Millennial Maelstrom

When the words “diversity” and “inclusion” are mentioned, people often first think in terms of ethnicity, race, or culture. But as we know, diversity is much broader. Significant age differences among employees can have a profound impact on motivation, success, performance, and interaction with those at work. This often occurs when veteran workers are met with younger newcomers in a work situation where the veterans have worked with each other for some time. It is similar to the turbulence that occurred when a manager recruited a significantly younger and very bold engineer to join his team. He recently described the situation to me this way:
“A couple of months ago, we hired a brilliant mechanical engineer fresh out of graduate school. He’s hardworking, full of ideas, and someone who has contributed to the firm’s bottom line already. On the hand, he’s a bull in a China shop. He publicly disparages ideas
he does not think are worthy and is the first to push his ideas at any meeting. This has generated some dismay and also some resentment among the veteran engineers. As his supervisor, what would you suggest I do to ease his transition into the group?”
The focus here should be on the outcome, rather than how the task gets done, unless, of course, the way the task gets done is an
integral part of the outcome.
With time and experience comes wisdom and diplomacy. While this individual may be a brilliant contributor, others may thwart his efforts over time because of his behavior and comments. When you find an appropriate time, I would probably take him for coffee
and ask about he feels about the job and his colleagues. Then get quiet and listen to what he says. He may say something like, “I like the job, but some of these people have such old-fashioned ideas.” He may stay strictly to the projects at hand without mentioning his
colleagues at all. He may express some bewilderment about why people seem resistant to his ideas.
In any of these cases, it is best to draw him out rather than responding immediately. You might say something like, “Tell me what you mean.” From what you describe, it sounds like he recognizes that he’s bright and could have great opportunities ahead of him. Unfortunately, it also sounds like he has not learned that diplomacy and collaboration get a lot more accomplished than being simply brilliant, regardless of the discipline. He may get suspicious that you have called him into this meeting in the first place and
question why he’s being singled out. In response, you might say, “I have heard some concern expressed about your comments and approach with others. We’re impressed with the work you do and the ideas you come up with, but we all have to work together as a team.” Then take time to see how he responds. If he appears open to feedback and ideas, take a few minutes to give him a few pointers on tact and diplomacy. If he takes offense, you’ll need to be more direct and specific about how he needs to change his behavior.
In having a conversation with someone who appears to be so proud, perhaps even arrogant, you run the risk that he will
quit rather than alter his ways. But you and your team need to work together and someone who behaves like this can create
all kinds of issues down the road. Of course in hiring others, you will want to take more time in assessing each candidate’s
compatibility with the team. While this individual may be a brilliant contributor, others may thwart his efforts over time because
of his behavior and comments.
The bottom line is this: If you are experience a maelstrom during the onboarding of anyone who is different from the rest of your team, dig deeper. He may be experiencing opposition due to the significant age difference. The friction may be due to cultural differences. Or, the challenges may originate from the individual’s caustic personality — something that would make it difficult for anyone to collaborate with this individual. In any case, the best approach is to choose specific situations or behaviors that are problematic and ask how this individual for suggestions on how the situation could improve. In doing so, you’ll uncover the real cause of the problem which could reach much deeper than what appears on the surface. You’ll find more resources that address the successful onboarding of new employees–younger or older–by visiting the Recruitment and Retention page of our website or in our webinar session Best Practices for Onboarding Millennial Employees.

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