The Millennial Leader: Opportunity or Threat to the Working Environment ?

 

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There is no denying that millennials are slowly becoming the majority cohort in the workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labour Stats states that millennials have already overtaken the majority representation of the workforce and predict that by 2030, this sector will account for 75%. There is, however, much speculation and even deep concern as to what style of leadership this group will bring and the effect this will have on the workplace…

 

The baby boomer generation have their doubts about millennials’ habits and levels of productivity in the workplace. There is a perception about the expectations of the rising millennial leader –  a worry that millennials expect work to just come to them, that they have been spoon-fed from a young age and they expect to be rewarded for the smallest of achievements. What is more, there is a fear that due to the digital age we live in, face to face interactions are becoming less frequent. This suggests that millennials are not having the same kind of human engagement in business and in life in general as the baby boomers did. Less physical engagement in business means one cannot be as receptive to a person’s emotional disposition through emails, texts or phone calls, compared to meeting face to face. This is important because physically meeting with colleagues, partners and clients gives the opportunity to guage understanding and connection based on their body language and facial expressions  – all critical for relationship building and for making or breaking a deal.

 

With the rise of social media, millennials have their mobile devices at their fingertips 24/7 and converations, meetings and conferences are  increasingly online; inevitably, this means that physical human interactions are falling short. Baby boomers argue that this is not equipping millennials with the necessary “people experience” to develop into strong leaders. They are having less exposure to physical interactions and they are in a world of constant online messaging making it harder for them to reflect on themselves and others. Even more worrying is the suggestion that millennials have grown up being served constant violence via the media, from the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq war and now the conflict in Syria, and subsequenty have become impervious to such atrocities. This woud indicate a decline in empathy – a key element of Emotional Intelligence.

 

While this all sounds bleak, with our future leaders destined to be self-absorbed, apathetic and lacking human experience, there are other dimensions of the  millennial profile that give us reassurance about the future generation of leaders.  Certainly their digital proficiency will be a valuable asset to enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Additionally several studies suggest they in fact make empathetic and understanding people and leaders.

 

One of the most important things to note is that millennials are definitely “tech savvy”: they are connected everywhere and are willing and equipped to work from anywhere. They are able to  navigate the internet with knowledge of the newest online tools and they are well versed in the ins and outs of social media. As their devices are constantly at hand, they use them outside office hours to stay connected with emails and with colleagues all enabling flexibility and openness, as well as being able to communicate globally. This means that the millennial leader will be more time- efficient and more adept at maintaining relationships with colleagues and clients beyond the relative rigidity of the traditional workplace and timeframe. All of this affords them a unique sense of social entrepreneurship.

 

The pace of life and the pace of work for the millennial  is generally a lot faster than the baby boomers and they adapt to change quickly and understand ICT systems much better. This certainly can result in increase productivity –  they would rather resolve the IT problems themselves instead of waiting for the IT department to arrive. In the age of social media, these young leaders are used to sharing and being more open online, which can translate to the workplace too. They are more likely to encourage collaboration and idea sharing across departments with the help of Google Drive and iCloud etc.

 

In terms of empathy, a  Millennial Impact Project study said that in 2015:

 

  • 84% of millennials made a charitable donation and that 70% volunteered for a cause.
  • 48% of millennials had donated to a giving campaign promoted by their employer.

 

This could show a propensity to empathy and understanding issues outside of their own immediate environments. In fact, one could argue the rising millennial leader is  well educated and well-travelled, resulting in a wider perspective and a more open minded approach. A good example of this is the views expressed in the UK Referendum relating to the European Union – so-called “Brexit”. In this referendum it is estimated that more than 70% of young voters chose to remain in the EU indicating a keenness for a  multicultural society and a understanding of reality of today’s global village. These traits are undeniably in line with an empathetic approach and a high level of optimism – all important aspects of emotionally intelligent leadership.

 

It is customary for each generation to eye its successor with a degree of suspicion, fearing that the differences in approach and lifestyle will have a detriment impact on the commercial world. However, there is no reason to doubt that Just like every generation before, millennials will learn what is expected of them and what is necessary to get the job done – they are just likely to adopt a different approach in some areas. Across every generation there are those who are more tech savvy than others, those who adapt quicker than others and those who lack empathy and fail with social competencies all presenting opportunities and threats. It is highly unlikely that the millennial will be different. The critical element is for the different generations to understand each other, to embrace the unique traits and apply these to the increasingly challenging commercial environment.

 

 

About the author:

 

Helena Walker recently graduated from Northumbria University in the UK with an Honours Degree in History. She is working with PowerBase Consulting completimg a Graduate Internship Programme, focusing on research and marketing.

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