Career coach: The care and nurturing of 'millennials'

By Joyce E.A. Russell
Monday, August 2, 2010; 18

By Joyce E.A. Russell

As many of us know, over the next decade the baby-boomer majority of the workforce will retire and leave huge shortages in jobs. Those positions will mostly be replaced with individuals from Generation Y -- also known as the "millennials." Currently, they account for about 25 percent of the workforce and are expected to make up almost half by 2014 .They are the largest generation since the baby boomers and are expected to have a huge social and economic impact.

What do millennials really want in the workplace? They have high expectations that they will be able to advance quickly. From their bosses, they want someone to mentor and coach them; help them navigate or chart their career path; give them meaningful, timely feedback; and recommend and sponsor them for formal developmental programs. They are interested in enhancing their technical skills, leadership abilities and functional knowledge. Many also want their employer to help support their continued education in graduate schools. They want to be at an organization that has strong values, helps them to develop their skills for the future and offers customizable benefits packages. They also want flexible schedules so they have time for work and social and personal time.

Given the many pressing concerns Gen Yers have, what can your firm do to address some of these issues?

Recruitment. They want to be "wooed."

Strategies: Have them fill out the application online, but add a personal touch. Have very senior-level leaders reach out to them. Use knowledgeable recruiters to meet with them and give specifics about the company, possibilities and the opportunities. Use other Gen Yers to answer questions about your firm. Invite their parents to attend recruiting events since they often ask their parents for advice and rely on them for personal and financial support.

Nature of the work. They want their work to be important and make a contribution.

Strategies: Do a better job of selling your brand -- what your firm does and why it is so important today, and how Gen Yers can be part of a winning team and make a difference today in the lives of all of us. Instead of "telling" them what you do, facilitate a discussion with them and allow them to participate in your mission. Share a compelling story that resonates with them.

Promotions. Some want to start at the top (or at least be climbing the corporate ladder by six months into the job).

Strategies: Show them how they can advance in your firm and give them a realistic preview of career movement. You might pair them up with relatively new, successful employees so they can talk to them about the ropes and what it takes to be successful at the firm. Show them how you reward performance instead of just seniority.

Job challenges and movement: Gen Yers get easily bored and want challenging work daily. They are extremely independent. They do not plan to be in the same location for an extended period of time.

Strategies: Give them new challenges and projects and allow them to multi-task. Do not micromanage them; instead work with them to establish goals and time lines. Don't keep highlighting examples of employees who have been with the firm for a while. Show them opportunities for movement in or outside of the United States.

Work schedules. They want work-life balance and flexible schedules for social and personal time.

Strategies: Give them examples of successful leaders in your firm who have balance. Offer them flextime; encourage their leisure pursuits. Enable them to work from other locations. Don't expect that they will do all their work as you do (i.e., in an office).

Diversity and globalization. They are comfortable with globalization and are racially and culturally diverse.

Strategies: Highlight opportunities to work globally. Have them connect and meet with a diverse set of employees, especially at the highest possible levels of your firm. They have to see that you really value diversity. I have actually heard Gen Yers, when meeting with senior executives, express concern that the makeup of the senior executives did not seem to fit the Gen Yers in terms of race and gender.

Relationships with bosses and co-workers. Gen Yers want to have good relationships with their bosses and co-workers and feel connected to them.

Strategies: Work on your social relationships. It is critical to this generation. They want to feel they are part of a team, and they want to like being at work and have fun there.

Opportunities for growth. They want opportunities to develop and be mentored.

Strategies: Offer formal rotation programs. Feature special project assignments. Provide a diverse set of job responsibilities. Establish formal extracurricular learning time. Allow them to shadow executives. Cultivate an informal work environment. Encourage and support them in graduate school. Provide them with mentors and coaches. You could use reverse mentoring (match a millennial to a senior executive) or group mentoring (use groups or peers to provide mentoring).

Millennials want to make a contribution to our firms. If we want to be competitive and hire the best and brightest Gen Yers, we need to think about how we can best utilize their talents. Has your firm done this? Think about this -- if your child was a new college graduate, would you recommend that he or she work for your firm?

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist. She can be reached at

© 2010 The Washington Post Company