Experts share career advice to help you avoid some stereotypical “millennial behaviors” in the workplace.
You may not embody the millennial stereotype of being lazy, entitled, self-absorbed, or difficult to manage, but your co-workers and managers may have an expectation that you’ll possess those traits. When Jessica Kriegel, author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes asked one small group which terms applied to different generations, millennials were associated with phrases like “need collaboration,” “need praise,” “lazy,” “spoiled,” and “prefer texting.” Regardless of whether millennial stereotypes have merit, Harvard Business Review reports that career advice designed to teach workplaces how to manage and communicate with millennials has spawned a human resources consulting industry worth more than $150 billion a year.
Here are six pieces of career advice to start your career off on the right foot—and prove those generational skeptics wrong.
Learn to navigate office politics. Young adults may be thought of as being in “need” of collaboration, but playing well with others in the professional sandbox is an important skill to embrace. However, it’s equally important to recognize how office politics impact group decision-making, communication, and interaction in a company.
Instead of ignoring the invisible rules of engagement office politics create, career counselor and coach Roy Cohen says to work as hard at establishing a positive role in your workplace’s political system as you do fine-tuning your official job responsibilities. “Figure out who the key decision makers are and systematically make yourself known to them, aligning your interests with theirs,” says Cohen. Consider the biggest challenges your department and company face—and consider how you can be part of the solution. “Don’t ask what you can do to help address these challenges; offer to take on a special project to demonstrate your initiative, taking extreme care to involve yourself in the issues that can actually be solved,” says Cohen.
Lean in and deliver. Raising your hand to help with projects outside of your traditional role is a great way to dispel the myth that your generation isn’t willing to work hard. Yet, career and leadership coach Kamara Toffolo says it’s equally important to confirm you’re equipped to handle any additional task you lean into. “Always check the requirements of what you’re being asked to do, the time constraints, and if you have the resources to deliver before promising to fulfill what is being asked. It is perfectly acceptable to say to someone you will check or look into something before assuring them it can be done,” says Toffolo.
Be your own (internal) cheerleader. Millennials in the workplace may be perceived as having always received a “participation ribbon,” never made to feel the agony of defeat. Asking your boss and teammates for constant reaffirmation won’t dispel the stereotype, but there’s nothing wrong with tracking your own accomplishments, measuring your progress, and setting goals. When you keep tabs on the ways you contribute, you’ll have tangible examples to share with your boss during performance reviews and when you’re asked to provide self-evaluations. Plus, staying current on where and how you add value helps you stay motivated and accountable.
Listen more than you speak. It’s tough to sit silently in a meeting where you know you have the answers, but you’ll learn far more at your first job by listening and observing what is happening around you in meetings. How do the most influential people in your company command a room, address staff at different levels, ask for help and communicate challenges? Who in your company has an approach or style that you respect, and would like to emulate? There will be plenty of opportunities to be a star in your career, and the strongest leaders are those who listen to the needs of their team more than they speak. Consider your first job an immersion into how to behave for the role you hope to hold ten years from now.
Keep your frustration contained. The close quarters of cube land may not feel much different your college dorm room, but the stakes are much higher in the professional world. After all, people aren’t pursuing a degree or hoping to get a good grade in a “real” job; their livelihood rests on their ability to perform. All that stress can make work a pressure cooker from time to time, even when you generally love your job. Be mindful of the fact that it’s important to acknowledge your work stress and find healthy outlets for it through hobbies, physical activity, talking with friends and family—but don’t let your co-workers see you sweat, or sense your irritation. If you have a problem specific to your company, department, or role, talk to a trusted mentor with industry experience, so you won’t end up venting frustrations openly in the office.
Maintain boundaries. It’s important to have a relationship with co-workers for social support, trust, and collaboration. (Plus, friends make work more fun). But be careful that your work relationships don’t cross the boundaries of professionalism. Limit what you share to the “need to know” information (that means, no gory details about your health issues, or drama about last weekend’s hook up). Remember that anything you share could be repeated. If you would be embarrassed for the information you share at work to reach your boss or leaders in the company, keep it to yourself.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health, and small business news. She is the owner of Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.
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