I was a Millennial once.

I was 22 and working for General Motors Holden (GMH) in HR, it was the early naughties.

Ok, so I wasn’t a Millennial, but I was younger than most of my colleagues, and more pointedly, I was treated with a similar misunderstanding I see our Millennials in the workplace dealing with today.

I imagine my colleagues and managers would have come to someone like me, Emily Jaksch, Millennial whisperer back then if they could have, begging for the secrets of working with Millennials––or the equivalent.

I’d tell them there’s no secret.

And I’d tell them the same thing I share with all my clients that come to me begging for tips on working with Millennials, the same thing I’m about to share with you…

But first let me tell you a little more about the challenges I faced in my early days––when I was a “Millennial” ––some of you may relate.

While we’ve established I wasn’t actually a Millennial when I was at GMH, I was a lot younger and very different to my colleagues (like our Millennials). Despite us being on the same team and having the same end goals, my older colleagues just couldn’t get with my vibe.  I didn’t fit the role they had carved for me as their ‘junior’.

For one, I was incredibly energetic, and probably a bit know-it-all from memory. For these mostly male, older union-shop-stewards my 22yr old gusto didn’t translate in their language.

I was bloody good at what I did. But I didn’t do it their way, so I got flack. And was challenged at every turn. Can you imagine trying to fulfill a HR role in this environment?

So how did it break?

How did the mixed generational team manage to work together?

One of my biggest challenges came in strong with my first sacking. And coincidentally, it also initiated me into the fold with my colleagues.

It was one of my most challenging HR assignments to date. I had to fire a known, very shadily connected Bandito biker, following several official warnings for being violent in the workplace. Yep, I don’t just mean emotionally challenging. I was determined to get this done, and show my colleagues I was in it for the kill, that I had what it took. Shit got real for me very quickly when my boss suggested I have a police escort on hand to see me home safely.

Anyway, long story short, I dealt with the problem in my own way. And more importantly, I was given the OK and the backing of my seniors, despite their anxiety around the subject. I knew what needed to be done, for the good of the company, and it was my job to see it through. After hearing his side of the story, and confidently explaining my stance on behalf of the company, I gave Mr Violent his marching orders. And he left peacefully.

Throughout this experience, my older, more experienced counterparts probably saw me as a little upstart. But our shared values kept us unified ––which a situation like this called for, and those values got us there in the end.

This is key to working with Millennials.

And it is the key to building any successful, multi-generational team. When you lead with values, when the team has the same purpose and everyone knows their WHY, and when you trust each part of your team to do a good job, they will succeed. And when you see the differences as benefits ––and respect the differences–– teams get shit done.

So what is my advice on working with Millennials? It is the same advice I would have given my colleagues back then on ‘dealing with’ my younger self.

When working with Millennials:

  • Lead with values.
  • Support change and respect differences.
  • Connect your team to your WHY.
  • Provide feedback and flexibility.
  • Allow them to fix their own mistakes.
  • Trust them to do a good job.

And lastly, most importantly,

  • Don’t be an asshole. No one responds well to an asshole.