EP157: Alexandra Levit - How To Manage Your Millennial Staff Members


This is a generation of people that were born approximately between 1980-1995 and they are a big part of today’s workforce.Our guest prepares organizations and their employees, who are mostly millennials, to be competitive and marketable in the future business world.

Alexandra Levit is an American writer, consultant, speaker, and a workplace expert who has appeared on major TV networks like CNN and has written for The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and The New York Times.

She has written six career advice books including her bestseller, Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.

During this interview, you'll discover...

  • Insight about old millennials versus young millennials

  • The importance of high-tech & high-touch technology

  • The impact of incentives to employees

To explore her website, go here.

To buy her books, click this link..

To visit the Career Advisory Board website, check this out.

To listen to the Workforce 2030 podcast, go here.


Michael Palmer (MP) 1:06 - Welcome back to the Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I'm your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a great one. Our guest is a business and workplace expert who has appeared on major TV networks like CNN, has written for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and has authored several books including Humanity Works: Merging Technologies & People For The Workplace Of The Future. Alexandra Levit, welcome to the show.

Alexandra Levit (AL) 1:34 - Mike, thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.

MP 1:37 - Well, it is our pleasure and my goodness, you have done many things and you've spoke on major networks and it is just our privilege to have you here to share your knowledge with us.

AL 1:49 - Well, thank you.

MP 1:50 - Yeah. Before we get into all of that, I would love to hear your career journey leading up to this point.

AL 1:57 - Well, it's been kind of a windy road, Mike. It started when I graduated from a prestigious university in Chicago area, which is where I am talking to you from today, and I had been one of those high achieving students who thought I could go out into the business world and be a VP by the age of 30 and needless to say, my career pretty much crashed and burned. It did not happen that way. I spent three years trying to get a promotion. My boss told me I'm in a square peg in a round hole and another told me that everybody in the office didn't like me. So it was challenging at best. And I finally took some personal development classes and learned the importance of things like developing a good professional persona, managing conflicts, productive leading diplomatic, getting people to cooperate. And that was when this light bulb really went off and I said, someone should teach other 20 somethings on how to be successful in business.

AL 2:51 - And that was when I wrote my first book which is actually coming out with a new edition called They Don't Teach Corporate In College. And that book got me talking to a lot of young professionals about what they could expect for their careers and all the talking to their managers about what they could expect from these young professionals. So that led into the study about the generation of young people that was coming up at the time called the millennials. And the gradually I was getting asked to comment on their future on what I saw the future of working in general. And that was how I got into the futurist space. And so as humanity works, that's really about advising organizations and individuals on what they need to do to be marketable and competitive in the workforce, the future, giving all the disruptions and changes that are coming about. So that's how I got to be where I am. I've had a really great time over the last couple of years writing books and talking to companies and just trying to help when there's a lot of anxiety and uncertainty out there.

MP 3:47 - Wow. It's so interesting how it came to be. I mean, you were someone that was going through this challenge and then figured out a way out of it and now you're helping others do the same.

AL 4:00 - Well, that's what I had. That's the bowl for sure. Hopefully I succeed sometimes. Right?

MP 4:06 - Absolutely. So now with workplace culture, what made it so interesting and continue because for you to do all this work and and spend so much time becoming an expert in it, it has, there's some passion that must be around that. Why do you think you have that passion or where did it STEM from?

AL 4:26 - Oh, I have that passion because the business world was completely not what I expected when I came into it. And I think that's still true for a lot of young people, especially because today's young people in particular do not have the interpersonal skills. They've been raised on technology. They're used to doing everything by text and instant message and they haven't been taught how to understand and navigate the nuances of the business world that are so essential to be successful. And I really want to help people avoid the pain that I experienced for three years. It was an absolute nightmare. And if I can help one person who might be in their first internship or their first job, avoid some of that and do things right earlier, then I will have done my job. And so that's where the passion comes from and it's the best thing in the world is do able to call on. We've got the new edition of, They Don't Teach Corporate In College coming out September one being able to call on readers from 15 years ago from the first division who were in their early twenties when that came out and read it and absorb it and started implementing some of the ideas and talk about, and as a result, they built their careers around it and now they're managers, they're leaders. So that has been the coolest thing for me ever, is to realize that it did indeed help to shape these individuals trajectories in a good way.

MP 5:51 - That's very exciting. Yeah, it's a very exciting, and then congratulations on that. I mean, what better way to help our world and helping people make the workplace a better place. So a more enjoyable place. It that all translate back and back into happy people, happy Europe, people, happier families, you know? And so we love hearing stories about that on this podcast and our podcast, our listeners who own businesses themselves and make a difference for many business owners being bookkeepers and working with their finances. But they also have staff and they have workplaces, many of them have workplaces. And I would be interesting to get your take on, you know, some ideas or thoughts around the challenges they face working somebody that hasn't read your books and started to implement those, you know, they're the ones that have to deal with this. And I'll tell you, it wouldn't be the first time we've heard or talked about the challenges with the younger generation and an older generation. So what's your take there?

AL 7:06 - Well, I, first of all, I commiserate. I know that it is really difficult to own a business, to be focusing on keeping all those balls in the air and then to not be able to depend on a reliable staff that's also going to be loyal, that's going to learn the business you're going to teach, you're going to train and then they're going to stick around. So particularly for people with smaller businesses, I think this can't really be underestimated and the challenge and the maturity is, is really coming later in later for some of these kids. And so just because they might be new college graduates or maybe they they're 25 they build a lot of handholding. And so what I suggest to business owners is just if you think something needs to be spelled out or doesn't need to be spelled out, do it anyway and err on the side of more information rather than less information and really do expect that you're going to have to be a lot more hands on in the beginning.

AL 8:03 - Hopefully you empower them to do their jobs and to take ownership, but it's going to take a little bit of time. And when business owners would complain to me about the millennials who are now, you know, the oldest ones, they're pushing 40 now. I said, well, you know, maybe the next generation will be different, but I still see that there is this delayed maturity and we are seeing some of the same problems where people who you expect to have it all together really don't yet and need a lot more of a cushion going into the work world. And this especially true to of people who don't have that transition period in a college setting. So a lot of people will just go straight from high school to a job or they will while they're in high school, work at a job and they might be very enthusiastic, but they don't know what they don't know. And so unfortunately it does fall to the owner or the manager to sit them down and tell them what's what. And to make expectations extraordinarily clear and to not just delegate something and go away and expect that that person is going to have it done. But you'd have to be doing frequent checking this, the younger generation, they love frequent detailed feedback though. The no news is the new thing doesn't really work. You've got to have news, especially if it's good and you want to be giving them constructive guidance along the way too.

MP 9:23 - Wow, that's interesting. Very valuable. Very valuable insight as well. What when we're talking millennials, I mean it's almost, I was going to mention the word millennial you did first. Thank you. It almost gets to be like, okay, enough about talking about millennials. All right, they're getting a bad rap. But getting to that bad rap, what age group are we talking about here? Like what would they be? The age that a millennial would be right now is between the age of what and what.

AL 9:50 - Oh, okay. Well this is a good way to I suppose level set. Everybody who's listening. So when we talk about generations, just to back up even further.

MP 9:58 - Yeah, please do.

AL 9:59 - We've got the baby boomers who were born after 1945 so after world war II and they go through about 1953 so there are quite a lot of baby boomers in the workforce. Some of them are probably listening right now. Baby boomers are working longer because they lost money in the recession and they're in good health generally, so why not? Especially if they love their business. They love what they're doing, why not be involved? Why not work into your seventies even eighties so the boomers are still around. Then we have a small generation called Generation X that was born roughly 1964 to 1979 and compared to the baby boomers, they were a very small group called the baby bust. Fewer babies born globally in that time period and they were so small, they often get forgotten about. I'm a member of this generation myself, but truthfully they are the most self-reliant.

AL 10:52 - They're the most industrious. All of the workforce trends that we see today around flexibility and around portable skillsets. This generation was actually the one to start with all that way back in the 90s when they came on the scene, the late eighties and nineties so that's generation X. And then you asked the question about the millennials who are also known as generation Y same group and they were born at roughly 1980 to 1995 and so the oldest ones are pushing 40 as I mentioned, the youngest ones are in their mid twenties. Now there are some interesting differences between the two cohorts that we can talk about if you like, meaning between the older and younger millennials. And then finally you have generation Z who is on the scene now. So generation Z was born in roughly 1996 to 2012 though they are children right now and they're also our high school and college students. And some of them, the oldest ones are, are actually in the workforce now. I mean the professional, many more of them are in the workforce in general and working, you know, retail or other types of jobs that don't require a college degree. So that's our five generations in the workforce. And it is an adventure.

MP 12:04 - Okay. So most of our listeners will have teams that have all of them. I see why you're a busy person. You know, this is like, I get, it's just like when we start laying it out and you lay it out so eloquently by the way, and give us a real good picture of what we're dealing with. And we're dealing with a lot of different people and their experiences. I mean, you've got the millennials, they have a really big length of time between the start and end of it. And you got the young ones and the old ones and the differences and our listener, right? These are the people that are, they're hiring, they're going to be hiring gen Xers and gen y's, maybe even gen Z years here pretty quick. And so the difference is, I mean, I'm in the gen, it was funny when he said that and I was like, gee, I'm starting to feel old here. Um, but I'm in the gen X as well. I'm really curious about the gen Y or millennials, the differences between the younger and the older.

AL 13:02 - Yeah. So this is, this is a great question. I kind of teed it up a little cause I think it's exciting and the real difference comes about Mike, when you think about when they came of age. So with the older millennials, you know, they came of age prior to the recession, but 2008 recession. So they became adults sort of out on their own. Um, and so they came in with a lot more bravado and this is where the millennials started to get the bad rap. It was the early ones, no offence, early ones. But uh, they came in and just were either, they were a large group, their parents had raised them to believe they were special and could have any career they wanted. And they were quite overzealous at speaking at a very young age. They didn't necessarily want things that other employees didn't want.

AL 13:50 - They just didn't put their heads down and pay their dues and wait. They felt at the age of 22 or whatever that they should have. It now. So that group. But then the younger millennials came into a workforce that was very depressed where there was a lot of under employment, meaning that you would have to take a job that did not require a college degree or had not required a college degree. You would have to stay in school a lot longer. You would have to live with your parents and depend on your parents. And so they were much more humbled by that experience. And so you started to see a couple of patterns emerging. So when you have the older millennials being joined by the younger millennials to kind of mitigate the, the negative stereotypes around the millennials. But you also saw that the older one don't look getting more senior. So they were just outgrowing some of the behaviours that had given them the bad rap. And so overall, I think most organizations are happier today with their young, younger people, or at least people that under 40 and then they were five or 10 years ago. I see this shifting in a positive direction given again the aging of the older millennials naturally. And then they've been joined by these younger millennials who just are a lot more realistic about what they can expect and I think don't expect as much in general.

MP 15:09 - Wow, that's very helpful. I mean it's positive. So, interesting to hear that they came in from kind of like this really great time. Things are booming and great and then all of a sudden it's like a wake up call. And now for our listener who's running a business and employing these people which of your books that you've written, what book would be the best for them? Because I would imagine that, you know, there might be people that, like we talked about earlier that have not embraced the fact that there's differences and it's in our really the owner's responsibility to create the culture. And if they, you know, they're hiring people, well they, they're, they're responsible to train and mentor their staff. What's, what's a good Avenue from one of your books to read that and maybe some tips on how they can, you've already given us a few like frequent detailed feedback and positive feedback obviously is the one they liked the best, but what else in that area that would help put them on a trajectory? I love that you talked about systems and process and onboarding people with really good information and very detailed information. I mean any business needs that, but this is going to really help with this millennial generation. Correct?

AL 16:30 - Sure. There are a couple of books that I would suggest and one is They Don't Teach Corporate In College, which is coming out in a brand new edition. That's the one that managers should read, but they should also get a couple of copies to give to anybody who's in their twenties because that's going to tell them what they need to know so that you don't have to and not that you shouldn't be reinforcing some of the things that we talked about there, but it will give them the wake up call that I think most managers need them to have. And then humanity works is a book that anyone who's trying to lead a business in the 21st century should should just take a look at, because we talk about all of the ways in which you need to future proof your business and the generations and employees are part of that.

AL 17:10 - But it's really one small part of just a larger constellation of issues that you need to address and be aware of in order to successfully move your organization into the mid 21st century, has a lot of changes happening and talk about a lot of disruptions. And so hopefully that'll give you this for kind of the bigger picture. So those are the two, two things. And then I would just say with respect to technology, making sure that you've got technology in place that can help you provide what I call a high tech, high touch employee experience. So it'll, it'll help you communicate with people. It'll help you get forms filled out, it'll help you perform operations, it'll help provide a sense of motivation and morale and engagement. And so don't underestimate the potential for software to really drive some of these processes that we're suggesting. And sometimes small business owners will say to me, well, I don't have a large enough workforce to mandate this, but you'd be surprised how you can use software on a small scale or a large scale sometimes implementing the system that's, you know, an enterprise software solution for, you know, hundreds of thousands of employees.

AL 18:20 - That might not be your thing. But there are other software applications that can be used for just a few employees. And so whatever you need, I encourage people to assess what they think the problem is in their organization, whether it's with a specific group or specific generation or not. And go out and find the software that will help you address that. And it doesn't take the place of the manager's personal time and giving somebody a really a sense of belonging, but it can certainly help and it can streamline things quite a bit. So have that. Having that high tech, high touch experience. I think it's really important.

AL - 19:01 And so by having the technology, it's really where this generation lives, they love this technology and and is by them using the technology, it creates sort of, I guess meeting them on their level. I mean, really the technology that's available to all of us today, if you're not using it, you're really missing out on so many opportunities. But specifically in this one area, I would imagine that, yeah, with young people coming up and they're seeing all of the things and the ease of say, online banking or ordering food online or all of this stuff. If they come into a workplace where it's like, but it's so much easier this way. Right. It could create a lot of frustration, I would imagine.

AL 19:43 - Yeah. And research has shown that younger people will not stay with an organization that doesn't have their technology act together. So you really do have to provide. And all that said though, I think we can get too overzealous and jumping on the technology bandwagon. I think you do have to be careful that you don't implement new systems just for the sake of the fact that they're new and shiny. I think you have to be careful that it integrates with your existing system that is not going to be yet another thing that doesn't take off and employees feel like they can ignore because you know it's just your latest and greatest. You want employees to take it seriously when there's a new system and you want to have user adoption. So for that reason you have to be selective at what you, at what you choose. And I recommend pilots all the time, do something on a small scale, get an ambitious employee to take charge of it, who feels passionate about it. And if it works a little bit at a time and then you find it does work, then you can implement it on a larger scale, but don't get too crazy. I think there's a very happy medium here.

MP 20:43 - Agreed. Well said. Um, let's talk a little bit about incentives. And you mentioned people leaving companies that are not embracing technology. What else is motivating this generation?

AL 20:58 - Well, they're definitely motivated by what they consider to be meaningful work work that allows them to feel good about getting up in the morning that is socially responsible work that enables them to grow their cross functional skillset. So the skills that are relevant across a wide variety of industries and roles, things like sales, marketing, finance, client relations, and they want to do this at a young age. And so integrating the technology that's available is definitely a part of that. They want to be mentored on. This generation of young professionals really wants to work side by side with leaders to have variance of being a leader. So allowing them to be an apprentice or onto work by her side in a crisis that is extraordinarily boost for them. They do learn, we call this experiential learning. So the on the job training and just being in the trenches, it's something that's very motivating.

AL 21:56- They are rewarded by balance. So having a flexible environment where they can get their work done and kind of come and go as they need. The one caveat that I would say total remote work is not good for very young professionals because again, they don't understand some of the nuances of working interpersonally and in businesses. So if they're not on site, it's very hard for them to learn that they're sitting in a coffee shop or at home by themselves in their pajamas. That's kind of problematic. But as they get older, we do need to offer that flexibility as much as we can. If you've got shift workers, I strongly recommend trying to do the Fenway. I hear from tons of organizations, well we can't have flexibilities, we have to have people there and it's just not true. You can allow people to shift up, you know, on their shift or to trade with someone else or they can do one shift for a period of time.

AL 22:50 - And then do another shift. You can have somebody always there but it doesn't have to be the same person at the same time. So I encourage people to be creative about how they can offer this flexibility and recognize that this generation of young people, and when I say young people, I'm pretty much talking about anyone under 40 at this point. This generation is balancing a lot of stuff. Um, many of them have multiple jobs, just the rise of the contract work force. They have side gigs, businesses, they're trying to start other businesses, they have family, they have aging grandparents, parents and some of them have children now. Many of them have children, they have hobbies, they want to continue to do things that they enjoy. So this still a lot to balance and work is only one part of what they're trying to achieve in their life.

AL 23:38 - It's not the be all end on the little bit different to how the baby boomers and even the first half of gen xers were at that same age where this was, these were the prime earning years and it was all about work. Well not the case anymore. And by the way, if you were wondering about gender split used to be even worse, that you know, men under 40 while it was all about your job, your career, and now nails that are parents are equal parents, they do not an all their time at work and rely on the children's mother or whoever else to to take care of them. Men are fully participatory in the upbringing of children and the caring for aging parents and grandparents. So this does not necessarily split along gender lines as it might have in the past, which is interesting.

MP 24:29 - Very interesting and definitely causes, you know, all sorts of challenges for both, both genders and, and all of this as day. Well, this is definitely interesting. I'm always curious too about money. When I was growing up, you know, I have to look at the list again. Remember what I am on gen Y I guess the little tiny sliver of gen, sorry, gen X. um, I'm the little sliver of gen X and uh, you know, it was a big part of what was talked about was money. You know, and I don't, I don't cure that in that younger generation, uh, of being that important that they make a bunch of money.

AL 25:08 - Yeah, it's less important for sure. I mean, you're never going to completely eliminate the financial incentives, but this generation, I don't know that we really know so much about Z. We know a little bit about V, but mostly we're going from millennial data. Um, health insurance, they're realizing is more and more important than the entire package of benefits. So it's not just about raw salary or bonuses, it's just about the whole offering that you're going to be able to provide as an organization. And with the unemployment rate being lower, and it's been quite a long time. You do have to be competitive with those things. But yeah, it's not the primary driving factor, I don't think for anyone. You can't offer way under market, but they're not going to make the decision based on a couple thousand dollars. Like we might've seen it in the past.

MP 25:56 - Gotcha. And by the sounds of it, a lot more waiting in things like flexibility and an opportunity and the aspect of meaning of the work that they're doing.

AL 26:06 - Exactly.

MP 26:35 - So with this group in terms of loyalty, like we talked about what might make them leave and we talked about loyalty, the meaning, anything else around having people want to stay on for the long haul because they're doing many different things, different jobs. As a small business owner, you know, there's a lot of investment into bringing somebody up to speed. How do we keep them happy and engaged longer?

AL 27:24 - It's a great question. And I think first of all, I think it is important to understand that we aren't going back to a world where people stayed at a job for 30 years. That has gone away. But that's fed. There are a lot of things that business owners can do to keep people beyond what is typical now, which is around 18 months to two years for, um, for the younger, under 40 set. Um, there are things that that can be done and I think most of it has to do with relationship building. And like this is, I'm sure not a surprise to anybody listening where you, but if people feel cared about, if they feel like they're invested in the business, that their future is tied up in it, then they are less likely to want to leave because they've already given so much of themselves to it.

AL 28:12 - So it goes back to that experiential learning and, and participation. Especially if you're a small business owner and you've found somebody super talented, like why not give them a share of it? Why not, you know, allow them to put their stake in the ground because that's how you're going to keep them. But the more that you sort of keep people at a distance and try to manage everything that's important yourself, you're not going to empower people. And that's, I think when people start to want to leave because they want to carve out their own niche, they want to make their own impact. And so I think that having an employee experience where people truly feel invested is, is a way that you can retain people longer because of some research I did with, um, I'm a member of a nonprofit organization actually chair now, it's called the Career Advisory Board.

AL 28:12 - It was established by DeVry University and a few years ago we did some research that showed that millennials were actually looking for greater stability in their careers than we thought. It was surprising cause not only that I did this research, I get information that I was expecting, but I expected them to say that they were a lot more fluid, a lot more agile and what they were saying and what they were saying is I want to find a company that I love to work at that I believe in and I want to stay there. And that was eyeopening. So it just goes to show you if you do the right thing then you're going to have a better outcome. But of course with, with what I said first important, you're probably not keeping people for decades. That's just not really the way the world works. I mean, the other thing that I lost, I want to say is be open to different types of employment.

AL 28:57 - Like somebody might work for you full time for awhile, then they might work as a contract worker, then they might leave entirely, then they might be a consultant, then they might come back and work full time. Like our employment structures are so fluid now that it's very important to keep up positive relationships with everybody that you like that works with you and being open to different arrangements that people might want. Because depending on the life stage, they might be able to contribute in different ways. And so the old model of, well you quit and I'm never going to talk to you again is probably not the best way to proceed, especially if someone is talented.

MP 29:35 - I absolutely love, love what you've said and there's so much in in this podcast episode to help our listeners. And I would say it's a refreshing take on the possibility this workforce because the, there has been some, I've come across negativity and, and almost disappointment thinking the, that it's difficult to find good people and have people help you in their business. And as a small business you need good people and you need to find them, right? So this is refreshing. There's resources, there's help, there is a way to overcome this challenge and make it happen in their business. And so I want to really thank you for being on the show. And w what's the best way for our listener to get more? We've talked about the books. Your website is Alexandra levit.com. We'll have the links in the, in the show notes. Anything else that you would recommend for them to just go and take a look at as a small business owner and you're hiring people or you have staff go and check out this particular resource? If there's something that you'd like to mention, please do.

AL 30:36 - Sure. Well, in addition to the AlexandraLevit.com website, feel free to check out a CareerAdvisoryBoard.org. Also, I have a new podcast called Workforce 2030 in which we do talk about small to medium-sized businesses fairly frequently and we talk about the intersection of technology and human talent quite a bit, so I think that might be of interest, but that's called the Workforce 2030 podcast. You can find it on my website or just wherever podcasts are available. It's pretty much everywhere and then the CareerAdvisoryBoard.org has a lot of research that is relevant to this group and hiring needs and what to look for, etc.

MP 31:16 - Beautiful. Alexandra, this has been great. Thank you again for being on the podcast today.

AL 31:21 - Thanks so much, Michael. It's great to be here.

MP 31:23 - and with that we wrap another episode of the successful bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's wonderful guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business building resources. You can go to the successful bookkeeper.com until next time, goodbye.