Pew Research Center defines Millennials as being born between the years of 1981 and 1996. For any of us that fall into this category, we are astutely aware of the negative connotations associated with this label. A simple Google search of “Millennials are” returns: lazy, entitled, and broke within the top 10 results. When it comes to proving ourselves in the work place we may be at a significant disadvantage because of the reputation the Millennial generation currently holds. How can we overcome this when the odds of making a positive impression seem to be stacked against us?
Don’t just say you’re different. Be different.
Actions speak much louder than words. Demonstrate your skills, don’t just talk about them. Show that you mean business by coming in early, appropriately dressed, and ready to work. Slinking into the office late with a wrinkled half tucked in shirt gives people around you a reason to doubt your abilities. Even if you are the youngest person in the office, lead by example. Take advantage of the likelihood that those around you underestimate you, and use the opportunity to over deliver. Remember, first impressions are important, and once perceptions of you are formed they are very difficult to change.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
One thing that Millennials as a whole tend to value is efficiency. However, efficiency can be seen by others as laziness. For example, sending an e-mail instead of walking to a colleague’s office to chat can be viewed as lazy even if you see it as timesaving. It’s important to make the effort to speak with people face to face. It gives them an opportunity to get to know you better and is also a collaborative gesture that most will appreciate.
Growing up in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, and the term “instant gratification” is just that – instant, it’s easy to behave like you are the smartest person in the room. And sometimes you will be. But even if that’s the case it’s important to keep in mind that information is not a substitute for experience. There are other people around you with a vast array of experience that also have valid thoughts and ideas. It’s important to be coachable and teachable so you can learn from those who came before you.
Check Your Attitude
Because Millennials grew up with things like lightning fast internet, overnight shipping, apps that allow you to hail a car with a few taps, and same day grocery delivery we have a tendency to get frustrated when things take longer than we’re used to. When you’re waiting on someone to finish their part of a project when you’ve completed yours it is very easy to come across as irritated and communicate that with body language, tone of voice, or word choice. Being huffy with people you work with does not help your cause, it gives the impression that you’re not a team player, have low frustration tolerance, are unprofessional and immature. Having a collaborative mindset and a degree of pleasantness goes much further than frustration and rudeness.
One of the worst ways to perpetuate the Millennial stereotype is to appear closed off or closed minded. There are many ways we may be communicating this unintentionally. A few examples are playing on cell phones during a meeting, slouching in your chair when someone is talking to you, crossing your arms when having a discussion, and even leaving your office door closed. There are many times in a day when it is necessary to close your door, but having it shut all day communicates to others that you are not approachable. If it’s difficult for you to focus on work with the door wide open, consider leaving it ajar a few inches with a sign on the door that says “come in.” This changes the dynamic from people being afraid they’re bothering you, to a more welcoming environment.
Try to Avoid the Label in the First Place
When thinking about intra-office dynamics, it’s important to think about running a good offense as opposed to a well-crafted defense. It’s hard for people to negatively label your work ethic, intelligence, dedication, and loyalty if you hit the ground running. Focus on putting out the best product you can and believe in the work you’re doing. It’s impossible to go wrong with strong work ethic combined with professionalism.
A few things that have helped me break the Millennial stereotype in my career is being observant, anticipating the needs of others, and the desire to be genuinely helpful to them. I think of my office similar to the way I think of a bee hive. We are all on the same team, and have the same goals. Working against each other is counterproductive and detracts from the ultimate end point. One of the ways to set yourself apart is to do things that help the collective, even if it’s not in your job description. Sometimes Millennials can seem “too good” for certain tasks like making photocopies, filing, putting paper in the printer if it’s empty, restocking office items in cabinets, or replacing the jug on the water cooler in the break room. Sometimes a small gesture goes a long way, and people are likely to follow your lead. The “well… it’s not my job” attitude gets you nowhere and encourages the perpetuation of that sentiment around you.
One of the talents Millennials have due to the generation we grew up in is an inherent understanding of technology. Particularly when it comes to computers, social media, and quick information/data gathering. If you see someone struggling, offer to help them. Efficiency in the work place benefits everyone. Assisting others also sets the stage for cooperation and collaboration. The effort you put into being helpful sets you up for success, because when the time comes and you need help, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?