The “Gen Y” Millennial generation will soon dominate the workforce – with much to offer the future of your small business.

The Millennials are here. With their oldest members turning 40, they’re entering the workplace by storm. Today, Millennials make up about 25% of American workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2020, that number will grow to more than 40%.1

Also known as Gen Y and broadly defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s, Millennials have been stereotyped with qualities that may have some employers wary: they’re needy and entitled, have short attention spans and spend their days texting and on social media. They have high expectations and want what they want now.

Like all generations, the Millennials are a product of their time. They grew up in a world of economic abundance, doting parents, technology and instant gratification. While stereotypes may hold some truth, they’re only part of the story.

Why Hire Millennials?

“In my experience working with and studying Millennials for the past eight years, I’ve found a large majority of them to be amazingly optimistic, innovative and courageous,” says Lindsey Pollak, a nationally recognized expert on Millennials who is partnering with The Hartford to share workplace trends. “There are a lot of things about them that are significant to the business world.”

Think tech-savvy, eager, collaborative and resourceful. They’re willing to speak their minds and are big on communication. They’re also self-starters, entrepreneurial in spirit, and can bring new perspectives to old ways of doing things. In short, Millennials can breathe fresh life into your small business.

Millennials in Small Business

Recent studies indicate that Millennials favor smaller businesses. According to a 2012 report by Payscale, 47% of Millennials in the workforce are employed by small businesses of 100 or fewer employees and 30% for businesses of 100-500 employees. Only 23% work for larger companies, according to Payscale’s “Gen Y on the Job” report, and many are entrepreneurs.

Smaller organizations present opportunities of value to Millennials, such as broader roles with varied responsibilities and a more relaxed working environment. The more Millennials find of value in their chosen workplace, the more they’ll be likely to contribute. And that means greater potential for your small business.

How to Make Millennials Work for You

Here are ways you can cultivate a workplace environment that will bring out the best in your Millennial employees – and the rest of your team will probably benefit, too.

  • Give a sense of purpose. Purpose is a big motivator for Millennials. Give them a mission or a cause and they’ll do what’s needed to accomplish it, even if it means doing some of the grunt work. Also, offer challenges and a variety of assignments that will stretch their skills and make them feel valued.
  • Communicate – early and often. This generation has grown up in a world of constant communication and they’ll likely expect the same of you. Offer regular feedback on their performance. Clearly communicate your expectations. Share the big picture and the opportunities that lie ahead.
  • Let them use technology. “They’re digital natives,” says Pollak, a best-selling author on career topics, “to the point that it’s really innate. Technology is completely expected.”Let them take technology on in your business, whether to improve collaboration among employees, spur your marketing efforts or help solve your business’s unique problems. Grow your use of social media, or let them lead the charge if you haven’t fully adopted it as part of your business model.
  • Be inclusive. Invite them to participate in decision-making and discussions with other employees. Encourage creativity and innovation. Ask for their ideas. They might see problems or solutions you don’t. “They’re very interested in self-expression and being individuals,” says Pollak, “so I find it’s very important to Gen Ys to be able to express themselves at work.”
  • Provide mentoring. Millennials want to learn quickly and mentoring is a means to facilitate that. They’ll value the guidance and the personal relationship. They can also help provide mentoring to workers of other generations.
  • Recognize their accomplishments. Reward them for their efforts. Raises, promotions, even a simple “thank you” or “job well done” will go a long way.
  • Offer short-term benefits. Millennials don’t expect a pension or a forever job. They’re looking for a decent salary and traditional benefits such as health insurance and a retirement and savings plan. Other benefits, such as life insurance and disability coverage, are important, too, notes Pollak, who is working with The Hartford to help consumers understand their benefits at work. Your business may fund group coverages or offer voluntary benefits that your employees pay for themselves.

What of Intergenerational Challenges?

The Millennials are entering a workforce dominated by Baby Boomers with Gen X sandwiched in between. With many Baby Boomers deferring retirement, all three generations will be sharing workspace in the American workforce for quite a while. Conflict is likely.

As the boss, you can instill values that help bring out the best that each generation has to offer. Encourage and reward cooperation, open-mindedness and teamwork. Help your employees understand their differences and build a common ground for working together. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) offers resources on conflict and generations in the workplace that you may find helpful.

The generations have much to learn from one another but truth is, Boomers may be the ones called upon to extend themselves. Millennials – with their need for communication, willingness to collaborate and focus on teamwork – bring many qualities to the workplace that can change it for the better.