by J.T. O’Donnell
Now that career-minded Millennials make up 50 percent of our workplace, it’s safe to assume (like every other generation to enter the work force) they’ll want to earn promotions as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we’re hearing across the board that a lot of Millennial workers aren’t promotion material, citing a lack of drive and professionalism. However, the real problem lies in a lack of Millennial understanding of the power of perception. In my experience, simple insights are all Millennials need to turn things around.
“People hear what they see.” –Doris Day
Let’s take a look at the most common mistakes Millennials make and how they get misperceived.
1. Being a clock-puncher. Millennials value their free time. As a result, some tend to be meticulous about only working the hours they’re paid for–to the second, i.e., they walk in at 8:29 a.m. and leave at 5:59 p.m. on the dot (because they took exactly 30 minutes for lunch). When you’re so focused on leaving the office not a minute later than you need to stay, you send the message you couldn’t care less about the work you’re doing. In the mind of management, it’s just a job to you. Perhaps that’s the case, but managers have no desire to promote people who aren’t focused on and interested in the work they do.
Advice to Millennials: Once or twice a week, stay 15 minutes past your normal work hour and get an extra task done. As the rest of your peers exit en masse, you can score a chance to say good night and make small talk with your boss about what you’re working on and why you chose to stay late to finish it. Those moments can help you build a better personal connection with your boss and show you aren’t obsessed with the clock–two things the boss will consider when a promotion comes available.
2. Not taking the initiative. Any employer will tell you, there aren’t enough hours in the day and work is never done. There are always new problems that need to be solved in a company–if you look for them. Millennials who take the initiative to try to improve things and go the extra step in their work are showing their potential to handle a larger role. Especially when you can find a way to save or make the company money. This can help you show your ability to add value, ultimately providing justification for a promotion and pay increase.
Advice to Millennials: Try to anticipate something your boss will need and offer to do it in advance of being asked. Anytime you can take something off your boss’s plate, you’re showing your value. Managers like to promote employees that make their lives easier.
3. Pointing out problems without offering solutions. Millennials have been raised as equals and were encouraged to speak their mind and share their perspective. In the workplace, this often manifests in their pointing out what’s wrong, i.e., broken processes, failing projects, customer dissatisfaction. However, given their newness to the workplace and lack of experience, they don’t usually follow this up with some constructive ideas for solutions. Thus, while well-intended, the comments come across as criticism. The employer silently thinks to him- or herself, “Thanks Captain Obvious, but we know that already. What I really need is someone smart enough to roll up his or her sleeves and fix the problem.” The employer accepts the comments and adds the problems to the list of those to solve, but mentally marks the Millennial workers as too inexperienced and not passionate enough to be promoted.
Advice to Millennials: If you spot a problem, see it as an opportunity for you to offer to tackle solving it. It could very well be your fast-track to a promotion.
4. Setting long deadlines. An employer is paying you for productivity. The more you produce, the more the employer values you. However, Millennials hate to fail. This often translates to their wanting to take more time to complete a task or project to ensure it’s perfect. Unfortunately, time really is money in the working world. Employers promote people who hustle. You should push yourself to get your work done in a timely manner. Most important, you should communicate your goals to your boss so he or she doesn’t feel the need to micromanage you.
Advice to Millennials: Ask your boss when he or she wants the project done and then shoot to finish it a few hours to a day earlier. This gives your boss time to review your work, and if changes or corrections need to be made, the boss can provide the feedback and you can still get the project done on his or her timeline.
5. Total lack of enthusiasm for the mission of the company. Companies exist to solve problems for their customers. Employers like to promote people who convey a sincere interest in solving that problem and making customers happy. Regardless of your position in the company, you should be able to see how your work affects the company’s ability to deliver on its mission. You should also be able to show your enthusiasm for supporting its efforts.
Advice to Millennials: Don’t be shy about sharing your pride for the work the company does. Tell your boss why you are glad to be associated with the company–and let your boss know you tell your friends and family the same. Employers promote people who act like owners. When you are emotionally invested, they can see your potential to grow with the organization.
Managing Up = Fast-Track to Getting Promoted
I’m sure some Millennials will read this and resent the idea of having to do all of the above to show management they deserve a promotion. However, the savvy ones will see the real power in learning to manage up. If you can stand out as the exception in a sea of Millennials who are seen as underperformers, you will elevate your value–which could lead to your getting promoted even faster. Overcoming communication barriers at work is a powerful career skill worth mastering. Moreover, a common technique in management to drive performance in younger workers is to fast-track the promotion of an outstanding young employee who is “modeling the way” for others. So, ask yourself: “Why can’t it be me?”
Make professional development a priority.