“What’s wrong with these darn kids today?” – Every grown-up since the dawn of time.

These days, it seems to be quite popular for older folks to gripe about the Millennial generation – the new cohort of young adults who now make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce.

This isn’t really a new phenomenon. Think back, Mr. Baby Boomer, to when you were coming of age in the ‘60s. Remember how they said you were being corrupted by this creepy devil music called “rock n’ roll?” And you, Ms. Gen X, when you were growing up, remember how they said you were just a bunch of lazy slackers watching MTV all day?

And that brings us to the present day – what in the world are we going to do about these mysterious creatures known as the Millennials?

How can we possibly survive this tidal wave of selfie-snapping, smartphone-obsessed, self-absorbed kids whose parents had the nerve to give them all those trophies just for showing up to soccer practice? Oh, the humanity!

Well, excuse me for having a more optimistic view of these talented, ambitious young people as they take their place alongside the other generations – at work and in life as a whole.

You, see, there’s this little thing called experience. During my career, I’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of wonderful, smart, hard-working folks of all ages – and believe it or not, that includes the many brilliant Millennials I’ve known.

Do generational differences exist? Sure, they do! But is one generation “better” than the other? Of course not! Let’s respect some of the unique characteristics of Millennials. But let’s also remember – are you sitting down for this – that despite all the hand-wringing and head-shaking – Millennials are actually people, too. Just like you older folks.

Just What Is a “Millennial” Anyway?

Most people think of the Millennial generation as those born somewhere between the early 1980s and late 1990s. We could spend all day talking about the many characteristics that make them unique. There are two in particular that I believe make them valuable members of any team.

  • Their So-Called Tech Addiction. Ever since Johannes Gutenberg introduced his printing press to Europe around 1450, communication technology has been reshaping people’s lives – from the telegraph to telephones to television to the Internet. So how come we act so surprised that young people – who have come of age in the era of social media and smartphones – are a little different from folks who grew up without these technologies? Instead of seeing this as an bad thing, what if we recognize the opportunity in adding tech-savvy Millennials to the team? After all, as consumers of all ages increase their use of online media, it just might be a good idea to tap into the insights of those who’ve grown up with the Internet, in addition to those of us who first used it later in life.
  • They Keep Asking for Feedback. Another thing you hear about Millennials is their habit of constantly asking for feedback for their efforts. Many bosses complain about why these rascals can’t keep their mouths shut, figure it all out on their own, and just wait for annual review time to cover all that.

But there’s another way to look at it. Chances are, that eager young worker has a good reason for asking “How am I doing?” Could it be that this supposedly “spoiled brat” is actually interested in doing a good job? Could it be that, by getting feedback now, as opposed to next year, mistakes will be identified and corrected more quickly? So instead of grumbling the next time your youngest employee asks for feedback, embrace the opportunity to be a helpful coach and not just a stern boss. Be grateful that you have someone on your team who cares about the quality of his or her work and respects you enough to value your opinion.

Bridging the Generation Gap

But enough about what divides us. Believe it or not, in spite of some key generational differences, your Millennial colleagues share many of the same priorities that you do.

One study asked a sample of individuals what they value most in the workplace. The results showed that seven of the same top ten answers appeared across generations. Believe it or not, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and even Millennials all seek the following qualities in the organizations they work for:

  1. Teamwork
  2. Flexible work arrangements
  3. Work-life balance
  4. Having a job that challenges them
  5. Continual training and development opportunities
  6. Employee involvement in decision-making
  7. Being financially rewarded for work

So while some folks pick on the Millennials for craving things like teamwork, a flexible schedule, a balance between work and play, and having their opinions count — it turns out most of us older folks want the same things!

A second study asked people to name things that motivate them at work. Here are the top ten answers for three different generations. I’ve italicized the things we have in common:

RankMillennialsGeneration XBaby Boomers
1AchievementCustomer OrientationCustomer Orientation
2Customer OrientationAchievementLearning
3Fun and EnjoymentInspirationIdentity and Purpose
4InspirationIdentity and PurposeCreativity
5Identity and PurposeLearningAchievement
7CreativityFun and EnjoymentFinancial Reward
8Structure and OrderAltruismStability
9PowerPowerFun and Enjoyment

So, once again, it looks like we all want to provide good customer service, come to work with a sense of purpose, and achieve something meaningful. And we all seem to want to have a little fun on the job. That goes for the Selfie generation, the MTV generation, and even the old Woodstock generation.

Thrive with Millennials in the Workplace

So the moral of the story is this: it’s time to welcome Millennials into your organization, relish the opportunity to share your expertise with them, and open your own mind to what you might learn from them.

Every generation is unique. We already know that. But what’s more important is that, at the end of the day, we still want a lot of the same things out of our careers – and out of life, in general. By recruiting talented Millennials, your organization – and everyone on your team – can Thrive and not Just Survive.