There has been so much negative talk about how millennials work over the past few years that the term millennial has practically become an insult. They’ve been labeled as lazy and entitled. We hear that they lack company loyalty and want everything to be done at the touch of an app. What if, amidst the stereotypes and click-worthy headlines, all those twenty somethings were just finding a new way to view work? New research suggests that they have and that companies can benefit greatly by learning how they differ from past generations.

In the past, work-life balance was the ultimate goal. People didn’t want their work to impede upon their lifestyle. Management and productivity researchers are now finding that millennials are completely different. They want their work to be part of their lifestyle. This is work-life integration.

“Millennials view work as a key part of life, not a separate activity that needs to be “balanced” by it. For that reason, they place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling. They want work to afford them the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, and connect to a larger purpose,” – Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd, after surveying more than 2,200 young office workers to find out what fulfilled them in the workplace.

Increasing work-life integration means employees are asking themselves if they’re learning enough and growing with their careers. Helping them answer these questions can help your company attract and develop the best talent, giving you a competitive edge. Oftentimes they will choose an internship at a startup, despite possibly getting a better paid position in an established company, simply because they know they will learn much more by choosing the former. But how do you build an educational program that fosters professional development and prioritizes education as an integral piece of the work-life balance? Here are a few suggestions. 


 

Building a Better Boss

Google launched Project Oxygen in 2009, with the goal of finding a way to “build a better boss.” What they found was even on highly technical teams, employees valued managers who looked at them as whole people and were organically engaged in their lives, not merely tools to solve projects.

Making time to gather upper management for learning and development of their managerial skills is never a bad thing, but even small attitude shifts can make a difference. Getting to know your employees and being consistent with your caring will go a long way.

Redefine Mentorship

Mentorship opportunities greatly impact a millennial’s chance for success, but how do you build a mentorship program that’s going to work, instead of one that just partners off employees but does little else? Rethink what the role of a mentor is.

Consider trying reverse mentorship. Reverse mentorship – the concept of pairing older workers with a millennial mentor – is rapidly being adopted by companies like Target and Cisco, who see the value in leveraging their digital-native young workforce as an organic way to bring their older workers up to speed on current trends in technology, business, and marketing.

As the Times reported, it’s not just engaged millennials who benefit from their skills being valued; after the age of 30, adult brains lose some of their elasticity and ability to learn as quickly. By pairing older employees with millennial mentors, it helps keep the brain cognitively engaged, which makes learning each future skill slightly easier. Millennials, and especially Gen-Zers’, the latest generation beginning to enter the workforce, are generally more exposed to new technological trends. Reverse mentorship can help to keep older generations in the loop and utilizing the best tools to propel your business.

 

Make Learning a Priority

Companies like Apple and Etsy have built some of the largest in-house educational operations in technology. Employees can choose classes based on their own specific interests and learn valuable skills to enrich their work and their lives. Some of Etsy’s classes don’t even have a workplace specific focus at all, but cater to developing employees’ personal interests, such as their popular class on biking in big cities

How do you bridge that gap if you don’t have Apple or Etsy’s resources? Work with what you’ve got. Bringing in outside speakers and guest lecturers is a low-effort, high-impact way to educate your workforce, and gain valuable knowledge that might not come up in your company’s day-to-day. Offering online courses from a company like Udemy is also an easy way to make high-quality education available to employees at a lower price point.  Whether your employees are attending Apple University or picking up a la carte classes from Udemy or Skillshare, making sure management sets an example of using education opportunities is critical.

Startup Stock Photos

Use What You Already Have

Most companies don’t have the resources to build an Apple University-type education program for its employees, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a wealth of resources already at your fingertips. Encouraging managers and fellow employees to share their skills  with each other is an easy, low-impact way to start a learning and development program.

Cross-training is the practice of teaching your employees the responsibilities of other members across the company – a valuable risk-mitigating measure that can have a major impact on both a company’s success and employee success. Employees learn to pick up skills they wouldn’t previously have and advance up the ladder within the organization more quickly, given their better understanding of the full business, rather than just what their department works on. They also get the added benefit of teamwork and the feeling of working at a company that’s still familial and invested in each other’s successes, especially as companies grow larger.

Author bio: Julia Grimm is a health enthusiast working at StandDesk Inc, a wellness company specializing in automatic sit-to-stand desks and other workplace solutions.

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