Each generation of young adults often is seen as worse than the last. In the 1980s, law enforcement viewed the youth as wild, destructive, and more dangerous than any other generation. That panic seemed silly in the 1990s when crime rates began a decades-long downturn.
A similar belief is occurring today in HR departments and training circles, and the generation taking the blame is the oft-maligned Millennials. Millennials aren’t kids, and the oldest ones are actually entering their 40s, but many industry leaders say their professional behaviors can be childlike.
Some of this can be blamed on the fact that Millennials often are misunderstood because they view life and the workplace differently from previous generations.
We aren’t here to pass judgment on anyone’s workplace viewpoint. Instead, we’d like to point out that Millennials are an important part of the business world, representing 56 percent of the workforce, according to research by Pew. You owe it to your company to learn how to train them to be assets. Let’s explore differences in their training needs and how you can better help them while still improving your business and company culture.
8 Do’s and Don’ts for Training Millennials
1. DO Spend Time on the “Why”
For most older generations, when a boss said something, employees simply followed directions and obeyed protocol. Millennials often want to know why a protocol or policy is in place. They’re looking for the reasons behind the structure of communications. They want the logic of a supply chain and the values that support matters of company ethics.
It’s important to remember this isn’t high maintenance. Millennials, more than any other generation, are eager to make a difference in their positions, their companies, and their world. From the start, they’re looking for ways to do things better. In the past, you said, “Jump,” and new hires would say “How high?” Millennials want to know if jumping is still the best practice and if there’s a better way.
2. DON’T Gauge Success from Memorization
Millennials have spent most of their adult lives with the sum total of human knowledge in a small rectangle in their pockets. Using old-school training metrics such as quizzes will set them up to fail. Unlike older employees, they haven’t spent much time memorizing facts. They look them up instead.
Further, their lifelong access to texting, social media, and private chats has made them excellent collaborators. They won’t memorize the batting statistics for their local team, because they know a guy who’s a superfan and has them easily available.
A better plan is to set up training assessments that ask harder, deeper questions than a normal memorization-based quiz and require Millennials to consult their training manuals, online tools, and one another to answer them.
3. DO Provide Documentation
As we said, Millennials are much better at looking up information than memorizing it. This may be off-putting to older coworkers and trainers who view this as laziness or not taking the job seriously. But it means Millennials avoid the too-common mistake of assuming they know an answer when, in fact, they have it wrong.
Provide a solid resource base of documentation they can consult while learning and mastering their jobs. Provide this documentation in different formats. Instead of a single print manual in a three-ring binder, be sure to provide a searchable knowledge base, a record of questions and answers, and video training, as well.
Millennials listen when experts speak. The more expert information you give them to digest, the more deeply they will understand the subjects they must master to do their jobs.
4. DON’T Think of It as Hand-Holding
One of the most common complaints against Millennials is they need a lot of management in the early stages of their job, whereas older employees would jump in and get things done.
This isn’t an untrue assessment, but it is unfair. Instead of using terms like “hand-holding” and “coddling,” instead, recognize conscientiousness for what it is. Millennials are largely averse to making public errors. They will wait for further instructions, ask clarifying questions, and want to see an expert demonstrate the task one more time before risking the embarrassment of a failed public attempt.
Although this might be frustrating to older generations, it also results in Millennials really learning the material before they strike out on their own. They may take a little longer before they’re ready to work without help, but they’ll need less help and make fewer mistakes once they get there.
5. DO Provide Ongoing Training
The peculiarities of Millennials’ learning curve means they’re not going to “fire and forget.” They do much better when allowed to deeply understand and master one subject, and only then move on to the next.
Many company training programs consist of a light treatment of all job duties, with the assumption that it will be just enough for the employee to go out and learn the rest while performing their job. Many Millennials perform poorly with that expectation.
Ongoing training opportunities are the best way to work around this. Provide deep, robust training that allows success in one part of their position. Then add the training for another responsibility and repeat until they are fully independent. Again, this may be frustrating to members of older generations, but it produces an end result that’s as good as—or better than—the traditional ways.
6. DON’T Mistake Confidence for Understanding
The “impertinence” of Millennials is legendary. A 24-year-old newly hired Millennial thinks nothing of shaking a CEO’s hand and starting a conversation. They won’t hesitate to try “fixing” a policy or procedure that’s been in place longer than they’ve been alive.
In older generations, this confidence stemmed mostly from competence. Baby Boomer employees would only dream of such things if they firmly believed their expertise and job credentials warranted it. Millennials simply don’t believe as strongly in those kinds of boundaries.
The issue is this confidence will be present whether or not Millennials have mastered the skills of their job or even finished their training. Do not assume they have a full understanding of the job simply because they’re confident.
7. DO Use the Feedback Sandwich
This one’s true of every generation, but especially for Millennials and for the youngest Millennials. Their childhood and young adulthood of video games and social media leaves them both craving and sensitive to feedback.
A “feedback sandwich” delivers points for improvement with a positive piece of feedback before and after. The first compliment leaves employees more open to the notes for improvement, and the second ends the conversation on a high note.
Further, when delivering any kind of performance feedback, leave some time at the end for discussion and questions. That conscientiousness we mentioned earlier will come out here as well, and Millennials will want to fully understand what went poorly and how they can do better the next time.
8. DON’T Assume Baseline Knowledge
One trait of Millennials that is unmitigatedly unfortunate is a lack of baseline office and business experience as compared to new hires from 10 years ago. You should be ready to explain how to use a copy machine and basic concepts like time tracking and appropriate office communication.
This requires a greater investment of your time and energy but is usually worth it. Millennials come without those skills. But they have an understanding of computing and communications and a broad worldview, far beyond what older employees brought with them. It’s worth the trade-off.
One final piece of good news: Although the media often makes a big deal out of resentment between generations in the workplace, research by the Addison Group indicates that nearly 80 percent of employees appreciate a job with coworkers from different generations. Baby Boomers respect Millennials’ tech savvy and work ethic, and in return, Millennials describe Boomers as highly qualified and well-organized.
A good trainer bringing in Millennials needs to understand the pros and cons of training them, but also the differences between training Millennials and training older generations. Without judgment, simply adjust how you train them and watch how well they do.
Duncan Kelly is a Midwestern business recruiter who has worked with staffers of all ages and offers tips to businesses on how best to succeed when hiring.