Millennials are lazy.
Millennials are stupid.
Millennials are idiots.
Millennials are the worst.
Millennials are entitled.
Millennials are screwed.
These are all things you will find when you type "Millennials Are" into a Google search bar.
A millennial is someone who was born between 1980 and 1996. If you do a little bit of math, how old are the millennials right now? That's right, Millennials are turning 40 this year.
I have a confession to make. I am a millennial. I was born in 1983. I grew up before the age of the internet. I had a black and white TV with rabbit ears. Every once in a while I could get the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings.
When I went to high school, the internet was starting to come around. And in college, some crazy thing called Facebook had just started. I am a lazy, stupid entitled millennial.
Except for one thing.
I've been working since I graduated college, I haven't left a job before being there for at least five years. I've got three kids. I've got a mortgage, and I just paid off my student loans this year.
So why do we always hear about millennials in the workplace? For me, the answer is simple. We like to clump people into groups. Then we like to blame groups that are not like us for things when they don't go right. Unfortunately, it's human nature. If we group things together, it's easy for us to categorize. That's how our brains work.
However, this becomes very destructive in a workplace environment. If I blame all of my organization struggles and problems on one specific group of people, there's a word for that: discrimination.
So why is it okay in the US workplace to discriminate people who are younger than me, but not older than me? Under the EEOC, it is technically legal to discriminate somebody on the basis of age as long as they're younger than 40 years old. So guess what? millennials have job protection in 2020. But that doesn't make any sense. Why does age matter at all?
The organizations that have embraced the Millennial generation are the ones that are winning right now. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, guess where that talent pool is coming from? Millennials, which also happen to be the largest group within the workforce right now.
Millennials were raised in a very different time than the generations prior. We didn't need to ask a figure of authority in college to find out an answer. We could Google it. We didn't have to rely on a newspaper. We had it readily available on any search engine that we wanted.
We've lived through multiple recessions now. And one of the most formative things when we were growing up, was 9-11. However, I would argue that this is very similar to all the other generations that came before. Baby boomers, Gen X, the greatest generation, they've all seen their fair share of struggles and challenges. They also saw formative transformational events happen within their society. They weathered recessions, just like millennials, they had to work hard, just like millennials, they had things to overcome and barriers to knock down just like millennials.
At the end of the day, all of the generations have more in common than they have in difference. We have to be aware that despite the year that we were born, we all face similar challenges and struggles at work.
As HR professionals, it's our job to ensure that we have inclusive environments that allow people to succeed, regardless of the arbitrary year that they happen to be born in.
And let's understand that when we whine about the word "Millennial", we're basically just complaining about "kids these days", which every generation has complained about.
In this series, I want to highlight steps I took in my past organization to support an inclusive culture.
English as a Second Language
My organization, MasterBrand Cabinets, Inc., had a significant barrier to finding qualified employees. This organization was a manufacturing organization. We were seeing a significant amount of employee turnover, absenteeism, and other quality issues on our second shift. The job performed on the 2nd shift was not a very desirable job. It was dirty, hard physical work, and it was a challenge to retain new employees. Quite frankly, the work sucked, and we were seeing almost 100% employee turnover every year.
We could not find enough applicants to fill the open spots, let alone qualified applicants willing to perform the work.
Instead of whining about "no good applicants", we instead changed our thinking to "how can we find good applicants". We approached this by expanding the talent pool we recruited from. We reached out into their community and partnered with a local nonprofit, EMBARC, that was working directly with individuals who had a barrier to successful employment.
In this case, the barrier was the English language. Many of the individuals that the nonprofit was serving did not speak English as a first language. Instead of focusing on what these individuals could not do, this organization focused on the skills that they had, and instead invested in training for the English language.
We hired a certified trainer and translator, Poe (pictured), to help lead a crew of individuals who are learning how to speak English, effectively. This individual trained and translated in the area in need. He also referred over 20 employees to come work in this area.
We partnered with Hawkeye Community College, our local school, and started teaching classes on site for those who wanted to learn English. We saw an overwhelmingly positive response to this program.
The results of this program resulted in a zero percent turnover rate in the group over a six month period of time, compared to the previous turnover rate of 100%. The overtime in the department reduced by 75%. This is equated to roughly $12,000 in savings. The unplanned absenteeism rate within this area was 50% lower than the average absenteeism rate at the rest of the organization.
In this case, inclusion became the strategy to address workforce needs, and became a wonderful Human Experience for all involved.
Inclusion = Workforce solutions.
WeAt one of my employers, we were seeing a significant drop off of new hires. We would find a great fit, and then they would just stop showing up after a week or two. We figured out the primary reason for many of these cases wasn't that they didn't like the job, but that they lost their transportation.
We took an innovative approach to supporting employee’s transportation needs. We did not have a bus route close to our location. As a result, many of our associates relied on rides from families and friends. New hires were not able to afford to purchase a vehicle or gas until after their first paycheck. I found out that one kind-hearted community member was getting up at 4AM to carpool 5 employees to our location!
I've been in that boat before... Trying to figure out whether to put $5 of gas in the car or food in my stomach. It's not a good place to be, and it hurt me to think our employees were making that decision. The biggest challenge was for new hires. They didn't get a paycheck until two weeks on the job, so there was a gap in cashflow until they received their first payday.
We decided to take action. We partnered with a local taxi agency called "The Loop". We worked with the taxi company and came up with a program that supported the new hires who needed financial support until they could afford to pay for gas or transportation. These new hires received a pass that allowed them to use the local taxi company services for their first few weeks of employment until they received a paycheck.
We spent some money up front. Yes, this was a business expense, but it cost less than a background check and drug screen, and we were losing so many new hires, this expense was a no regrets decision.
Some of the other actions that were taken were advocating with the local city to ensure that a bus route was put near our location. We also adjusted start times so that it was easier for employees to carpool to work together and to catch the bus in time.
The results of this program were that new hires felt more supported, as they were starting with an organization. This prompted a very high word of mouth referral rate for new hires and ensured that the new hires that they invested time and resources into hiring for the organization, stuck around beyond the first few weeks of employment.
The new hire turnover rate dropped, and the morale improved.
At the end of the day, we cared out our employees, and that focus on their experience paid dividends.
Human Resources' number one job is ensuring Leaders model the culture their organization needs to be successful. The behaviors below are a foundation of building an inclusive culture for leaders.
These three traits will set a leader up for success in building an inclusive culture.
1. Model Behavior and Empathy
One of the most important things that a leader can do is model the behavior that they expect from others. And one of the most important behaviors that you can model for an inclusive culture is empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. A lot of times employees don't necessarily expect you to support how they feel, but they do expect you to attempt to understand where they are coming from.
Empathy can be challenging, especially during a heated situation. So make sure that as you are thinking through how to respond to certain inflammatory scenarios that you take a moment to step back and think about another person's viewpoint. It will ensure you don’t make a poor decision, and may actually help diffuse any issue.
2. Address inappropriate behaviors
So what do you do if somebody does something that's inappropriate? The first and most important thing to do is address it. It's best to have a conversation one on one. Having a private conversation is best, and a closed door and office is preferrable. The worst thing you can do is to not address it. By not addressing inappropriate behaviors, you have essentially endorsed those behaviors as appropriate.
Don't participate in inappropriate behaviors. This goes without saying, but if somebody is acting in a non-inclusive way or doing something that could be inappropriate or hurtful to another,by participating, you also communicate that it's okay.
Explain to the person what the consequences of inappropriate behaviors are, whether that's progressive discipline, a performance improvement plan or some other type of discipline, there need to be consequences for inappropriate behavior.
If you have the ability to get HR involved do so if necessary. Sometimes it's best to partner with somebody who's an expert in addressing inappropriate behaviors.
If someone comes to you and says that something happening is inappropriate, accept someone's perceptions as reality. Don't tell them that they're too sensitive or shouldn't feel the way they do. By doing this you automatically tell them that their opinions are not important and their perceptions are not real. You should acknowledge a person’s feelings. Ensure that they are addressed in a way that is appropriate and productive.
3. Demonstrate trust and understanding
Nobody's perfect and we all make mistakes. If somebody brings something to you and feels like you were acting appropriately, thank them for feeling comfortable enough to address the issue with you. Try not to be defensive. Instead, try accountability. By being accountable and open to the feedback, you're communicating that you're willing to listen and change. Don't criticize them in return, or try to refute everything they said, acknowledge the validity of their perceptions and understand that everybody is going to have a different interpretation of the things that you do. A lot of times by focusing on the intent of something that you did can help defuse the situation.
Improve. Always be open for improvement. Nobody has all of the answers and we are all learning every day. By being focused on continuous improvement and learning from others mistakes and from your past mistakes and engaging in empathetic and proactive behaviors, you will continue to get better as an inclusive and open leader.
The Platinum Rule “Treat others the way they want to be treated”
We've all heard of the Golden Rule, which goes something like this: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. In other words, treat other people--in business and in life- the way you want to be treated.
Well, Dave Kerpen, author of the book The Art of People, says that following the Golden Rule is all wrong. Instead, we should follow what he calls the Platinum Rule.
Says Kerpen, "We all grow up learning about the simplicity and power of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want done to you. It's a splendid concept except for one thing: Everyone is different, and the truth is that in many cases what you'd want done to you is different from what your partner, employee, customer, investor, wife, or child would want done to him or her."
So Kerpen came up with the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would want done to them. Says Kerpen, "The Golden Rule, as great as it is, has limitations, since all people and all situations are different. When you follow the Platinum Rule, however, you can be sure you're actually doing what the other person wants done and assure yourself of a better outcome."
The Platinum Rule is a foundational element of building a respectful, inclusive culture. It’s the first step in acknowledging differences and supporting those differences in a positive manner.
How to build an inclusive culture
So how do we create an inclusive culture? Simply being inclusive, is the best way to start.
Take the time to get to know your team. When you understand more details about your team, you'll understand what things make them tick. What are their concerns, goals, and career objectives? Tailoring your leadership style and organizational structure to the goals of your employees will help your organization become effective.
Treat each person as the individual that he or she is. Trying to make people conform will naturally make your culture less inclusive. Allow them to bring their authentic selves to work. Conformity at work is important for some processes, but flexibility for employees to be their natural selves will help them feel more comfortable and included.
Share your own background and experiences. When you take time to share your story and connect with people on a more personal level, you give them a perspective, and naturally become a more inclusive leader.
Get different perspectives before making decisions. When we've been in the workplace or doing our jobs for a number of years, it becomes very easy to revert to doing things the way that we've always done it. The most common thing heard in the workplace in my opinion is. “That's the way we've always done it.” That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Getting a different perspective before making a decision will ensure that you're not only inclusive, but helps validate that you're making good decisions and ultimately, that will drive to business success.
Find the unique skills of each individual and celebrate them and support them in soaring with their strengths. By focusing on what people are good at, you will naturally incentivize them to do more of that skill. As you build your team, thinking about those different skills and complimentary skills can help you become a better team builder and actively seek to understand different points of view.
Not everybody will agree with what you do. You will not always agree with others. Understanding the viewpoints that they have will help you become a more inclusive leader.
Finally, adapt your communication or working style to meet the needs of your audience. Certain individuals will prefer direct, clear, and succinct communication. While some individuals may appreciate more communication, and more constant feedback and validation. It doesn't mean that one method is right or wrong, but being adaptable will ensure that you are creating an inclusive and effective culture.
A few examples of behaviors you can try:
1. Establish a buddy system that connects each new associate with a veteran associate to help show them the ropes. By giving somebody a mentor, you are supporting them in their journey within your organization. As you have new employees join your organization, if they learn that you are supportive of their journey from the beginning, they will be more supportive of your organization. It's also great for the mentor to have a mentee, and a great way to recognize a top performer.
2. Find ways of challenging the status quo. Disruption will always be present in a workplace. If you find ways to positively disrupt processes and policies in positive ways, it's not only healthy for your organization, but it's also a great way to build an inclusive culture.
3. Foster an atmosphere of flexibility and learning. As you learn and develop yourself, ensure that others understand that you are resilient and adaptable, that you listen, and that you are flexible and that you expect others to be the same way. It all starts with leadership.
Be Platinum. Gold is so "Old School".
Human beings are predisposed to categorize people unfairly.
HR actions are necessary to ensure equity.
Values Differences is defined as: Recognizing the value that different perspectives and cultures bring to an organization.
Somebody who is skilled in valuing differences:
Seeks to understand different perspectives and cultures.
Contributes to a work climate where differences are valued and supported.
Applies others’ diverse experiences, styles, backgrounds, and perspectives to get results.
Is sensitive to cultural norms, expectations, and ways of communicating.
We all have biases. It’s a part of our human nature. Understanding bias is one of the keys to ensuring that we don't unfairly categorize groups of people, or hurt our diversity efforts.
When you think about the history of homo sapiens, bias makes logical sense. Humans were predisposed to be cautious of new things. One wrong move could result in death or illness. Being biased about other tribes of homo sapiens was actually an evolutionary trait that allowed for species survival. However, in 2020, this is more detrimental to society than it is beneficial to survival, so we have to be made aware of bias and actively work to eliminate it in our work.
One area of unconscious bias is the fundamental attribution error. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to overemphasize positional or personality based explanations for behavior observed in others, while under emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people have a bias to assume that a person's actions depend on what kind of person that is rather than on the societal and environmental forces that influence the person.
An example of the fundamental attribution error would be to assume that all people from a certain generation have the same level of work ethic. For instance, if somebody was born before 1980, you may assume they are hard workers because of the age they grew up in. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Next time somebody uses the term "Millennial" in a derogatory way, you will realize this is a prime example of this form of bias.
Another example of bias is something called the “halo effect”, the halo effect in simple terms, is the fact that we tend to like people who are like us. When we meet new people who share similar backgrounds, look similar to us, and think similarly to us. We tend to want to be around them, and we tend to like them more. While this is a totally normal human behavior, in organizations, it can be detrimental and hurt an organization's ability to attain their goals.
An example of the “Halo effect” would be if you are interviewing somebody for a job, and they started their career at the same company you did. You may assume that they have similar traits to you. You are likely to treat that candidate more fairly than somebody else, if you aren’t aware of the potential bias. If you aren't actively aware of this bias, you will likely make poor hiring decisions.
One of the biggest missteps I see in HR is hiring somebody for "Culture fit". This never made sense to me. Some company cultures are great, and hiring people that "fit" into that culture seems to make sense. However, if you hire for "fit", you are going to be hiring more of the same types of people. Long term, this will inhibit innovation, develop an extremely homogenous culture, and will hurt any diversity efforts you may have. I prefer to hire a "Culture Builder". This is somebody who will bring something different and helpful into a culture.
We all have implicit biases which affect the way we live and work in the world. Identifying how these biases may negatively affect workers and the bottom line is pivotal in the development of workplace equality. Implicit bias often runs counter to people's conscious, expressed beliefs.
Here is a video from psychologist Daniel Kelly describing this in more detail: https://youtu.be/OoBvzI-YZf4
Traditional HR Sucks at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
HR's role in many organizations is to protect the business from lawsuits and controversy. This approach leads to many inequities in the workplace, and will ultimately hurt a company culture. Operating from a mindset of fear will never work, and it's also absolutely no fun! If all you worry about is getting a lawsuit or EEOC claim, you can't focus on making your organization a great place to work.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is hard. It's a journey that will never end. However, New School HR Practitioners can make small, pragmatic changes in their organization to move them forward.
Let's start by understanding the basics:
Definition of Diversity
Let's start by defining diversity. Diversity is defined as a state of being, diverse or a variety of things a range of different things in the context of our organizations. Diversity can be defined in many different ways. There's diversity of race, diversity of gender, diversity of thought, diversity of national origin, and the list goes on and on. I think about diversity as a state of being. Diversity is not an action you can take. Think of diversity as a noun. When an organization talks about their “Diversity Strategy”, many times, this takes the shape of counting diverse qualities within their company, and setting quotas on where they would like to be.
Definition of Inclusion:
Inclusion is the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. This is important because all of our organizations have an opportunity to impact diversity, but the things that we do to impact diversity, by definition, are inclusive actions. Inclusion is a verb. It is something you can DO to impact diversity and equity within an organization. In an organization, focusing on an inclusion strategy will shift a focus away from counting your total number of diverse employees towards actions that can make people feel a part of the group.
Here’s an example: If you have a Black member of your board of directors, by definition, you have diversity on your board. This is admirable, as board diversity is typically very lacking. However, if that individual does not feel that they are a part of the group, or their opinions, beliefs, and perspectives are not valued, diversity will not support your organizational goals. In order for that person to be effective in their role, an inclusive environment is critical.
Definition of Equity:
Equity is a little bit different but equally important as diversity and inclusion. Equity is defined as the quality of being fair and impartial and in the context of diversity within our organizations, equity is extremely critical to ensure that your employees and team members are being given the same opportunities as others. Think of this as all employees starting from the same place as everybody else. As we look at each individual's situation, we all come from different places and have different levels of fairness in life. This matters to an organization because if you have an organization that is non-equitable, you will struggle. Your culture will not feel inclusive, and diversity will typically be poor.
Here is a video to describe how equity works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJAgPF5FNTQ
Why do these terms matter to an organization?
As you think about your teams, you should also be thinking about your customers. A good rule to think about is that your diversity should mirror the diversity in your community. In the same context, you should also aspire to mirror your customers. If you have a team that can mirror the wants, needs, and experiences of your customers, they will inherently provide better products and services. This isn’t just about responding to recent political and social unrest. This is a business imperative. In the next section, we will highlight multiple business cases that demonstrate the imperative.
What is the business case?
Some people hate that you need a "Business Case" to articulate the importance of DE&I initiatives. The truth is that this is the language of business, and HR needs to be able to speak in this language to articulate why we need to take steps in this area. If we can define value, cost, and action steps, we will secure funding and budgets to take action. This is critical for success!
We will start by looking at the statistical business case for diversity, inclusion, and equity:
If we take a look at businesses around the world, there's clear statistical research that shows that inclusion, equity and diversity drive results within organizations.
Here are some research results:
Let’s take a look at generational diversity.
In addition to the statistical business case, there is also a human business case to be made. Not only is this good for business, but it's also just the right thing to do.
In the organizations where diversity has been a focus, you will see higher engagement levels. You can look at teamwork levels you can see how people are collaborating. You can see how communication flows within an organization. If an organization has high levels of inclusion, equity, and diversity, it fosters organizational trust. This creates a culture who works well together, and who ultimately drives better business results. It's also just a better place to work.
If you can ensure you support and foster the necessary processes to change organizational structures to support diversity, inclusion, and equity, you will find success. However, this is not easy. Organizations are hard to change. Culture change takes years, and we have been operating with processes and structures that have been in place for decades. In order to foster the necessary change, it starts with leadership, and incremental progress.
Start by taking a first step: Assess your organization and start to define a business case.
I'm the Vice President - Human Resources for CPM Holdings, Inc. In this role, I oversees the aspects of Human Resources for 27 domestic and international locations in 11 countries. I've previously held progressive HR roles for Fortune 500 organizations.