Embracing Innovative and Tech-Savvy Millennials in the Workplace

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

Millennials can bring many positive traits to the floor. It is your job as a manager to recognize what these are and how to apply them in the workplace. Take a look at these positive traits.

Taking advantage of the tech-innate

If you say to non-Millennials that Millennials are tech-innate, you’re likely to get one of two responses: “Duh, everyone knows that!” or, “Just because I’m not a Millennial doesn’t mean I’m tech inept!” Let’s take these reactions one at a time.

The “Duh” Response

Yes, most people recognize that Millennials are a tech-savvy group. However, many people don’t understand exactly how to capitalize on that strength because they’re too convinced that Millennials’ savvy is an obsession. It’s true that this cohort may turn to tech far more than generations past, but remember, Millennials grew up alongside the burgeoning tech industry and therefore find ways to include its advancements in much of their daily life. While dependence on technology can definitely have its drawbacks, it is hard to deny that it allows everyone to work more efficiently, more creatively, and more globally.

At the same time, the transition to new technologies or systems can be rocky for everyone involved. Here’s where Millennials are key: They’re early adopters of new technologies, they learn systems quickly, and they’re willing to help those who struggle to embrace technological change. Viewing and utilizing them for how they can help will not only benefit your entire employee pool; your Millennial will feel like a valuable member of the team.

Many progressive organizations have found an exceptional way to take advantage of not only Millennials’ strengths, but every generation’s: reverse mentorship. Pairing young employees with more experienced ones creates a two-way street of learning and knowledge transfer. In this scenario, you, the manager extraordinaire, would mentor based on your experience and knowledge. In return, a Millennial could teach you the ins-and-outs of the newest CRM system, a recent intra-office messaging system, or even Snapchat. At all times, leading with the question “What might this Millennial teach me?” can boost not only your knowledge, but also your Millennial’s engagement level.

The “But I’m Tech-Savvy Too!” Response

Of course you are! If you have had any level of success in the workplace in the last two decades, you’ve had to become comfortable with certain technologies, or at least the changing nature of them. But the difference is that while other generations have been merging onto the information superhighway,

Millennials were born in the fast lane. They have never known a world without the tech upgrade cycle. Of course, this can have its own disadvantages like impatience and a need for constant change, but having a generation of people who use technology as “their first language” can be a huge plus. They may think of using technology in a way you’ve never considered, they may be more aware of trends and cutting-edge innovations, and they may be more in tune with social-media platforms and networking systems. Leading with a defensive edge by bolstering how tech-savvy you are too will not bring out the best of this Millennial strength. Know what you don’t know, and allow Millennials to fill in the gaps.

Capture innovation in Millennials

Breaking news: Millennials grew up with rapid technology advancements. You’ve only heard that 100 or so times by now. Don’t let this “Captain Obvious” news cloud your view of the important reality that Millennials saw innovation play out in two notable ways: industry disruption and the upgrade cycle.

  • Industry disruption: While each generation has seen its share of major innovation, the technology that Millennials grew up with has disrupted industries that had been stagnant for decades. Whether it was something huge like the advent of the smartphone, or something more simple like Uber, Millennials witnessed that no matter the history of the product or institution, nothing is here to stay the same. (Note that the inventors/disruptors themselves are not Millennials; the invention/innovation was created during Millennials’ formative years, often by Gen Xers.)

Playing spectator to these advances, Millennials learned that one great idea can lead to an entirely new way of doing things. At work, it’s historically been easy to fall in line and do things the way they’ve always been done. Cue a cacophony of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While this motto sometimes holds true, organizations that thrive are malleable and flow alongside change. Allowing Millennials to imagine the possibilities could take your organization to a new level.

  • Upgrade cycle: To use an age-old and very weird expression, sometimes it’s not necessary to throw out the baby with the bathwater — improvement can be more than enough innovation. By the time Millennials got their first computer, they were already primed for Version 2.0, then 3.0, and then Version 10.1.4.

They have learned to expect constant development and will expect the same at the office. While some may say, “This is how we do things,” Millennials are more likely to respond to that with, “This is cool. Now how do we make it better?” Managers who choose to embrace this mentality rather than fight it may be surprised at how their organization will change for the better.