Managing Millennials: You Don’t Need to Lower Your Expectations

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A customer service manager of a regional banking chain recently told me about a challenge her managers were having in getting young tellers to handle incoming calls when they were assigned phone duty.

“It’s astounding how many will answer our business line by just saying ‘Hello’ or ‘Yo. Wat up? This is Monique.‘ It’s almost as if they’ve never answered a phone call for anyone else,” she said.

“It’s likely they haven’t,“ I replied.

Although we got a chuckle out of it, I think it was a moment of Zen for both of us.

The old style of answering the phone

Growing up in a family of seven, there was only one phone in the house for all of us to share, and even that was a party line we had to share with our next door neighbor, Mrs. Baker.

My parents had very strict guidelines and ground rules for using the device. The phone was a privilege, not a right, and that privilege could be revoked at a moment’s notice.

Mom and dad taught my four sisters and me that when the phone rang, we were to answer it by politely and clearly enunciating our names, as in, “Hello/Good morning! This is the Chester residence, Eric speaking.”

We were told not answer it on the first ring (appearing overly anxious) and never during our family dinner hour. Further, we were not allowed to run to a ringing phone (so as not to be gasping for breath) and we were never to tell a caller that a person wasn’t home or that they were in the shower, etc.; only that the person the caller was trying to reach was ‘currently unavailable to come to the phone’ and that we ‘would be happy to take a message and make sure the person would receive it.’ (How’s that for accountability?)

Oh, and before we got to a ringing phone, we were instructed to have a pencil or pen in hand in the event we needed to take a message that included the caller’s name, number, a convenient time they could be reached, and any other important details.

A vivid life lesson

The reason I can remember this so vividly 40 plus years later is that it wasn’t something that was just casually mentioned once when I was a kid. This procedure was drilled into me and my sisters on a daily basis by parents who wanted us to learn proper phone etiquette as a life skill. We had to get it right every single time or face the consequences.

Today, if you call me or any of my four sisters, the phone will be answered as if it were 1969. And good manners never go out of style.

In contrast, there is a rapidly increasing percentage of today’s workforce that have never lived in homes that have a land line, and many of these people have never (or rarely) answered a call that was intended for someone other than themselves. It’s foolish to assume that these individuals arrive to the job prepared to answer a business phone with any degree of protocol or professionalism.

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That means you can no longer simply assign phone duty to someone and expect that it’s going to be handled appropriately unless you’re 100% confident that that individual clearly understands the weight of that responsibility, and they have been taught how each caller is to be treated.

In other words, assume nothing.

Change the dynamic and provide instructions

This conversation extends well beyond answering the phone. It requires a complete paradigm shift in the way that mature leaders interact with their young workers.

Technology has accelerated the pace of change, and those changes transcend the electronics we use each day. It has impacted the way disparate demographic segments think, act, communicate, and see the world.

TAKE ACTION – Before giving instruction to a person who doesn’t share your historical perspective (i.e. they are 10 or more years your junior), take time to spell out your expectations and the rationale behind them. Then provide instructions for achieving that objective that are so clear (step-by-step, if necessary) that the listener could repeat them verbatim to another person a week later.

Remember, Millennials aren’t stupid.

They just weren’t present when your parents were teaching you manners and etiquette.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at EricChester.com and follow him at @eric_chester

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