casual workers

What are millennials really like in the workplace?

Panel of young professionals shares FM take on common misconceptions
Monday, September 11, 2017
By Michelle Ervin

Are millennials really the acclaim-craving, job-hopping, social-media junkies they have variously been portrayed as? The answer, apparently, is a resounding no.

That’s according to the Fortune magazine article “Five myths about millennials in the workplace,” whose message was recently reiterated by a panel of International Facility Management Association (IFMA) members. The panel of young professionals, who ranged in experience from fourth-year college student to more than a decade in the workforce, shared an industry-specific take on these myths this spring in the Facility Fusion Canada session Where’s the next FM?

The takeaway was that while it may be tempting to turn to stereotypes as a mental shortcut, it may not be productive in terms of truly understanding the needs and wants of millennials.

And understanding the needs and wants of millennials is critical for organizations as the battle to attract and retain talent heats up, with baby boomers expected to make a mass exodus from the workforce over the next decade. Right now, IFMA is focused on building a career track starting from high school for a profession that moderator Geoff Williams, general manager, Corporate Event Centre at CHSI, pointed out is commonly entered mid-career.

“What I do see a lot in millennials is that they do want that plan in place, they want to see how that path is going to work,” said Nick Heibein, past president of IFMA Toronto and current PMO lead – RBC account at JLL.

Heibein chafes at the generalizations made about millennials. He said he disagrees that his demographic cohort has different career goals and expectations, observing that aspirations and motivations will vary between individuals, as they would in any generation.

Something that is undoubtedly unique about millennials is that they’re the first generation to grow up under the spotlight of social media — but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to put down their phones or manage their online presence, as some would believe.

Sarah Pinckard, senior project manager, MovePlan, spoke, for example, of maintaining distinct personal and professional social media accounts. There may even be opportunities for organizations to leverage the social media expertise of millennials to promote their company brand on various platforms, she pointed out.

When entrusted to do so, these young professionals are quite capable of working autonomously, said Drew Dickson, enterprise facilities planner, Great-West Lifeco, contrary to any misconceptions.

“If you have a strong leadership group who’s set clear expectations, you are empowered to make those decisions and you will make them independently,” said Dickson.

Heibein said that even young professionals who have strong opinions, such as himself, may solicit input from their colleagues in the interest of finding the best possible solution.

“We’re being much more encouraged to collaborate with our colleagues,” added Pinckard. “Of course you’re going to ask them to weigh in.”

And the confidence to stake out a clear position and act decisively may come with experience.

“It kind of comes down to the name of young professional,” said Kamil Glowacki, PMO analyst, RBC account, JLL. “We’re young in the profession, so why not reach out and get the opinion of somebody who’s actually done the work that you’re trying to do.”

One of the obstacles to seasoned professionals sharing their knowledge with millennials may be the perception that members of the demographic cohort have a propensity to job-hop, so why invest the time? The panelists offered a number of reasons why young professionals may leave positions prematurely, such as misalignment of core values and poor fit with the corporate culture.

“If you’re not passionate about your work, should you be there, and it’s not so much about jumping ship, but it’s about finding something that engages you,” added Dickson. “The jumping ship piece – that’s just the nature that the world is going in: people aren’t working for companies for 30, 40 years anymore.”

For his part, Dickson stands in contrast to some of the common stereotypes about millennials in the workplace. He has been with the same company for more than six years, having been given the opportunity to progress through five different positions there. And he has eschewed all social media platforms, except for the professional networking site LinkedIn.

He said he suspects that baby boomers went through the same sizing up by the generations before them as the demographic cohort entered the workforce.

“We need to break down some of those barriers and focus on knowledge transfer and building capabilities of the younger generation,” said Dickson.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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