Gen Y workers are often maligned in the business world for their entitlement or self-interest, but there are several productivity lessons to be learned from the millennial work style. Companies like General Electric, Cisco Systems and Ogilvy & Mather have already leveraged younger workers’ knowledge through reverse mentoring sessions, in which junior employees teach upper managers and executives about social media, the Internet, workplace culture and even management practices.

Read on for a handful of productivity-centric lessons inspired by the unconventional work style my millennial peers and I have adopted.

1. Embrace experimentation

Millennials are notorious early adopters, eager to explore new tools or experiment with different ways of performing standard tasks. Many of us spent our grade-school years blogging, instant messaging, texting and playing video games to express ourselves and blow off steam; as young adults, we proactively seek out software, apps and daily practices that facilitate our “work hard, play harder” mentality.

To leverage this entrepreneurial attitude, try out different work “shifts,” research and begin using a new productivity tool, or pick the brain of a colleague you admire. Strive to innovate and hone your existing workflows with the goal of creating new, more effective routines.

2. Be self-centered, in a good way

A common criticism of Gen-Y workers is that they’re self-centered, but this isn’t necessarily a negative trait when it comes to productivity. Millennials focus on their specific roles and responsibilities, execute them, and move on to the next task. Completing to-dos and getting work done is more important to them than being recognized in the office as the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. Whereas their coworkers might aspire to be the “go-to” person in the office ready to dispense advice and next steps, many millennials prefer to be recognized as the top performer.

Channel this focus on self over others when managing your priorities and workload. Evaluate how taking on additional projects or delegating tasks would influence your happiness and career advancement, and do your best to avoid sacrificing the former in pursuit of the latter.

3. Learn from failure

Video games teach children that failure presents an opportunity to learn and try new techniques; combine that habit with the fearlessness of youth, and it’s no surprise that millennials aren’t as apprehensive of failure as their older coworkers might be. We learn by doing, and are okay with sacrificing efficiency in the name of learning a new skill.

While you may never shake your fear of failure, learn to recognize it as a chance to improve, learn and ultimately succeed in your future ventures.

4. Capitalize on instability

Considering the dismal economy, skyrocketing divorce rates, real estate crisis and credit crunch, millennials haven’t had much occasion to embrace stability in adulthood. We’ve had to hustle and become proficient at a variety of skills to compete in a rapidly changing job market.

In a piece called “Generation Flux” for Fast Company, 26-year-old Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, touched on the need to embrace change and capitalize on instability. “I don’t have any personal challenges about throwing away the past,” he said. “If you’re not changing, you’re giving others a chance to catch up. Even if you know everything about a certain market now, in a few years you’re going to have to start from scratch like everyone else.”

Recognize that today’s innovation-driven business environment offers opportunities to revolutionize your work habits, proficiencies and attitudes toward work. Think of this change positively. “The typical mindset understates the risk of not changing and overstates the risk of change,” added Cashmore.

5. Motivation matters

Gen Y workers thrive on continuous feedback and mentorship. It’s easy to dismiss this behavior as needy or lazy, but positive mentors and team-oriented leaders give younger workers three essential things they need to stay engaged at the workplace: context, collaboration and communicated expectations.

Molly Graham, a 27-year-old human resources professional at Facebook, spoke last fall at the HR Technology conference about the positive side of millennials’ entitlement complex:

Entitlement means someone who thinks they have a right to something, a right to know, a right to be part of a process, part of decision making. We have a different word for this. We want to build a company where people believe they have a right to something — we call it ownership. Everyone should feel like it’s their company, they are responsible for the success of the company, for their decisions… This, for us, is a good thing.

Channel millennials’ natural inquisitiveness by nurturing relationships with mentors and other superiors. If you feel a strong sense of loyalty to your boss and always understand the larger implications of your work, you’ll develop intrinsic motivation that incentivizes you to work more efficiently and effectively.

Conclusion

Despite these productivity advantages, millennials still have much to learn from older generations in the working world. The ideal office scenario enables employees of all experience levels to learn from each other’s strengths through regular collaboration and mentorship.

(Photo credit: Victor1558 via Flickr)

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