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Flip flops and Facebook breaks, the Millennial Generation invades the workplace

Maybe you've heard about the Millennial Generation invading offices with their flip flops and their Facebook breaks? In our guest blog post, Reena Nadler, coauthor of the book Millennials in the Workplace, explains what's really going on with this incoming generation of employees--and what cutting-edge companies are doing to harness their talent.

Nadler: With Boomers on the verge of retirement, even companies reeling from recession are gearing up to hire young Millennial employees over the next few years--and some managers aren't too happy about it. A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that a majority of older Americans believe today's young adults are inferior to them in moral values, work ethic, and respect for others. Each month, media stories criticize this generation for a wide range of workplace faux pas, from poor grammar and short attention spans to flip flops and Facebook breaks.

As a Millennial myself (the generation includes people born 1982 and after) I take an active interest in these criticisms. And as a generational researcher, I can attest that, contrary to the predominantly negative stereotype, the Millennials have a lot to offer America's workplaces.

In our recent book Millennials in the Workplace, Neil Howe and I argue that today's rising youth workforce is not a liability and a challenge, but an asset and an opportunity. We analyze how the Millennials are transforming workplaces, and how employers can recruit them, retain them, and maximize their productivity.

Perhaps it's no surprise that managers and HR gurus often misinterpret the Millennials. Attitudinal data consistently show that today's young adults are nothing like the Boomers or Gen Xers who preceded them. They are pressured and programmed. They are bonded to their parents and networked to their friends. They want structure and instant feedback. They work well in teams and have complete confidence in their future. They fear risk and dread failure. They want the system to work.

So what will tomorrow's Millennial-friendly workplace look like?

We can start by looking at companies that are ahead of the curve. Each year, Fortune magazine and the Great Place to Work Institute conduct a nationwide employer survey to find the "100 Best Companies to Work For." In 2008, Human Resource Executive magazine asked the Institute to sort the rankings by age of the respondents, and created a "Millennial Magnets" list of the companies ranked best in America by employees under age 25. Neil and I found that the Millennial Magnets share five basic best practices:

Personal-Touch Recruiting. Millennials think of themselves as "special" and want to work for an employer who does too. Millennial Magnet companies take an active and personal role in the recruitment of young employees, matching recruits with current employees who can share their experience, or sending new hires a handwritten welcome note.

Work-Life Balance. Millennials look up at workaholic Boomers and want a more well-rounded and balanced life. Millennial-friendly companies offer employees flexible schedules and the ability to bring their personal life (like phone calls with parents) into the office occasionally.

Group Socializing. Millennial Magnet companies understand that this generation enjoys working and socializing in groups. They are moving away from cutthroat individual competition and towards teamwork, team compensation, and communal office spaces.

Recognition. These companies know how to motivate Millennials through positive feedback, instituting programs where managers can dole out small rewards (like a $5 Starbucks card) for any job well done.

Casual but Professional Environment. Many Millennial Magnets are crafting a "Google-style" corporate environment that is friendly, comfortable, and cutting edge, complete with couches, cafes, and gathering spaces.

The Millennials will continue to flood into the workplace over the next fifteen years, and employers who get them right will have an important advantage. Maybe it's time to stop complaining about their flip flops--and start harnessing their energy.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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