The Millennial Mystique

Say what you will about Millennials, they think big, work hard and have fun – all at the same time.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article may not be suitable for readers under 30, the reason being, we’re talking about you.)

They don’t pay attention. They’re too hung up on the work/life balance thing. They’re demanding. They need to be babied.

They’re the Millennials.

Old-timers (over 30) may harbor preconceptions – and misconceptions – of the Millennials, that is, those born between the years 1981 and 1996. But it’s time to put them away, says Tom DeCarlo. After all, we all have to get along.

Professor DeCarlo is the organizer of the Medical Equipment and Supplies Distribution track of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Marketing and Industrial Distribution Program. Many of his students take sales courses through UAB’s Professional Sales Excellence Center, setting themselves up for careers in medical sales.

And even though DeCarlo spends most of his time on the sales side of the supply chain, his observations about Millennials bear repeating for Journal of Healthcare Contracting readers as well. Not only are contracting executives dealing with the Millennials calling on them, but they’re hiring them too.

“I teach [Millennials] all the time,” says DeCarlo,a Ph.D. and Ben S. Weil Endowed Chair of Industrial Distribution. “Everybody’s different.” Still, if you take a random sample of Millennials and a random sample of Gen X’ers or Baby Boomers, some characteristics become apparent.

The job interview
The differences between a typical Millennial and a Gen X’er or Boomer begin to present themselves at the job interview, says DeCarlo. Many 50-year-olds, for example, are used to being rather individualistic. In contrast, 25-year-old job-seekers tend to have more experience participating in group projects. “They would be more inclined to talk about their work in teams,” he says.

Millennial job-seekers want to know how they would develop as individuals if they were to take a job, and what new skills they would learn, says DeCarlo. Consequently, directors wishing to snag a promising Millennial should speak in terms of the potential development that a job with the IDN presents – and the fun that it offers too.

“Millennials are very aware of making money and the importance of the bottom line,” he says. “But they also see a bigger picture with regard to their place in society. So present the big picture. Let [the Millennial] know how the job fits into society and the bottom line of the company.”

The new employee
Once onboard, Millennials are likely to respond to a different kind of training than their older counterparts. “They love experiential learning – projects, service learning, field experiences – whereas with the older generation, you might give them a bunch of books and say, ‘Go after it and learn it,’” says DeCarlo. “Clearly, there are jobs where [the new employee] has to learn specifics, which require focused effort on their part. But following up with experiential learning would help.

“Millennials love the idea of structure. They’ve been shuttled from soccer practice to basketball practice all their lives. If your training isn’t structured, they would look at that as a negative.”

Millennials like and thrive on feedback, and not just pats on the back. “They want to know where they’re failing and how they can get better,” says DeCarlo. And because Millennials grew up on technology, organizations that are slow to adopt automated processes will fare poorly with younger employees.

On the job
Millennials may tend to thrive when working in teams, but that’s not to say they aren’t competitive, says DeCarlo. “Some of the research suggests they are very highly success-oriented. Being team-driven doesn’t necessarily equate to being self-sacrificing.

“But they view competition in a more global sense. It’s not just me-focused. It’s ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to help my company improve the bottom line.’” Put the Millennial in a situation where he or she can have a positive impact on the organization, and sky’s the limit as to what they will do, he adds.

“They work hard, but feedback has to be there. You have to set goals, almost as if you’re coaching them as part of a team. If they sense you’re doing that, they’ll knock down walls for you.”

What about the multitasking, such as texting during a staff meeting? Isn’t that a sign of laziness or lack of focus? No, says DeCarlo. More than likely, it’s a sign that he or she feels they can access information later, probably online; and that they can take care of more urgent matters – which may require texting – right now.

“There is a detriment to multitasking, clearly,” says DeCarlo. “But you can expect more from [Millennials] as a result of it. They can do things quicker than older generations. In fact, they look for the quickest way to get things done, and they’re excited about that.” But what DeCarlo experiences while teaching at the University of Alabama is what contracting executives should take note of. “If you engage students, they won’t text. On the other hand, if I slip into a lecture mode, they’re thinking, ‘This is in the notes or in the book, which I can read later.’ So it’s important for the trainer to engage them and keep them at full attention.

“Some professors don’t get that,” he says. “They blame the students rather than looking at themselves and recognizing they’re not doing anything that’s relevant to them.

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