8 Ways You Can Support Millennials in Your Workplace

Millennials… am I right?

That seems to be the most popular punch line when I am sitting around a table with colleagues discussing organizational change or current challenges in EMS, particularly staffing and development. I recently attended a conference focused on leadership in EMS and if there was a session without mention of the dreaded millennial and how awful they are, I missed it. To be honest, it’s getting old and my ability to filter my exasperation is wearing thin, especially as we are now seeing offers of multi-day trainings for how to work with millennials. The entire concept seems quite strange to me… were there classes offered to the Boomers on how to get along with the Generation Xers?

The words I usually hear associated with the generation at hand are entitled, needy, whiney, lazy, untalented and impatient. I don’t believe anyone I know well or have worked with over the years would describe me with any of these terms (ok… maybe impatient from time to time), although I am in the generational age range for millennials. In fact, I am willing to bet many of you work with people who are within the age range for millennials, yet you would not immediately lump them into the group you find so difficult. According to the PEW Research Center, millennials were initially described as those being born after 1981 are now defined as those born between 1977 and 1992.

While I am not attempting to climb up and be a representative for the entire millennial generation, I do believe this simple list addresses many of the issues I have heard, from both sides of the generational gap, over the past few years.

  1. Stop complaining about millennials.
    Generally, please stop using the word millennials to begrudgingly sum up every challenging situation or conversation you’ve had involving someone younger than you. Specifically, please stop complaining about millennials to me… a millennial. I realize you think my entire generation is made up of needy children who cannot be bothered to show up for work, but is that how you would describe me? I will admit the above description does fit some of my generational cohorts, if you can admit there is a certain irony in constantly complaining (whining) about a generation of whiners.
  2. Get to know me.
    Time is precious, and you don’t have enough of it. Staffing shortages, schedule changes, contract demands, and personnel issues take up so much of your time it can be easy to overlook the simple things that really make a difference in an organization. Something as small as a conversation can drastically change how I feel about, and in, an organization; it helps me learn about the culture of the organization, how I should approach leadership with any issues that come up in the future and how long I’ll stick around. Leadership taking the time to have a conversation, even 15 minutes, will set the foundation for the relationship I will have with the individual(s) as well as the organization.Seriously, take time out of your day to get to know me as a person instead of an employee number. This can start in the interview or orientation process, and continue while I’m on shift. Most EMS organizations have shift supervisors that are also working on the truck and, in many cases, orienting new employees during their first 60 days; take the time to have a conversation about expectations (from both sides), communication preferences and styles, and personal and professional goals. Onboarding someone to your organization is about more than protocol compliance and radio reports.
  3. Stop talking to me about money.
    Yes – money is important, and I expect a reasonable level of compensation for the work I am doing. I want to be able to support myself, my family and my lifestyle but I’m about more than that. By and large, I am value driven; I want to know that what we are doing is making a difference somehow, and that my values are mirrored in the organization I work for. To clarify, money is NOT the primary motivator and when you lecture me about finances (the way my father would), I shut down and know that you do not understand me.PS: Organizations that take the extra time to lay out and explain complete compensation including benefits, insurance costs, etc. and offer resources for budget planning are absolutely adding value to all employees, not just millennials.
  4. Share your vision, so I know the path and the timeline
    I might seem impatient…but my whole life I’ve been told to set goals and reach them. Go to college and get a respectable job. DO better. BE better. Nobody ever told me to be PATIENT. Share the vision of the organization. Share your vision for me (specifically) within the organization, and ask what my vision is. Work with me so I can understand my potential career path and a realistic timeline, so I can be an active participant in my development and, together, we can manage my expectations.
  5. Realize that when I ask you “why” I’m not challenging you.
    I legitimately want to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. The things we do during downtime, on scene and in the back of the ambulance are all part of a process, not the entire process. Understanding where my “place” in the process is and what happens next helps clarify the importance of specific tasks, particularly those that need to be completed in a certain order or timeframe. It is important for leadership to go beyond the “because I said so” reasoning. I remember being told once, long ago, that I should never tell anyone something I can’t show them. That message stuck with me and I have come to expect the same from others, particularly those handing out orders. Help me see the why and I will gladly complete the task… maybe I’ll even find a way to do it more efficiently.
  6. Stop telling me “Good Job”. It’s a cop out – you know it and I know it. Just stop.
    Recognizing effort is always better than recognizing completion. EMS is a high-stress, mentally demanding industry that can feel somewhat all-consuming. When I take on a project that means extra time away from my family or squeezing more work into my already busy shifts, learning and exercising new skill sets or successfully coordinating the work of others, an “Atta Boy!” just doesn’t cut it. Also, I know I’m not perfect, so when performing my annual review, a blanket “you’re doing a great job…” tells me you’re really not putting the effort into giving me an honest review and you’re not invested in my continued improvement.
  7. Don’t be my punchline.
    This is a simple one… I expect you to practice what you preach. For example, if you implement (and enforce) an organizational policy that says employees cannot call in late or sick via text message, do not cancel a meeting or let me know you will be late via text message. Require a minimum of a 4-hour notice for a sick call? No problem, until you cancel our meeting at the last minute, or even worse, after it has already started, you’re not there and I have to call you. Please do not talk to me about the importance of dedication and doing the right thing even when no one is watching and let me see you leave early when your boss is out of town or hear you complain about meetings that go past 5pm. Coaching me on the importance of follow up? Please, please make sure you set the example of what good follow up looks like, because if you’re enforcing rules that you clearly believe you are exempt from and failing to provide the example, you lose a lot of credibility.
  8. Get Social
    It’s a social world, and we’re proud of what we do and where we work. For many being an EMT or paramedic isn’t just a job, it’s their identity; take the opportunity to post your new hire photos and bios on your social media accounts and tag the employees in the celebrations so their friends and family can share in their pride and success.


generations in the workplace, millennials