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Feb. 9, 2011
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:

Hannam helps businesses understand ‘millennials’

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Every generation has a nickname such as “the greatest generation” or “baby boomers.” Susan Hannam, Slippery Rock University College of Health, Environment and Science dean, has become a national advocate for “millennials,” Americans who were born between 1981-1990, including the majority of college undergraduates.

Hannam has co-authored a paper for The IBM Center for The Business of Government that provides practical workplace management advice for government supervisors. The paper provides engagement tips for four generations of workers born between 1922 and 1990. Hannam said she especially hopes to reach millennials so they will become more effective contributors and enjoy more satisfying careers.

“They have an awful lot to offer,” Hannam said. “They want to make a difference. And the fact of the matter is they are going to be running this country in 20 or 30 years, so it is pretty exciting to get them engaged.”

Hannam and Bonnie Yordi, director of surveys and business research for The Management Association, wrote “Engaging a Multi-Generational Workforce: Practical Advice for Government Managers.” The research partners observed that the U.S. workplace is undergoing a significant transition because of the four-generation workforce. They describe the generations as: traditionalists born between 1922-1945; boomers born between 1946-1964; generation X born between 1965 and 1980; and millennials born between 1981-1990.

The paper documents that half of American workers, including millennials, are currently dissatisfied with their job. Managers can better engage young workers by emphasizing teamwork, utilizing social media, offering more flexible hours and providing affirmation for their work.

“This is very bright generation,” Hannam said, “So we have to find a way to engage them. Motivating people and moving departments forward so that they are on the cutting edge is where my passion is.”

Managers need to recognize millennials have different learning styles and life-balance interests than older generations, Hannam said. Millennials tend to be cynical, so it is important to let them see the context and value of work projects.

Millennials need mentoring on how to accept feedback as well. Hannam said many grew up without much exposure to criticism and need help in understanding the importance of feedback to their professional development. They will often need “soft mentoring” skills as well, such as advice about appropriate dress, workplace speech and behavior.

Hannam said supervisors could bridge the generation gap by allowing millennials to use technology as much as possible. “Never has a generation entered the workplace using technologies that are often far ahead of those adopted by their employer,” Hannam said.

Managers should promote multi-generational collaboration to break down misunderstanding, Hannam said. One key to successful organizations is “reverse mentoring,” which allows young employees to assist older workers with social media.

“We have these millennials coming in with a whole different mindset and cultural upbringing,” Hannam said. “The generations together can be a very exciting and empowering thing, but if it’s not handled right, it could be devastating if they don’t see eye-to-eye.”

Above all, young workers need to feel valued. Hannam said 48 percent of federal employees and 45 percent in the private sector said their boss does not give them enough recognition or praise.

Hannam said supervisors should acknowledge achievements and accomplishments and talk to young workers about their interests.

“My philosophy with folks I work with is I try to make sure that they’re doing something that they’re passionate about,” Hannam said. “That is key – find what they love to do and make sure they’re doing some part of that.”

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.