Adapted from “Managing the Millennial Generation,” by Robert C. Bordone (professor, Harvard Law School) and Matthew J. Smith (lecturer, Harvard Law School), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
DEAR NEGOTIATION COACH: Over the past few years, employees who have joined my firm directly from undergraduate and graduate programs have seemed to me like creatures from a different world. In particular, they don’t expect to have to struggle to get ahead, and they don’t take criticism well. How can I negotiate with them in a way that will be effective, while keeping them happy and me sane?
ANSWER: As compared with the baby boomers or the Generation Xers who followed, many members of the Millennial Generation—adults born after 1981 who have been entering the workforce since 2000—seem to approach work life with a sense of entitlement, a craving for praise, and an expectation that they will ascend the organizational ladder quickly.
More-seasoned supervisors are sometimes taken off-guard by these young upstarts. For example, efforts by law firms to slow the attrition rates of young associates by raising base pay and increasing bonuses have had little impact, Alex Williams of the New York Times reports. In response, some firms have unveiled new approaches to keeping Millennials satisfied. These range from “happiness committees” that offer candy apples and milkshakes to concerted efforts by partners to thank and commend associates for their hard work.
Negotiating with Millennials can be challenging, but keep in mind that this generation of workers is a highly motivated, creative, and fast-thinking group. The key to dealing with them is to understand that they’ve been raised to expect a workplace that is worker-focused, transparent, and collaborative. In particular, aim to do the following three things when negotiating with Millennials in your organization:
- Educate yourself about generational differences and trends. Though it’s safe to assume that most employees would prefer more money and benefits rather than less, many Millennials prioritize their interests differently. For example, they may be more likely to value autonomy and flexibility in the workplace than their predecessors. While inwardly respectful of experience, Millennials may not defer immediately to authority and may respond more favorably to a less-formal workplace. Before making assumptions about their interests, take time to inquire about what matters most to your younger staffers.
- Increase transparency. Consistent with research extolling the value of individual participation in decision-making processes, Millennials will be more inclined to respond cooperatively to decisions, even unfavorable ones, if they’ve been consulted as part of a transparent process. Raised to believe that their views matter, they respond negatively to decisions made without broad consultation. Thus, when negotiating with them, focus on being open and clear in your communications. To bolster the legitimacy of your decisions and convey the respect that Millennials require, take time to describe the reasoning behind your thinking.
- Address problems jointly. When negotiating with Millennials, stress the value of working together to find solutions to tough problems. In addition to appealing to Millennials’ desire for inclusion and autonomy, this approach may generate options you wouldn’t have come up with on your own.
By taking the time to learn Millennials’ interests, increase transparency, and include them in the problem-solving process, you will increase productivity, prolong job satisfaction, and create better intergenerational business relationships.