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The Generation Gap: Adapting Mentorship for Millennials & Zoomers

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By 2031, Millennials and members of Generation Z are expected to account for about three-quarters of American workers — and today, Millennials alone make up the biggest single block of the U.S. labor pool. As the size and responsibilities of this group continues to expand, it’s increasingly clear that what satisfies and motivates older workers won’t have the same effect on Millennials or Zoomers. For people in leadership roles, regardless of the type of organization, that means recalibrating their view of mentorship itself. Asim Hafeez, president of solar company Empower Energy Solutions, offers his insight into what effective leadership means for these workers.

Millennials and Generation Z have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from their older peers in the workplace, but they do have several things in common: Most notably, they were raised on technology, which makes them adaptable and flexible regarding the latest innovations.

The two generations are also keenly interested in company culture and issues surrounding social justice and DEI initiatives. Even for managers who are themselves Millennials or Zoomers, understanding how to mentor workers in these generations can be the difference between allowing their uniqueness to enhance an organization’s operations and letting them go to waste.

Motivation

Mentoring any individual, regardless of age, requires tapping into their motivation — their why. Millennials and Gen Z are very interested in the why — the logic and reasoning that explains how things are done the way they are — in order to find new areas for improvement and growth.

Instead of simply taking direction and applying it, Millennials and Zoomers are more likely to want a dialogue with their managers and leaders about why something is done and what the end result is supposed to be. They also more frequently express a strong desire to know how their actions affect the company at large, as well as how their values and role can best mesh with the company’s culture and goals.

Millennials and Gen Z’ers can be incredible employees, especially when leadership takes the time to explain the motivation for decisions and the company’s perspective. Both groups are driven by empathy and can be very understanding about the needs of the business.

Less motivated than their older peers to “win at all costs,” younger generations want to see everyone succeed and are consistently on the lookout for win/win situations. When leaders and mentors understand these motivations, they can compel these workers to not only be productive but plugged into the mission of the business.

The Hierarchy of Needs

The factors that drive Millennials and Zoomers to work and perform well at their jobs are largely not the same ones that motivated workers of older generations, such as Generation X or Baby Boomers. Although money is always a motivator — we have seen every generation demand fair pay — the hierarchy of needs goes deeper for Millennials and Gen Z.

These generations are more motivated by their emotional needs being met, as well as their physical, tangible needs. They want a deeper sense of fulfillment from their jobs — and, if they cannot find it in their current role, will seek a clearer meaning to their work elsewhere.

Over the past several years, much has been said about shifts in work culture, and those shifts have largely been spearheaded by workers in this age group. They have sought to dismantle work cultures they view as outdated, unbalanced or unfair. They are seeking a work environment that is more relaxed and centered on matters directly related to DEI.

Mentoring and Retention

Millennials, in particular, played a key role in the Great Resignation, wherein millions of workers left their jobs for greener pastures. Without diving into what motivates these workers, mentors may fall short of creating a workplace and an environment for Millennials and Zoomers to thrive.

The ultimate goal should be retention, especially in this age of mass resignations. Companies that are giving Millennials and Gen Z employees the environments and opportunities they are seeking — along with fair pay and room for advancement — will see returns not only in productivity but ultimately in retention rates and loyalty.

Value Added is Value Gained

Mentors also need to be adding value to their employees’ lives beyond simply giving them a position and a paycheck. The younger members of the workforce are looking for ways to further their education or careers, have someone to turn to for advice and to find a viable path to climbing the ladder of success. As a mentor, showing these younger generations the way to achieve those goals creates mutual value: You will add value to them, which they will use to generate further value for you and your business in the future.

Every mentor should look at their mentees not only as who they are in the present but who they can and will ultimately become. Recognize the potential in people and speak to them with that potential in mind. Millennials and Gen Z employees want to know that caring is at the core of the mentor/mentee relationship. When these generations are supported by a caring mentor, they build the confidence to succeed in their roles.

Millennials and Zoomers are already bringing great things to the workplace. As mentors, those of us from older generations should hope that, when our younger counterparts reach our position in life, they will recognize that the care and dedication we put into them was worthwhile. Likewise, we should coach and position them so that, when it inevitably becomes their turn to serve as mentors, they take just as much interest in helping to lead the generations after them.


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