Remember growing up and listening to your parents or grandparents joke about the kids in your generation? They would say things like “Back in my day” and “You kids and your fancy gadgets.” But as fun as it is to have a good laugh about the differences between generations, it’s also a topic that should be better understood by both sides, especially in business.
A growth industry
The millennial generation enjoys getting involved in industries where they can have fun and express their creativity. And let’s face reality: Life insurance doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being that hip or cool of an industry. It’s seen as your plain-vanilla type of career.
But that may all start to change. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that the life insurance industry had nearly 500,000 agents in the 1970s, but today the number has declined to about 150,000. This means the industry is poised for growth. The career can be financially rewarding for millennials who have been facing unemployment or low wage jobs.
Bottom line: It’s time to make a life insurance career cool. The good news is if both sides can be more open-minded and listen to each other, they will see they have more in common than they thought. The working relationship can be rewarding for both parties because there’s reciprocal value going both ways. It all starts with respect, which is the cornerstone of making this relationship work.
Put yourself in their shoes
If you have a millennial agent on your team, and there are some issues with your more senior employees, think back to what was on your mind when you were that age. How did you think? Weren’t you a bit rebellious? What did you think of authority? How did you feel about a ‘bossy’ supervisor? Were you always trying to prove a point? Did you think that you knew it all?
You can make a connection with your millennial agents if you engage them at a personal level. What things did you need help with at that age? Your whole life is in front of you but it’s filled with unknowns and anxiety about finances, marriage, temptation, fear, expectations, finding happiness and more. Sometimes just being a good listener is what the millennial is looking for. When you can remember your own insecurities at their age, you can start offering a few words of encouragement.
Communicate in Their Language
We must learn to communicate appropriately with millennials, which is what we do for humans at every life stage. When we hold a baby, we use sounds and one or two words in a soothing and warm tone. When we speak to a five year old, we don’t use complex or sophisticated language. When we speak to older children, we are authoritative. And to seniors, we are respectful.
So when we speak to millennial agents, we must also communicate in their language. And for them, the trick is learning what NOT to say.
Some catch phrases to avoid:
“All this social media is a waste of time. What’s the point?”
“When I was your age …”
“This is the way it’s always been done.”
“You remind me of my kids.”
“How old ARE you?”
In short, avoid conversations that are indirect criticisms of their age. Also, millennials like things fast and have a tendency to not stay focused on any one thing for too long. Try to keep your meetings and communications short and direct.
Implement a Laid Back Workplace
Younger recruits will feel more comfortable and enjoy coming to work if they have a more relaxed work environment. This started with the new technology companies like Amazon, Apple and Google, and it has infiltrated all industries including financial services. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your culture at the workplace.
This means being a little more edgy with your wardrobe and stop showing up dressed like a politician all the time. Have jeans day on Friday, and make them 7 for All Mankind, Joe’s Jeans, or Diesel. Rather than wearing your traditional Cole Haan shoes, get yourself a pair of Ferragamos. Wear some Robert Graham shirts that have more color on them than your entire wardrobe. And the ladies have their own trendy fashions as well. For the workplace itself, break away from the traditional rows of cubicles and executive offices with tan walls and neutral colored carpet. You don’t have to be as extreme, but Google is known for being innovative in this area. Their headquarters and offices around the globe are equipped with nap pods, treadmill desks and a bowling alley, ski gondolas in the Zurich office, a pub-like meeting room in Dublin and sidewalk cafe in Istanbul.
Learn from Each Other
At the heart of working together, the different generations in your office need to understand that there is much to be gained by learning from each other. Each generation brings strengths to the work dynamic that can make your company the buzz of the job listing boards. Millennials need boomers for the following reasons:
To hear about important life experiences
To learn the right values and principles
To find and have a mentor
To learn from the mistakes boomers made so they don’t make the same mistakes
Boomers need millennials for the following reasons:
To keep them young and motivated
To see things through a different set of eyes
To have a sense of fulfillment that comes with developing others
To learn the current communication trends in social media
To keep up with fashion
Times have changed, and if you don’t change with them, you’ll be left behind. It is possible for boomers, GenXers and millennials to successfully collaborate in the workplace. It’s a “give-and-take” relationship at times, but if both sides can work through their differences and be open to learning from each other, magic can happen and productivity can skyrocket.
The life insurance industry needs the millennial generation as much as millennials need the life insurance industry. Millennials bring a fresh and creative spark to what’s become a rather mundane profession. And in return, those millennials who become successful agents can expect to be rewarded financially and with the personal satisfaction of having made a difference in other people’s lives.
The boomer/millennial relationship doesn’t have to be like oil and water. There are many millennials who are extremely competitive and eager to learn. The challenge is keeping them focused, and keeping them focused comes from relating to them.