THE M WORD
Millennials and performance in today’s workplace.
Of all the derogatory words used to describe millennials, that is probably the most offensive. It’s bandied about commonly, with or without the use of other slurs or insults. Most business people, and the majority of those polled for this article, have no trouble pointing out what is wrong with “this group” of workers. We thought it would be a valuable exercise to put together a list of common complaints, and analyze whether this group is indeed so different, as well as determine some best practices for their management and development. First, some facts:
“Millennials” are usually designated as those persons born between 1982 and 2003. The youngest of them are 15, the oldest are 36 years old, and they are the largest single group within the work force.
That’s quite a range. How can one compare a 36-year old and put him/her in the same category as a 15-year-old child? Nevertheless, we are talking about working age persons for the sake of this article, so let’s narrow the focus to early twenties to mid-thirties. One of the striking things about this group is their expectations – they typically insist on far more from an entry level position than workers 20 years their senior. It is not uncommon for a potential employee to expect a higher salary than is commensurate with their experience, as well as flexibility in their work schedule. These two things alone would be a contradiction to those of us in our fifties – we were taught that you work long hours for poor pay until you build up experience and a resume. Hearing such a different mindset in an interview can be off-putting.
64% of millennials would rather make 40K per year in a job they love than 100K in a job they find “boring”.
This is a generation that lives at home far longer than any previous age group. The financial crisis and subsequent poor job market that lasted from 2007 to 2017 hit this group hard. They have watched their parents become unemployed, and their own opportunities vanish in front of their eyes. This would certainly lead to a lack of trust in the corporate world, and who could blame them? Only 19% of Millennials agree with the statement “most people can be trusted” versus over 40% of Baby Boomers. If you couple distrust of business with the ability to stay at home without loss of stature from your peers, this is a very predictable state of affairs.
One of the myths about Millennials is that they want to be left alone once hired. In reality, they actually want their managers involved, providing feedback. While they take criticism much harder and more personally than previous generations, it is not true that they want to be left alone at a computer all day. It is true, unfortunately, that this generation of workers expects to progress quicker than they should realistically expect. In his book Not Everyone Gets A Trophy, Bruce Tulgan points out that this group has had their parents as advocates for most of their lives, and been given “participation trophies” as awards for the most mediocre of results. Unlike previous generations, they do not have the same drive to break free of this as they reach adulthood.
The simple (if arduous) solution to this is to manage them as a parent would. There is no point in trying to re-invent a new employee who has had parental intrusion in every aspect of his/her life. The strong management you provide replaces the void left by their parents being gone, at least for 8 hours per day. Being a strong leader that leads by example when it comes to personal issues such as paying bills on time, supporting charitable causes, personal development such as physical fitness and ongoing learning – all of these will pay great dividends when managing this age group.
84% of Millennials say that helping to make a positive difference in the work is more important than professional recognition.
One of the better examples Tulgan uses in his book is the Marine Corps. The Marines take on roughly forty thousand millennials each year. They have a “wash-out” rate that is too low to comprehend considering the dangerous and stressful nature of the program. Success leaves clues – in your company, you can replicate the intensity, shared experience, and the feeling of belonging to a group that millennials want. Providing steady learning will give them a consistent challenge.
There is a gap in basic skills common with millennials, and we can either teach these skills or whine about them not having them. Of course they should be expected to come to work on time, dress appropriately, stay focused, and be cooperative. If you are the boss, you need to help them learn these things – it’s not enough to point them out and lament the fact that they are not exhibiting these traits.
One of the most useful things to teach persons of this age group is a time budget. Simply take the hours in a week and start subtracting all the large parts like sleep, work, etc. It is best done in person, but the net of the discussion ends up being how much time we actually have in a given week. Since millennials usually list time as one of their most important commodities, this tends to hit home.
Millennials are earning 20% less than their parents did, and are under double the student loan debt.
While not all millennials belong to both categories listed above, a substantial number of them do. This changes their perspective in regards to short and medium-term goals. The fact that they save at the same rate as their parents did has little to no impact, due to the debt to income ratio. Therefore, they are predictably more interested in travel, vacations, and extracurricular activities than simply looking for a spouse and buying a house. Home ownership many times isn’t even on their radar, due to their financial situation and their recollection of the real estate crash of 2007-2008. We have an economy where 30% of the workforce is in a situation where a third of them live at home with their parents. This phenomenon does not exist in a vacuum; it affects spending habits, attitudes towards work versus play, and their aspirations for the future. Expecting them to behave as we did 25-30 years ago is ludicrous. If we are to hire, train, and manage this group we must adapt our expectations and change our approach. Some effective techniques employed by successful manager include:
• Making yourself available at any time to answer questions
• Request feedback – make them feel they are a part of the policy formation, even if just for their input on how best to implement it
• Get involved with their after-work life with charity events, learning opportunities, seminars, etc.
• Teach, rather than assume basic skills like time management and proper work etiquette
• Be open to hearing new ways of doing things, even if at first, they seem foreign – it never hurts to listen to another point of view.
In two years, one in three adults will be millennials
Many of us while taking classes in college heard professors deride the generation of students. They called us the “me” generation and would pepper conversations with analogies designed to show us what a detriment we were to society. We hated their condescension towards students. We turned them off. After all, we weren’t part of the “greatest generation” but we weren’t anything like the generation they so detested and derided, so why should we listen to them always judging us? Our millennials feel the same way.
There are many hard working, intelligent millennials who undoubtedly are tired of hearing terms like snowflake, whiner, etc. “Millennial” is the M word to this group, and we in business leadership would do well to take a more nuanced approach to employing this age group. Are there many millennials who exhibit the worst traits attributed to this group? Of course, there are – but are we to pretend that there aren’t 45-year old’s that show up late, complain about everything, expect too much, and generally waste time? Many of our co-workers throughout our careers have exhibited the exact same characteristics ascribed to millennials; we just didn’t have a stereotype or moniker for it.
There is no changing the demographics – we are dying off, and they are ascending. We can either learn how to motivate and manage this group, withdraw completely and only work with our own (learning nothing new) or we can take the lead and do the work necessary to give our companies the best shot at competing in the marketplace. To stomp our feet and complain about how unfair things have become seems like snowflake behavior to me.