The Millennial Generation seems to be one of extremes…either they are doing really incredible, wonderful things, or they are being accused of doing really incredibly stupid things. Millennial kids, in the 1990’s were starting to see a boom in technology and were learning about computers and cell phones at young ages, mastering them and likely contributing much to the ongoing evolution of all things “tech.”
Millennial kids are also living with their parents much longer than previous generations, partly because of legitimate economic issues in the nation, but quite a few because they chose to get degrees in fields that aren’t really career fields. This generation is often mocked for being too sensitive to criticisms and finding offense in just about everything.
Of course, people born in the generations prior to millennials must now come to terms with the simple fact that those “kids” are not kids any more, and are moving up in all places of business, many now managing employees older than themselves. If you haven’t had a millennial manager to report to, you may wonder what it is like. What I have learned is that not all of the millennial’s management style is conducive to all types of work.
One thing that I am seeing younger managers strive for is a climate of “fair and equal”, allowing everyone the opportunity to be and/or do whatever it is they would like to experience. Of course, everyone should strive to learn more about their chosen career, gaining knowledge and experience so that they better themselves and, by extension, the team around them along with their customers.
But is wanting a certain experience enough to justify allowing anyone to have it?
Consider this. Imagine for a moment, that you are a cat owner. Cats are notorious for doing just about anything they want, whenever and wherever they want. Let us say that your precious kitty has just exited his litter box and proceeded to jump up on the kitchen counter…a place where you prepare food for yourself, your family, perhaps your friends. That cat wants this experience. The cat, however, has no awareness that tracking his fecal matter across your counters can lead to unfortunate outcomes if you do not intervene. The cat is not going to sanitize his paws or your counter because he has no knowledge, experience, or ability to do so. You must now clean up its mess if you want to avoid possible gastrointestinal disturbances, assuming you know of every instance where he has done this. Do you know if he walked across your dining table before you sit down to eat?
I work in healthcare as a nurse. After thirty years, I consider myself to have a fairly wide range of skills and knowledge that would lend well to my wanting a new experience within my scope of practice. A millennial manager would allow me to take on a new role if I expressed interest in it, because it is “fair”.
However, a nurse with only a year or so of experience is also interested in that new role. To be “fair and equal”, the manager will allow her to take on that role as well. This is where trying to have everything be “fair and equal” becomes a slippery slope for all involved. When something unexpected happens one day and it is important for the person in the new role to manage the potential crisis, who is more likely to ensure the best outcome? I am not trying to be mean or dismissive here. Many young nurses are quite good at their jobs…using the skills and knowledge they have acquired thus far. But things do occur in health care that require more knowledge, better skills, broader experience to prevent negative outcomes.
What I am saying, basically, is that there are jobs where treating all your employees “fair and equal” just is not practical. It’s one thing to throw seniority out of the window for things like scheduling shifts or deciding who will be sent to a conference. It’s quite another thing to put a young nurse in a position where a lack of experience, and perhaps a lack of proper support, will likely mean a crisis situation ends badly for someone. Managers cannot “manage” their employees every second of the day, so may not be aware of a lack of ability to perform adequately in a new role until something goes wrong. The cat owner cannot know for sure everywhere his cat has walked after exiting his litter box, but it is the owner who adjusts and ensures they clean and sanitize all surfaces the cat could have walked on where food may be prepared or eaten (we hope). If a manager cannot or will not be able to monitor every situation her employees are in, and does not want to have to “clean up the mess” whenever things are not done properly, then it seems logical that a manager would only allow an individual to take on a new role after they’ve been properly trained for it.
In health care, there will always be something weird to contend with that even the most experienced person on the floor has not encountered before. Because of this, I would prefer that managers be a little less “fair and equal” in allowing certain individuals certain experiences just because they want them now. Yes, there will also always be extenuating circumstances where you basically throw a less-experienced nurse into tough situations because they are all you have and someone has to handle the crisis somehow. Those are times when the young nurse begins gaining experience, knowledge and skills to get her prepared for a time when she wants to handle those situations regularly. The proverbial cart should not be put before the proverbial horse – do not put inexperienced people in positions they are not suited for just because they express an interest in the role. A quality manager will, instead, help that employee develop the tools she needs to eventually be suited to a new role. To do that, the manager must be acutely aware of the details of the new role – what is needed to be successful in most any circumstance – and aware of the employee’s qualifications.
Life will never be fair and equal to everyone, and millennial managers must come to understand that they cannot pursue a culture of “fair and equal” and be successful. There will never be equality of character, of knowledge, of skill, or experience across any group of people, and expecting that you will get fair and equal productivity out of your staff is illogical. Why, then, the focus on trying to treat everyone fair and equal? Focus on treating everyone with respect and dignity, with kindness, but be prepared to dish out the “tough love” when necessary…and it is necessary. Empower your staff to accept constructive criticism without falling apart and feeling bullied. Help them grow as people – as nurses. Challenge them to do better, not by expecting to always get what they want, but instead, to read and learn and do more. Crack the whip and expect more from them. Tell them to put their phones away and engage with the coworkers who have the experience that they say they want. Insist that they learn from the older staff, and don’t just promote relationships with peers of their own age.
Millennials have such potential to do great things. I see it every day in many of the young nurses I work with – the sincere desire to care for their patients and families, to expand their knowledge, to save lives. I fear that they will fall short of their potential if they continue to foster the notion that they deserve “fair and equal” treatment in all things, because, what happens when they don’t get their way?