As a legal recruiter, I wear many hats: advisor, coach, advocate, confidante. I don't take these responsibilities lightly. Although I work exclusively with attorneys, this article is directed towards any millennial in the workforce, or those about to enter the workforce. My motto is: "Candor, humor, and integrity"– and over the past 30 years, it has served me well.We've become an increasingly plugged-in society and our reliance on technology has been documented extensively. Baby boomers remember when we used to come into our offices to find hand-written messages letting us know who called, the reason for the call, and the caller's phone number. And then, we–gasp!– called them back. Gen Xers entered the workforce during the voicemail era, which made receiving messages more private, but those calls still required a return phone call. Sometimes we played phone tag, but once we connected, we communicated directly. If we had questions, we could vet those during our conversation. We could listen to the other person's tone and intuit how they were feeling. We didn't have to rely on emojis. We relied on our eyes and ears. Ultimately, we had fewer miscommunications, or missed communications, which leads me to my next point.
Millennials have grown up relying almost exclusively on devices. Talking by device is now the way most people communicate. However, when voicemails and emails go unacknowledged, that creates the impression of "talk to the hand." Unfortunately, there is a perception (or misperception as the case may be), that millennials don't respond to voicemails (or even listen to their voicemails), or to respond to emails in a timely fashion. While timeliness can be somewhat subjective, at the very least, letting the sender or caller know that you've received their messages, is very important. Texting is NOT a realistic way to communicate in business.
Whether you realize it or not, there is an undercurrent of frustration that employers are feeling towards their millennial employees. And this frustration isn't limited to communications issues. Employers often feel that there is a sense of entitlement among younger employees. Whether it's wanting their employers to provide top-quality/ organic/sustainable snacks, or not wanting to work nights/weekends, millennials are not shy about saying what they want. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to confuse "wants" and "needs."
Many millennials are too young to have been in the workforce during the "Great Recession," so it's hard to understand why employers are feeling unappreciated. When jobs and work are plentiful, it's hard to find employees; when the economy is bad, people scramble to stay busy and employed. While your employers might appear to accept your "wants" in the current economy, as soon as things slow down–and it will–the way you handle your job now will either reward or haunt you. When lay-offs happen, are you going to be at the front of the line, or the back of the line?
Now that I've laid-out the psychology of the current economic climate, here are ways to remedy any misperception that your employer could be harboring:
- Talk to your boss(es)– ideally do that in person, but if need be, have that conversation by phone–find out how he/she/they are feeling, and why they are feeling that way.
- Manage expectations— what are your bosses expectations? What are their management styles? Does your boss expect you to work nights and weekends? If so, how late and when during the weekend? Does your boss check emails at 5am because he/she/they are an early bird? Are you someone who checks emails at midnight because you're a night owl? You and your employer need to understand each other. For example: if you have children and you want to be able to spend uninterrupted time with them in the evening/weekends, propose hours that allow you to spend time with your kids, AND still be responsive to work needs.
- For those who have other demands on their time, the same strategy applies. Maybe you're training for a marathon, maybe you spend time giving back to the community, maybe you just need "me time." As long as you make it clear to your employer that you share the same goals and objectives, it's very likely that you can come up with a plan whereby your employer knows that they can count on you, while providing you with the time that you need to be unplugged.
- Last but not least: check your voicemail regularly; listen to your messages and respond to your calls; respond to emails. No one wants to feel ignored. If you're jammed and don't have time for a call, email the person who called and set up a mutually convenient time to talk. We all want to feel heard. When we talk by device, we need to know that you are listening.