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The Care and Feeding of the (Sometimes Annoying) Millennials

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 7, 2009

Whatever you do, don't show this column to any of the millennials in your office. I'm going to share with you ten tips for communicating with the 20-somethings you work with (and your gen y, millennial, or generation next patients) that I learned at last week's SHSMD conference in Orlando. But millennials tend to get a little outraged if you try to define them. In fact, saying that they get a little outraged when you try to define them would definitely be cause for outrage.

If you want proof, check out today's MarketShare blog post by my colleague Marianne Aiello, one of my favorite millennials—who is a source of constant amusement to me. Let's just say she has a slightly different view of her generation than her older generation X and Boomer co-workers.

It's said that every generation thinks it is superior to the generations before and after them. Which means the youngest generation gets picked on a lot. I'll admit they are a fascinating and sometimes annoying mystery to me, which is why I attended the very aptly-named "I'll Take the Corner Office, Please: Tips for Communicating with Millennials" session.

I'm a Gen X-er on the cusp of being a Boomer (though I definitely identify with the younger generation—40 is the new 30, you know). So I knew right away that the session would be spot-on when the slide popped up that said one of the characteristics of generation X is that they are annoyed by millennials.

They're self-involved and entitled, yet insecure and easily distracted and bored. They're disloyal workers who play on the computer instead of doing their work. They're squeaky wheels who demand raises and promotions without paying their dues. They need constant praise and coddling. They see slights in every interaction. And they use funny acronyms that the rest of us don't understand and they don't get our jokes, either.

OK, so those are stereotypes, and I know they drive millennials crazy. And I know many millenials do not fit those descriptions. But stereotypes don't come out of nowhere.

Meanwhile, they're probably not going to change anytime soon. So, we old folks might as well learn to deal.

Session speakers Kim Blake and Deborah Myers, senior account executive and executive vice president, respectively, of CRT/tanaka in Norfolk, VA, shared the following tips for me and others who find the millennial generation to be a monumental challenge:

1. Be their Google. I like to put my head down, pull my socks up, and get my work done. When I don't know the answer, I usually try to figure it out on my own. And I hate to be micro-managed. Not so with millennials, Blake and Myers say. Having grown up in the information age, they want you to give them all of the information they need to succeed. Let them ask as many questions as they need to—even if it drives you a little crazy.

2. Give them a spoonful of sugar. Millennials also want instant feedback—they're used to being graded on every assignment. But if you plan to deliver criticism, you'd better include some positive feedback, too. It's so cliché, but this really is the generation whose shelves are lined with participation trophies.

3. Create meaningful experiences. Millennials are very civic-minded. As Marianne points out in her MarketShare post, at many schools volunteering is a requirement for graduation. Inviting them to join—or, better yet—create a program that gives them the opportunity to give back is a great motivator and helps them connect with an organization.

4. Consider short attention spans. They're smart and work fast but they are short-sighted and easily bored. So break their work into small projects—multiple deadlines mean more opportunities for that positive feedback, instant gratification, and sense of accomplishment they love so much.

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