(Courtesy of Dan Frosh, as originally appeared at FroshFamBizConsulting.com)

We are in the midst of a profound transformation occurring in the workplace. The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, now represent a majority of the workforce; family businesses would be wise to prepare to welcome an entire generation who work, communicate and view the world much differently than their predecessors.

As the Baby Boomer generation moves closer and closer to retirement, and without enough generation X’ers to replace them, it has become imperative that all family business owners understand how to develop Millennials into future leaders. Fortunately, the Millennial generation is the most researched to date and these studies help to present an insightful glimpse into their perspectives and work tendencies.

Work Ethic & Habits

Much has been made regarding the myth that Millennials are “lazier” than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. However, recent studies have all but debunked this theory, showing that more than 4 in 10 Millennials consider themselves to be “work-martyrs” – dedicated, indispensable and racked with guilt if they take time off. Accordingly, Millennials tend to be more likely to forfeit unused vacation time and to continue working on nights and weekends.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology that allows them to get work done wherever and whenever, blurring the lines between work and leisure time. For these connected Millennials, answering client or customer emails at night or over the weekend has become as routine as returning a text from a friend.

However, Millennials’ total reliance on technology as a communication tool has impacted their ability to communicate face-to-face in the corporate world – vastly preferring the efficiency of text and email interactions to developing deeper relationships through phone calls and conversations. This divergent style of communication can result in a disconnect when Millennials interact with older coworkers and clients and developing their “soft skills” should be included as a component of their professional development.

In the office, Millennials’ work habits also tend to differ from previous generations. They expect their work to be rewarding, value results and talent over tenure, and can appear impatient for advancement within the company. They can be resistant to receiving orders from superiors and instead prefer bosses who operate more as mentors.

That being said, if you can overcome some of these challenging dynamics, Millennials can offer creative and innovative thinking. They are adept at efficiently gathering information and are eager to learn and dedicated to developing their professional skills. Growing up in an age of instantaneous feedback, Millennials tend to seek advice about their performance (although it might not always seem this way).

Emerging Adulthood

A clear trend has emerged for Millennials in their 20’s to further delay their transition to adulthood. “Emerging Adulthood,” as this developmental stage is referred to, was actually started by Baby Boomers seeking college degrees before they were expected to assume full-on adult responsibilities. Today, Millennials are further postponing the five indicators of adulthood (full-time employment, financial independence, home ownership, marriage and parenting), much longer than previous generations.

Emerging Adulthood is characterized by Millennials exercising the freedom to test several different career opportunities (often in different cities) until they find the professional and personal setting that feels right. Of course, to their employers, this type of transient behavior demonstrates the disloyalty that has often been attributed to the Millennial generation.

In the family business context, where the next generation may be expected to join the business right after college or where the family’s financial stability may afford Millennials greater freedom to experiment different career paths, the Emerging Adulthood phase can produce additional challenges.

Here are a couple suggestions for family business owners to consider when welcoming Millennial family members to the business:

  1. Be flexible. A recent study conducted by Deloitte found that a flexible work environment remains a top priority for Millennials and has been linked to improved performance, accountability, trust and loyalty. Although these findings may seem counter-intuitive, Millennials’ technological proficiency allows them to remain efficient outside of the office and taking steps to provide a flexible work environment will go a long way toward retaining and getting the most out of Millennial employees.
  2.  Remain patient. More than any other generation, Millennials are taking their time and weighing their options before committing to their chosen career path. Give them the time and space to make this decision and encourage them to gain diverse experiences, even if it’s outside the family business. Pressuring Millennials to enter the family business before they’re ready could turn an otherwise exciting opportunity into an unsatisfying burden.
  3. Invest time in creating a leadership development plan. Millennials seek purpose in their careers and want to understand how their current responsibilities can help lead them toward their long-term goals. Take time to understand their priorities and work with them to create a leadership development plan. This will not only help prepare Millennials for their next leadership opportunity, but will also encourage them to take initiative and ownership of their career path.
  4. Include Millennials in family governance structures. Millennials are natural collaborators who seek opportunities to provide input and help make decisions. Involving them in the family council can help provide a more diverse and innovative perspective on family matters, while instilling in them the most important family values.
  5. Be open and transparent regarding succession plans. Rather than postponing discussions about the business’ succession plans, start addressing these plans with the next generation early on. Millennials have grown up in a time when information is immediately available and appreciate the opportunity to collect the facts and be given time to process it all. As a result, this transparency can inspire greater interest in the business as a future career and spark ongoing dialogue about the future of the company, innovation, and leadership development.

Much like every preceding generation, Millennials approach work and life with a unique perspective, and the key to achieving their full potential involves the ability to harness their strengths and the patience to work on developing their weaknesses. Doing so will not only help the Millennial generation to attain their best work performance, but will also improve the performance of the business and the cohesion of the family.

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