Gavin Moffat: Practical tips to ensure millennials thrive in your workplace

Gavin Moffat

In this extract from his book, Swimming with sharks – Simple business guidelines for a complex world, Gavin Moffat talks about a conscious approach to welcome millennials into your business team.

The M word. We have to talk about it, even though it makes you sigh. Millennials are a reality and they’re not going away. Instead, they are becoming the workforce, as well as your customer base, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Millennials are not a strange new lifeform. They are simply another generation of kids becoming adults and entering the ranks of the economically active. The bottom line is that we must move away from believing that millennials are a curious phenomenon. This overused term only describes a generation of people, an energetic bunch of human beings with massive contributions to make.

Tension between different generations has been a feature of human relationships since time immemorial, playing out mostly between parents and children. It is true that the difference between the Baby Boomers and Generation X was more marked than between previous generations, but generation gap as a term was coined long before millennials arrived.

Similarly, generational theory as formulated by William Strauss and Neil Howe has been around for decades. It does get updated over time – the latest iteration is the book Millennials Rising – and as such remains useful to gain insight into a group, or average of people.

Just another generation

However, it is really important to remember that generational theory is a theory, and individuals are not averages. In broad strokes they share specific characteristics, but not every individual millennial is an embodiment of the theory.

Millennials are nothing more or less than a new generation of people entering the workforce. Because of their common characteristics – which mark them as a distinct generation – there is value in thinking about how to incorporate them into your business so that they can add value.

Sadly, too many businesses want automatons, not individuals. Instead of thoughtfully assimilating individuals, they try to squeeze them into the sausage factory. While Baby Boomers and even Generation Xers were largely content with toeing the company line, millennials are a generation that want to be catered for. They want different things.

On the one hand, they expect their employer to make a difference in society; on the other, they’re not interested in paying their dues in the form of, for instance, being an intern and doing intern stuff.

Most millennials believe they have much to offer a business and should, therefore, be treated as a senior contributor from the outset.

Practical suggestions on how to manage millennials

1. This generation needs a variety of experiences; they were not created to be in the same job for 40 years. Cater for this by moving them around the organisation quickly. By exposing interns to the full spectrum of the business in a short time, you help them to understand how it works as soon as possible. In this way their enthusiasm can come to you through a prism of comprehension, rather than from a point of ignorance.

2. Millennials want to learn and grow, but not necessarily in a formal manner. Create content that allows them to learn on the job and feeds into what they like to do. An example is to present content that teaches millennials to engage with business and customers on platforms that mimic social media.

How about creating a mentoring system that allows for an internship without the label? Millennials love learning from those they respect so create something a little more formal that allows for measurement and progression without the perceived onerous rules and regulations that young professionals dislike.

3. While money is obviously important, millennials take a broader view of remuneration. For them it has a lot to do with values. They want to work at a place they care about, a place that’s cool and hip. In addition to salary, millennials want to do meaningful work that contributes to the bigger picture.

Drudgery is not for them. Having said that, you still need to make the remuneration fair and economically appropriate.

4. The concept of strict working hours and limited and carefully allocated leave days makes little sense to millennials (a card-carrying member told me so). Companies would be well advised to work flexibility into their structures to accommodate this world view.

A conscious approach to get them engaged

I am not advocating wholescale changes to your business – and upsetting your older employees – to accommodate the youngsters. I am advocating a conscious approach to welcoming millennials into the office, the workshop or the customer service desk. By 2023, the growing majority of the workforce will be millennials. You really have no choice but to make sure that you attract and retain the right type of millennials to carry your business forward.

Generally speaking, smaller businesses cope better with the influx of millennials as their structures, policies and procedures are simpler than those of mega corporations. To capitalise on this advantage as a small business owner, be nimble, experiment, and make the changes that will make your business attractive to the cream of the millennial crop. You can be creative with things like remote working, cloud-based technology, online communication tools and hot desks.

Millennials are asking us to revisit, with new energy and focus, the subject of how to treat employees. Far from singling them out and picking on them, the task is to recognise what makes them unique, and to respond with a workplace they can engage with to give and receive maximum value.

This article is an extract from entrepreneur and communications expert Gavin Moffat’s book: ‘Swimming with Sharks – Simple business guidelines for a complex world’ (published by Tracey McDonald Publishers). The book is currently available in bookstores and as a Kindle edition on