Human Resources

If millennials are triangles, here’s how to smooth angles

When we talk about millennials in the work force, we mention how they are tech-savvy people who have trouble with rigid timelines and schedules, need instant gratification and recognition, are impatient with the status quo and are self-absorbed. But I think of millennials as triangles.

I call them triangles because they have pointy, sharp and rigid sides.

When they come into the work force, their pointy, sharp sides tear at the fabric of work force etiquette and time-honored standards of communication and behavior. This causes conflict and frustration with others, especially their older peers and supervisors.

But I don’t blame these triangles.

Their behavior and communication comes from their sense of what is normal. Furthermore, I think every generation produces a group of young adults whose values and ways are different than the “establishment.”

I, myself, am a baby boomer.

When we were young adults, we thought that all you needed was love, while the establishment thought that what we needed was hard work and respect for our elders. We were triangles, too.

Since our youth, most of us have grown and matured. We have become hexagons. Our pointy, sharp edges have been smoothed by experience, maturity and adapting to workplace etiquette and standards. As hexagons, most of us move pretty smoothly through the fabric of the American work force.

A great man once said that the youth “have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” That man was Socrates and his quote is around 2,400 years old. This idea of youth as bucking the establishment goes back a long way. It must be the natural order of things.

It seems to me, then, that each generation produces a group of youth who start their adulthood as triangles. In the work force, most of us transition from triangles to hexagons, forming and refining our identities and values and also adapting at work. It’s called the maturing process.

So what is noteworthy about millennials is not that they have different ways. It is how they react to us and how we work with them.

Valuable perspective

Employers need to understand that the millennials do bring a valuable perspective to the workplace. Being tech-savvy and focusing on social media are good examples. It is, for us non-millennials, a new way of communicating, reaching out to people and staying connected. We must embrace and explore these new ideas.

The millennials need to understand they have a lot to learn from those of us who have transitioned from triangles to hexagons. This is because we proved that we could have strong identities and values and still be successful at work.

Smoothing our rough edges was a key to our long-term success in the workplace and it is a key for millennials, too. It wasn’t easy but we realized it was necessary.

Some people do remain triangles and are very successful. We call them entrepreneurs, artists, mavericks, etc. But the rest of us join the work force and have to find a way to maintain our identity and adapt to our surroundings.

We all have to decide how much rounding we can accept and where we draw the line. For some of us this is a lifetime process. Others of us figure it out quickly.

They are us

So how do we help millennials in the workplace? Initially, let’s not be too hard on them. They are us. Sometimes we forget this. Millennials need mentors who have been through the transition process and can help them make good choices. They don’t flourish in an environment where people just criticize their youthful ways and differences. And remember, they have good ideas just like we did.

But millennials should not get a pass either. Just because they are the future, we shouldn’t give them a wide berth for their pointy, sharp edges. Nor should we coddle them and turn ourselves inside out to accommodate them.

We can best help them by:

  1. Giving them immediate feedback on the effect they are having on others.
  2. Teaching them to understand and respect others’ perspectives.
  3. Teaching them how to effectively present ideas to others.
  4. Teaching them how to convert their impatience into productive action.

In the end, millennials need to do the development work we did, struggle the way we did and earn the success that we got. This is what business owners want and it is also the natural order of things.

Contact:  Cary Tutelman is founder of CJT Co. in Edina and co-author of “The Balance Point,” offering a new perspective on the roles and responsibilities of ownership: 952.941.8864; cary@cjtco.com; www.tutelmanconsulting.com

Cary Tutelman