Millennials get a bad rap – perhaps deservedly.
While there are always exceptions, generally speaking, millennials have less patience and (forgive me) fewer skills than people of earlier generations. They’re finickier, dicier, more restless. They’re also less loyal and not afraid to take full advantage of happy hours and vacation time.
Due to all of the above, millennials are often viewed by the older generations who currently lead most of the world’s organizations as lazy, insolent, and petulant. I’m not going to lie: Many of them are.
Or I should say, many of us are. You see, I’m a millennial myself. I’m also a CEO.
After graduating from Bryant University in 2010, I tried to seize every opportunity I could get. I eventually served as head of user success and business operations for RelateIQ, which was acquired by Salesforce.com for just under $400 million. In late 2014, I cofounded Progressly, a cloud-based operational performance management solution. Today, our company is thriving thanks to a driven, smart, and dedicated team made up primarily of millennials.
My own company is representative of the American workforce as a whole. According to Pew Research, millennials now comprise the largest segment of the U.S. workforce at 53+ million workers, and that number is only expected to grow.
The fact that we millennials are the future of the workforce is both scary and inspiring. “Inspiring” because we have the opportunity to become the next great generation — a generation that, via technological advancements, could change the world for the better. “Scary” because what if the stereotypes are true? A bright and promising future can’t be built on insolence, laziness, and petulance.
What can we as millennials do right now, in our current jobs, to overcome these stereotypes?
1. Don’t Be a Spectator
We millennials always want “in” on the big picture. Where is the company headed? What’s next? The best employers share details about the company’s bigger and broader goals, but that’s only half the story. The other side is you.
Don’t be afraid to lead by example and make your presence felt, even if you may not hold much seniority within the organization. As you continue to earn bigger and bigger responsibilities, higher-ups will trust you more. They’ll look to your opinion to help shape the organization.
2. Don’t Assume You Know Anything
Becoming wise or knowledgeable takes time. We millennials are used to sharing our ideas and opinions, but we have more to learn than we know. Making contributions makes us feel important, but when the dust settles and a colleague suggests a brilliant idea that comes from experience, it is an opportunity to absorb some knowledge and gather some brilliance for the next time.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Grow Your New Social Network
We already love to network. After all, we’re digital natives. This same kind of social activity can benefit our employers by attracting more talent and leading to new partnerships. Don’t fight connecting with new colleagues — embrace it.
4. Understand Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
As the earlier generations know so well and tried so hard to impress on us: Success doesn’t come on a silver platter. It comes with hard work. The process makes it worth it because you appreciate success when it comes and you can retain it when you have it.
That said, delayed gratification wasn’t part of our upbringing. Remember to give yourself time to earn trust and create a body of work that shows your teammates, boss, and organization you’re competent enough for the long term and in it 100 percent. To steal a page from the baby boomer generation’s book, the gratification should be the journey and the hard work itself, not the rewards.
5. Accept an Imperfect Balance
Putting in a little extra effort is key to not being seen as lazy. Certain occasions call for extra work hours, and on these occasions, we as millennials would do well to clock some extra time to show that we really do care. It all comes down to owning the responsibility of our positions. When duty calls, we answer. Then we can go unwind, and that drink at the bar will taste that much better.
6. Communicate Well
This is a broad piece of advice, and it’s easier said than done, but there are certain things we as millennials can do in the realm of communication to show our employers we’re not entitled, lazy, or selfish.
Always be in touch and available. Avoiding snark is another aspect to this. Sometimes our first instinct — especially in response to a demand that doesn’t seem to make sense — is snark. Take a moment to step back. Really try to understand the other side, and then respond accordingly. If a person’s point of view still doesn’t make sense after thinking long and hard about it, ask questions instead of getting combative. Often times what seem like unreasonable demands are just poorly communicated ideas.
In summary: Get rid of the idea that you’re the smartest person in the room, that success will come overnight, or that you can get by just hanging out in the background without working a little overtime. We’re millennials. We grew up with instant gratification and the digital universe literally at our fingertips, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to learn from the generations that came before us. Just like them, we need to work hard and have a good attitude. Although we may not stay as long at our jobs as our parents or grandparents did, we need to approach every new position as a learning experience and an opportunity.
Most importantly, a little humility goes a long way toward breaking out of our millennial stereotypes forever.
Nick Candito is cofounder and CEO of Progressly.