising campaigns using their brains, energy and shoestring budgets.

Their different view of the world, while seemingly foreign to the older generations, can provide a different lens through which to see things that can have a profound effect on business.

If you look through the millennial lens, these tech-savvy 25-34-year-olds have revamped the way we communicate, choosing email, social media and texting versus face-to-face conversation. Ironically, they also seek more of a work-life balance to build relationships. They challenge the conventions laid out for them by questioning authority and seeking meaningful careers, more nurturing than just a paycheck, with a team-oriented environment. They choose to explore life to the fullest and are inclined to take on their "bucket list" now rather than waiting for retirement. Given the fact that the Canadian youth unemployment rate is hovering at 14 per cent, retirement could be some time away.

Boomers as a group are work-focused and competitive. We tend to define ourselves by our accomplishments and possessions, which we often put forward as evidence of our hard work and many sacrifices made to achieve professional success. Some of us may be critical of younger generations for their work ethic and distaste for "paying their dues" in a traditional work environment. We may fault younger generations for their dismissal of "face time" and working remotely in the wake of growing workplace flexibility trends.

Despite differences in the boomers' and millennials' respective DNA, their approaches to work and life can lead to great results once they come to respect each other's views. This often requires the leadership of a skilled listener, objective and open thinker and delegator who keeps the two different groups in synch.

Millennials are the fastest growing age group entering the business world. According to a recent Angus Reid Public Opinion Survey, they are starting businesses at twice the rate of the Canadian average.

Established professionals should listen up and learn from our younger colleagues, friends and in some cases, bosses. Here are a few things that established professionals (aka "us old guys") can learn from them.

  1. Business smarts that call on improvisation, calculated (sometimes) risk taking and vast amounts of energy to make things happen are important values in today's rapidly changing business environment.
  2. The value of teamwork versus the "I can do it myself and thus reap more of the rewards" approach.
  3. Understanding the value of work life balance.
  4. Technology and social media can be invaluable in solving business problems and getting relevant information faster.
  5. A different take on philanthropy empowers a "can-do" attitude and improvisation in raising money through non-traditional tools. Philanthropy is more than just a tax management strategy and can reduce the gap between rich and poor. It goes beyond donations to public statements.
  6. Concern for the wellbeing of others less fortunate rather than focusing solely on gathering assets and material things to enhance life.
  7. Although usually confident and self assured, they see nothing wrong with expressing self-doubt, occasional anger and disappointment and reaching out to others for guidance.
  8. Pursue new ways to enhance personal relationships and value the gift of time versus a new car or watch.
  9. While pampered as children by parents who were afraid of making the mistakes their parents made, they can be very self-sufficient. They came home to empty houses and cooked their own meals in the microwave and ate alone as their boomer parents toiled to make payments on homes they could barely afford - but needed to be seen as successful by peers.
  10. Millennials tend to have great respect and love for their elders to whom they look for homespun wisdom and support. Not their fault, but boomers are often more concerned with the care and feeding of their parents, not gaining from their acquired wisdom. They are too busy juggling careers, caring for parents and for their children who may now live at home.
  11. In the workplace, they expect to be nurtured, tested and rewarded not so much with a pay cheque but with fresh challenges that will teach them more. They are willing to give an employer a chance but if unchallenged for too long, will move on.
  12. They remind boomers that the "lifer syndrome" has destroyed the lives of many who have been unexpectedly terminated from companies where they worked all their lives.


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