The Millennial’s Blueprint for Navigating the Workplace
As a millennial, finding your footing on the job is no easy task. Here are four practical ways to earn respect and influence at work.
I’ve heard this too many times from young leaders. It’s a pattern. Let’s face it: Older generations don’t understand a lot of things about millennials. Stereotypical articles and derogatory comments have piled up misconceptions that seem to stack the professional world against millennials. These frustrations are real, but they aren’t invincible. You can’t hot-wire respect, but you can earn it. I wish there were an easier way, but respect takes time to germinate and energy to earn.
I’ve often shared these thoughts with frustrated friends over coffee and during coaching sessions. Here are some practical ways to earn respect and influence at your workplace.
1. Enter with a learning posture.
We’ve all known “that guy” who walked into his new position with solutions to all the world’s problems. That aggressive posture will build walls between you and your co-workers and block on-ramps to more influence. For good or for ill, you only get one chance at a first impression, so create a good one while the cement is wet.
Keep a keen eye on the culture of the organization, but don’t try to change it. If people wear collared shirts, wear them too. If people arrive five minutes early to meetings, come early too. If people prepare notes prior to meetings, do it too. Seeking change right out of the gates is a recipe for your co-workers to ignore you.
Alex, a hard-charging millennial friend shared the importance of this learning posture: “Maintain a posture of teachability. We know a lot about a little, but we don’t know everything. It’s vital that we ask good questions and seek to learn from those around us.”
Your first season in your job is crucial. The posture you take during the early days in your job will build bridges or burn them. The choice is yours.
2. Show discernment.
Your co-workers have read a fair share of negative millennial articles. They are popping up everywhere these days. Here’s the good news: These articles are setting the bar low for you, and it’s only up from there.
But know you’re being evaluated. Your co-workers are watching how you talk and how you treat others. I still remember my first encounter with a new employee who said an offhand joke about my daughter who happened to be with me at work that day. It was hard to forget that. Be careful with your words.
Also be careful with what you post on social media — a post can evoke curiosity, influence or judgment. Employers check social media feeds before job interviews, but co-workers continue checking your feed every week after you’re hired.
Find other ways to show discernment. Stay off your phone during meetings, and you’ll surprise those around the table. Come in early when you don’t have to. Hold back from giving advice, even when you really want to say something. People respect restraint.
The book of Proverbs is also a great place to learn discernment. Read through a Proverb every day, apply it to your life and work and watch your influence grow.
3. Think experience over energy.
I bet you have a lot of energy and a lot of knowledge too. But be careful not to mistake knowledge for wisdom gained only through experience. My friend Tyler, who’s in his late 20s and has gained a lot of influence in the workplace, once told me, “Most millennials gain wild amounts of head knowledge very quickly as we listen to podcasts and watch YouTube. But there are so many things you can only learn through experience.”
Energy and fresh ideas aren’t enough to reach sustained impact; you need experience and leverage to yield change. Don’t know how to gain leverage in your organization? Find the co-workers who have it. A few gatekeepers in every organization possess the potential to unlock new possibilities. They can help you understand the organization and translate the culture. Keep an eye out for a few folks who have gained the kind of respect you want, and treat them to lunch. Ask them deep questions about the organization and their vision for its future.
Doing things on your own won’t get you experience fast enough; you need to start working closely with those who have it. Help is a dirty four-letter word in our independent culture, but you’ll have to learn to use it often if you want to gain experience. My wise millennial friend Alex said, “It’s the people around us that are going to help make us better. We can’t reach the levels we want to reach on our own; we need each other.” I couldn’t agree more. One of your best investments is learning to lean into the team around you. Asking for help tells others you value the team. Soon enough others will be asking you for help.
4. Work hard, all the time.
Do this, and you’ll bust open the millennial stereotypes your co-workers are carrying. Come into the office early. Come to meetings prepared. Follow up on last week’s meeting when no one asks you to.
My talented friend Tyler is shaping his organization. He said, “Eat more dirt. Show up early. Clean the bathroom. Get the CEO coffee. Take the project no one else wants. If you eat dirt for long enough you will get a chance to show your skills and gain influence.”
People of all ages respect hard work. It’s universal. And it speaks for itself. There’s no shortcut around hard work or good work. Working hard shows you are willing to sacrifice for the mission.
Find tangible ways to add value. Good employees contribute to the mission of an organization. They add value week after week. Become known as a hard worker, because that’s exactly why your organization is giving you a paycheck.
If older co-workers come to you for help with technology, help them. If you accept the project no one wants and complete it with excellence, you’ll get a reputation for faithfulness. If you see potential for adding value in an area the team hasn’t thought about, ask for permission to contribute in that way. Wait to be invited into a project you really want to be part of, and then be a solid team player once you’re asked to participate. If you continue adding value in unique ways your co-workers will respect you and ask you to contribute more often.
How should you deal with the comments about being slackers? Don’t try to destroy millennial stereotypes; outlast them. Millennial bashing will flow freely at the coffee pot and around the conference table. Treat every comment as a challenge. Work hard, be faithful and slowly prove them wrong.
I believe in millennials. I’ve watched handfuls of young employees garner respect and rise to levels of influence. Oh yeah, I failed to mention that I am a millennial. I’ve been invited into many rooms where I was the youngest and least experienced person at the table. I’ve had to live these principles out myself in order to bust the stereotypes.
It’s possible to gain respect and influence if you keep at it. Apply these principles, and eventually you’ll become the most obvious choice for the next promotion.
Copyright 2018 Alan Briggs. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Alan Briggs is the director of Frontline Church Planting, Multiplying Pastor at Vanguard Church and Lead Creative at Stay Forth Designs where he equips leaders and teams for health and kingdom impact. He’s a proud dad of four and a missionary to his neighborhood and city. His books “Staying Is the New Going,” “Guardrails” and “Everyone’s a Genius” help leaders catch a bigger vision for their life.