Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Co-founder Millennial Brand/Communication Specialists HOW&Y
The Millennial dilemma
A lot of material has been published on the stark differences between Gen Y and earlier generations. Including by us. We’ve dug deep into the circumstances – societal, psychological, and cultural – that led to the distinctive Millennial mindset, and highlighted the challenges these differences present to organizations. Too often the response by employers to the dilemmas posed by this generation is to offset the negatives against the positives. Accepting the entitlement, defensiveness to criticism, communication inadequacies, and disinclination to see opposing points of view, as necessary accompaniments to the benefits provided by an innovative, tech-savvy, curious, and adaptable workforce. The implicit assumption is always that Millennials will change as previous generations did, mugged by reality into accepting a more realistic view of the world.
The “Peter Pan” phenomenon is well-entrenched in this generation. There are benefits in “staying younger for longer.” The onset of responsibility is delayed, for one. Standards and expectations are set lower for longer.
But what if they don’t? That’s certainly the view taken in Gallup’s latest authoritative State of the American Workplace report. “(Leaders) cannot wait for trends to pass them by…and they cannot wait for Millennials to start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen.” (Our italics) The “Peter Pan” phenomenon is well-entrenched in this generation. There are benefits in “staying younger for longer.” The onset of responsibility is delayed, for one. Standards and expectations are set lower for longer. Self-indulgent behavior is ignored or tolerated. Why assume Millennials would voluntarily surrender “privileges”, any more than any other generation? No, the Gallup study has it right. Human nature typically wins out. And here it’s on the side of no change.
So what can Millennial employers do – to have their cake and eat it too? Can they harness the undoubted strengths this generation can bring to their organization, while encouraging them towards a more mature outlook in areas such as collaboration and dispute resolution? Though such a change is clearly in the interest of Millennials themselves, that doesn’t make it easy to bring about.
Recently HOW&Y has adapted its approach in this area to give greater weight to Millennial inclinations and predispositions, through a joint venture with Guided Resolution. This Australian and US-based company has developed a portal that offers a dispute resolution process via digital communication. As Guided Resolution CEO Ross Paull explains it “recent evidence indicates that Millennials overwhelmingly prefer the option of communicating digitally rather than face-to-face, so it makes sense for them to achieve dispute resolution and negotiation proficiency via a process that’s digitally driven.”
The joint venture program is called Interactive Empowerment, reflecting the reality that overcoming the Millennial generation-wide blind spot with respect to conflict in the workplace, is empowering for both parties, the employer, and employees.
Shaping the conflict handling skills of this generation is tackled at three levels:
- Mindset – encouraging a concession-based approach to disputes
- Skills – giving them a tactical understanding of interests-based negotiation
- Process – providing a dispute resolution model that plays to their digital strengths.
The aim of the Interactive Empowerment method is not to convert a Millennial workforce into skilled negotiators. That’s not feasible, nor is it necessary. Even small improvements in conflict handling offer disproportionate returns to an organization – because the problem of mishandled disputes is so pervasive.
Potentially contentious situations abound in the workplace – performance reviews, task allocations, distribution of physical assets, flexi-working arrangements, office layout changes, outsourcing…All of these and many more have the potential for mishandling and communication breakdowns. Creating unnecessary and often debilitating tension within a workforce – and leaving the organization and its employees worse off.
The Millennial negotiation requirement is a far broader one, potentially touching all relationships, and with negative consequences that are often not recognized until too late.
Based on the evidence available, as a priority, the task of addressing the Millennial generation’s shortcomings in the handling of workplace conflict should be a no-brainer. But it has largely flown under the radar until now. Probably because the implications and consequences have not been clearly enough understood. Developing the required negotiation capability of frontline and supervisory personnel has been confused with that of negotiation specialists. The needs and the levels of difficulty are not the same. One is sharply focused and finely tuned, directed at assignments that have immediate and obvious organizational impact. The Millennial negotiation requirement is a far broader one, potentially touching all relationships, and with negative consequences that are often not recognized until too late. A recent LinkedIn report helps to connect the dots. Their survey of 2,000 business leaders nominated three capabilities – leadership, communication, and collaboration – as the greatest skills gap in new (Millennial) employees.
Which begs the question
Given that they are now the largest working generation and rapidly moving into management roles, how can Millennial employees lead, communicate, and collaborate, without dispute resolution and negotiation competence?
Early this decade, as the research evidence for emotional vulnerabilities in this generation, began to emerge and bite, the reputable publication BrainWorld summarized it this way: “Generation Y will someday inherit the future, however, they may not be as prepared for this task as past generations.”
A 2010 article in the Journal of Business Psychology, addressing the same theme and looking ahead, had a more hopeful take: “Millennials may or may not be the next great generation, but they are certainly the next workforce – and with effective management, they absolutely have the potential to be a great one” (Our italics)
That at least puts the remedy where it should be. Millennials were not responsible for the events that took away a birthright. As we have pointed out in earlier articles: “Circumstances conspired to ensure that this generation never developed the negotiation instincts and skills that previous generations acquired as a matter of upbringing.” The Future Will Be Non-Negotiable – The Coming Age of Unresolvable Conflict.)
Millennials are hardly then responsible for fixing the problem. That’s over to organizations – to top management and the people specialists best able to address this as a big picture issue that warrants urgent attention. Before it becomes unmanageable.
“Negotiating with Millennials – How to Overcome Cultural Differences in Communication,” Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, February 13, 2018.
“Millennials struggle with confrontation at work,” Chicago Tribune, November 19, 2012.
“State of the American Workplace”, Gallup, (2017), sourced from https://news.gallup.com/reports/199961/statnke-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx .
Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell, ‘The Future Will Be Non-Negotiable – The Coming Age of Unresolvable Conflict, BizCatalyst 360°, April 2018.
Evan Mitchell and Brian Mitchell, “Rage against the machine,” The Australian, The Deal magazine, April 2018.
Elena Douglas, “The soft skills gap,” The Australian, The Deal magazine, August 2018.
Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell, “The Peter Pan Problem,” B&T, May 26, 2016.
Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell, “Shadowing-science-a-lesson-for-marketing-on-paradigm-shift,” BizCatalyst 360°, March 2016.
A. Hershatter and M. Epstein, “Millennials and the World of Work,” J.Bus.Psych. 25, 2010