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CUPA-HR News

What Can Millennials Offer Your HR Organization?
October 17, 2013

By Jazzmine Clarke-Glover and Shannon Page

As we all know, workforce demographics continue to shift — as baby boomers retire, companies are hiring millennials to fill these positions. Like each previous generation, there are a number of attributes that are characteristic of the millennial generation. This article, written by two millennials, examines several millennial characteristics and how these attributes can be assets to a higher education HR organization. The authors would like to note that they acknowledge that these characteristics are not representative of all millennials, nor are they exclusive to just the millennial generation.

If you like this article, you may also be interested in the articles Words of Wisdom and What Matters to Millennials, and this post from The Higher Ed Workplace blog.

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Tech Savvy

Millennials generally have a knack for using computers, partly due to the fact that they grew up using computers and were taught about technology in school from a very young age. This knowledge base continues to evolve and crosses into their interactions within the HR workplace. As we know, the field of human resources now relies more and more on technology each day, and it is not uncommon to see millennials taking the lead on training, implementation and troubleshooting of HR information systems.

By assigning technological tasks to millennials, a supervisor can play to their strengths, which helps boost confidence. It can also provide an avenue for millennials to share their expertise with their coworkers to help navigate the generational divide by merging current technologies with past best practices. For instance, millennials can teach others how much easier it can be to obtain meaningful data with Excel Pivot reports, such as providing the number of faculty and staff per department. Or millennials can work with others to create an electronic tracking and notification system to remind and prompt HR professionals to process longevity and contractual payments to avoid delays.

To make technological tasks more of a “stretch” assignment for a millennial, a supervisor could assign the individual to lead a project or even just a portion of a project. This is a strong learning opportunity because it allows the millennial to use a skill he or she knows (technology) and allows him or her to focus on the skills involved in leading others or managing a project.

Innovative

Companies and universities alike are in the business to be successful, and today that cannot happen without branding and a positive, well-known image. Social media has become a pertinent part of business strategy these days, and most millennials are well-versed in all things social media. So it would stand to reason that an HR department’s millennials are well positioned to implement and lead a meaningful social media strategy for the HR unit. A descriptive and reflective online HR presence will benefit the institution as a whole and allow HR to grow with the evolution of technology.

Team Players

Throughout millennials’ educational careers, they were often assigned to groups to tackle larger assignments and played on teams where everyone received a trophy. Likely due to these types of experiences, millennials consider themselves team players. This group work exposed millennials to a multitude of working styles and taught them to adapt to each group’s dynamic, meaning sometimes millennials take the lead in the group and sometimes they act as the “worker bee.” Like all work environments, this is helpful in that the team or committee can utilize each member’s strengths — someone may be the organized one, someone can research the “hard to find” information, or someone may have ideas on how to use technology to automate functions to become more efficient. Structuring work so that it is shared by others can help to balance the workload and also provides the opportunity for new perspectives and ideas. Creating an office dynamic where everyone acts as a team is quite useful, especially as millennials tend to have a generalist mentality and can step in and provide support during periods of need.

For millennials, just the nature of working with others is a learning opportunity, especially when teams are put together that cross departmental, generational and classification boundaries. In many of these cases, millennials are challenged to work within the constraints of these boundaries, as well as the politics associated with them, to learn how to still accomplish the end goal.

Multitasking Experts

The millennial generation is known for its multitasking skills. You can often find a millennial using different technologies all at once, such as listening to music on an iPod, watching a movie on a laptop and texting on a mobile device, all while walking around campus.

This attribute is sometimes characterized as a lack of focus, but having millennials on your team that are skilled at multitasking and adapting to varying situations can be an asset. HR professionals are often asked to balance many different tasks every single workday and are constantly reprioritizing and shifting their work. They could be working on approving a hire when they are interrupted by a phone call to handle some unexpected event. The ability of millennials to multitask and easily transition from one duty to another can be of value to their department and university.

To build upon this multitasking expertise, office counterparts can teach millennials the virtue of patience. In other words, millennials tend to demand answers immediately, but they must learn how to navigate when the answers that they are looking for must come from someone else who has other tasks and priorities on their plate.

Goal Oriented and Instant Gratification

As HR professionals, we all know that while we have large projects looming over our heads, it becomes all too easy to get lost in the day-to-day work. Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be goal oriented, in that they feel the need to cross things off their lists, so they can be utilized to push projects forward.

The idea of instant gratification perhaps best correlates with millennials as evidenced by their customer service. When a department, employee, executive or external entity makes a request, millennials will make it their duty to respond as quickly as possible with the information. If they cannot provide the requested information immediately, they assure the inquiring party that they will get back to them as quickly as possible. This response is often appreciated and well received; however, millennials also need to learn that most requests must be reviewed prior to responding. Oftentimes, there is research to be done (such as checking with senior administration to see if there is a history they are unaware of or if the requestor is even privy to the information requested). As we know, this research can often delay the response process, but can minimize future issues or complications. Teaching millennials to balance these two aspects of customer relations can sometimes be a difficult task, but typically ends up benefiting all parties.

Rose-Colored Glasses

Millennials may have a sense of optimism and idealism, as they are just recently out of college and new to the professional workforce. This too can be an asset to an HR team. Sometimes a seasoned HR professional’s perspective can become jaded, especially when a person encounters the same issues time and time again. Or it can become frustrating and tiring when an HR professional advises a department to proceed one way, but the department decides to ignore that recommendation, but later comes to HR to fix the problem the department created by not heeding the advice given in the first place. Conversely, millennials may be new to the challenge or have the naivety to think that the barriers are penetrable and can become exciting learning opportunities. This millennial mentality may become infectious and possibly excite and refresh those around them.

In summary, there are many positive qualities of the millennial generation that may be overlooked because they are perceived to have a lack of experience in the workplace. However, with the right coaching and the perspective that these millennial qualities can often be utilized in an effective and positive manner, millennials can be an asset to the higher education HR environment. And there are myriad opportunities to build upon millennials’ existing strengths in order to prepare them for future leadership roles.

If you’re attending the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks and you’d like to learn more about millennials in the workplace, check out the Monday concurrent session “Crossing the Generational Divide: Ideas From the Next Generation.”

About the authors: Jazzmine Clarke-Glover is HR manager at the City University of New York Graduate Center and Shannon Page is HR associate at University of Connecticut. They are part of CUPA-HR’s Young Professionals group and are two of the presenters of the above mentioned session at this year’s annual conference.