A Millennial Perspective on Working Smart

By Kim-Lin Ramsawak, Director of Training and Certification (Ag.) NYC Department of Environmental Protection Asbestos Control Program, Flushing, New York, kramsawak@dep.nyc.gov

As you read this article, here’s a quick brief to add context. You might notice it’s written in the first person by probably one of our youngest contributors to date—a recent college graduate. And you might be thinking, what can a Millennial teach me about business? Turns out it might be a lot!

The genesis of this article came out of one conversation in which my niece—a Millennial—commented how she thought my generation worked hard but didn’t work smart. “What do you mean?” I asked. My practice is successful by any standard. Am I not working smart? Isn’t success a sign of “smartness?” I was concerned by the critique, yet intrigued—what did she mean by that? And since she increasingly represents the demographics of the consumers we study and market insights managers we work with, I thought it prudent to get some unfiltered insight from a Millennial who is uniquely positioned as a client in a traditional environment. From her in-the-trenches view, here are the how-tos when dealing with her generation.

— Roben Allong

I am 23 years old, a recent college graduate and now a graduate school student. I am also a supervisor, and on top of all that, I am a Millennial. I know it can be a struggle to get in touch with my generation; yes, you find us hanging out on social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and Snap Chat, and getting our “know how” from YouTube, not from traditional sources.  I’ve heard others say we don’t seem to follow the rules, so I figured I’d write this field guide for you to provide some insight when it comes to engaging with us Millennials.

First, let’s talk about how lack of awareness can negatively impact efficiency. As a working professional and part of the management team in my division, I encounter every day circumstances that come with working with an older generation.  For example, the men and women in my office are often not aware of and/or do not know how to utilize new technologies that are necessary to accomplish the work we are mandated to complete quickly, easily, and more efficiently. I have had to teach one person how to copy and paste in Microsoft Word and another how to charge his work cell phone using the USB cable instead of a wall outlet charger. In my head, it is strange that not everyone knows how to do these things and these small things can negatively impact our unit’s productivity. But in my workplace, not being up-to-speed on technology is the norm.

Next, fear of the unknown also creates challenges. Many of the employees that I work with seem scared of the innovative technologies that Millennials use daily, so they do not bother to learn how to use them. We are still using Microsoft Access 2007 in my office, and when you bring up updating to Microsoft Access 2010, you risk hearing, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When we changed all of the printers due to a contract change between companies, two people were so stressed about it that they took days off from work. Fear of upgrading to the new reduces efficiency and slows the process for everyone.

I recognize change is definitely hard for people, especially when they have been doing the same routine for 20+ years, but sometimes change can help. I am a strong believer in the saying “work smart, not hard,” or at least, “work smart and hard,” but sometimes it seems like I am the only one following that mantra. Working hard is never bad, but I believe we could get much more work done if we used time and energy more efficiently. I cannot tell you the number of meetings I have attended that could have easily been accomplished with a single email. If only the older generation recognized how their work lives could change for the better if they were more welcoming of new technologies.

This phenomenon does not only occur in professional workplaces. In my Master’s program, many older individuals are not aware of technological improvements that could help them thrive. This makes working in group projects more stressful and time consuming than they need to be. In one group project experience, I attempted to teach our older groupmate about Google Docs. I am not entirely sure whether he did not understand Google Docs or did not want to understand Google Docs. But at the end of the day, I was forced to travel two hours a day for multiple group meetings that easily could have been avoided.

As a recent graduate I can honestly say I was not fully prepared to deal with the distinct situations that come with working with the older generations. At my university, we were all masters of the art of working in group projects without ever actually meeting our group members and did assignments on the bus using Wi-Fi hotspots from our cell phones. In my current positions, the world that I am used to living in is not there. This may be my own privileged point of view, but as much as the Millennial generation needs to get used to working with the older generations (which we really do), the Boomer and Gen X generations need to get used to working with us, too.

I try very hard not to embrace the negative stereotypes and typecasts of Millennial-ness when working with older generations. I do not want others to think of me as the “young girl who came in and tried to change everything,” and I am very aware that my lens is biased because I grew up in the age of the internet. When others feel that I embody that role, it is challenging to work together and to create compromises that work for both sides. And, the seemingly condescending comments about age do not help either. But, more than anything, I want professionals to be able to use tools to complete tasks more efficiently, to make all of our lives easier. While this is my intention, I am sure that it is not always received that way.

When working with Millennials, bring the following to your interactions with us:

Electronic literacy – Being aware of and open to newer technologies is key to creating an environment where both parties can do well. Millennials use technology for almost everything, from grocery shopping to basic communication, so embracing and understanding these tools can benefit both groups (I recently met a woman who rarely ever checked her email!). An aversion to learning new technology could be harming effectiveness levels and can actually cause everyone to work harder than they need to.

Flexibility – Due to advancements in technology, Millennials like to take advantage of the flexibility it facilitates. Now, we can telecommute or call/Skype into meetings. We can sit at our desks at home and do the same amount of work that we do in an office setting. We can work at night or on the weekends. Taking advantage of this flexibility does not mean we do not want to work, we just like to utilize our time effectively to complete the most work possible in our workdays. We do not shy away from answering an email on the weekend, if necessary.

Rapid Communication – Who doesn’t love instant gratification? When communicating with Millennials, especially through email or other messaging platforms, remember that we like getting answers quickly (we are the “texting generation,” after all). Similar to the flexibility of working, communication goes hand in hand with knowing how to use the new technologies that can help run a workplace. We are always pushing to move forward—rapid communication and transfer of information is necessary toward that goal.

Honest feedback – It is a myth that Millennials are over-sensitive and cannot handle honest criticisms and feedback. We need to know what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong to feel comfortable moving forward. Providing honest, comprehensive feedback of our work will help us thrive in any setting.

We do not like busywork; we like work that matters. Balanced feedback regarding our work can help us find the value in it, which feeds our desire to do better.  Older professionals could take advantage of this aspect by being explicit with their wants, needs, and expectations for a project. Clearly spelling out what is necessary, as well as stopping and redirecting when problems arise, are paramount to creating a successful working relationship with Millennials.

While we do like to be left alone to complete our work, we do not desire to do so blindly. This aspect also applies to the older generations. When working with a younger individual, it is important not to get offended when corrected or given advice about a project or commissioned work. Age does not determine competence and ability, especially regarding the possible routes to completing a project as efficiently as possible, so our desire to receive honest feedback is coupled with our need to give it out, when absolutely necessary.

Fight the Stereotype – It is no secret that there are stereotypes regarding Millennials. The truth is, many of them are not true. But some of them are—my phone is always in my hand. A healthy working environment requires compromise and understanding between groups. The “kids these days” comments are only funny the first ten times we hear them, I promise. In the end, we really are on the same side.

Eliminating stereotypes may be the most vital of the aspects, as it promotes teamwork and integration, which are both necessary to successful implementation and execution of any task working in diverse groups of people where there is the possibility of tensions within the group setting.

For me, the top five software programs and/or technological advancements everyone should be familiar with and proficient in include:

  1. Microsoft Office Suite – I have encountered many people who do not understand how to use all the programs in the Microsoft Office Suite. Word, for example, is necessary for everything related to word processing, and most people know how to use it. Knowing the ins and outs of Excel is extremely useful in many regards, including statistics, formulation, and graph-making. OneDrive makes data-sharing and maintenance easier than using standard email, since data can get lost or deleted when not saved in a standard program. Being proficient in all of the Microsoft Office Suite programs is one easy way to make technology work for you instead of you working for it.
  2. Adobe Reader and/or other PDF software – Adobe Reader is not just used for viewing PDF files; it can also be used to get documents signed in real time, convert PDF documents to Word or Excel documents, and to make comments that other users can view. This program allows users to exchange and change data much faster than other manual methods, again facilitating greater efficiency.
  3. Skype, Zoom, and/or other live feed video capability programs – Understanding how to use live feed programs allows for faster, enhanced communication with people who cannot physically attend meetings, talks, conferences, and other essential office functions. Being able to see and interact with people in different locations or time zones, or even those who are simply running late, allows for all relevant personnel to be present and have their voices heard. It allows for interaction despite a wide array of barriers that may have hindered collaboration in the past.
  4. Google – Google Docs provides a free platform for enhanced collaboration and simultaneous distribution of data to all who are participating in the document in question. Multiple individuals can take part on projects and create documents in which all changes are shown in real time and documented. This software allows for enhanced data sharing better than a long phone call or lengthy chain of emails would.
  5. Backup Software – I believe that having all documents and data backed up in some form such as iCloud, Amazon Web Services or an external hard drive is necessary for the security and maintenance of any company, home office, etc. It is essential to be able to access your data if a crash occurs or something gets lost. This is especially important if your position includes handling confidential information or demographic data. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

When I use the word efficiency, which I have many times in this article, I am referring to successfully completing a task in a faster, smarter way than the traditional non-electronic methods still in use. The technology Millennials focus on allows users, regardless of age, to execute tasks quickly and successfully and to store and access data in easily retrievable places for anyone who may need access to it at any time. For us, it is really about time re-allocation in a more meaningful and customizable way. That is 21st century efficiency.

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