Millennials are now the official target of the entire free business world. Tattooed with the perception that they are about self, not trainable, unmotivated and job hop at an alarming rate, Millennials have become the group of choice that most workplace leadership love to hate.
Business environments are filled with people on the other side of this cultural gap. Around the water cooler (if you still actually have one of those) and in corner offices, they are blamed for everything that is seemingly wrong with business culture.
A recent March 2016 article in the Huffington Post reported that the workplace as we know it will be made up of an audience of "75% millennials by the year 2025" or roughly within 10 years.
Currently they make up 30% of the American independent workforce. In 2011, their numbers were 1.9 million and grew to 5.35 million in 2015.
Well, I believe it’s time to take a deep breath and rethink this Millennials in the workplace thing. The Millennial bashing phenomenon has come to a point where it is starting to sound like “Boomer hating” and “Gen X” whining.
Here is a side note. The generations (including Gen X and Boomers) are not really all that fundamentally different pertaining to their end goals but have differences on how to arrive there. A study in the IBM Institute for Business Value, notes that the things people like to speak about as a "generational difference" really does not exist as much as one would think.
If we can reasonably process this thought (minus the bias), I would like to submit five things in defense of Millennials in the workplace. This is not an attempt to exonerate them from any of their duties of adding to society and making the world a better place (queue the song “We Are the World”) but consider this just food for thought.
1. You hired them (and continue to hire them) onto your business teams so what does that say about your model?
Some companies continue to complain and at the same time continue to hire them. Based on your model, product or industry, you have to consider the fact that this is not the correct demographic for your business. That is not to imply that Millennials cannot perform at the needed levels but if this age group is not delivering on your bottom line then consider paying a higher salary for a more quality candidate or explore your business model. If your business pays peanuts then you just may get a circus as a result. When our team at Advanced Perspectives, LLC is asked to come in and assess a work group, what we find (in most cases) is an environment when the "kids are seemingly running the parents" (acknowledged or not). If your boundaries are not firm and a standard of excellence does not already exist in your business, then you have issues beyond Millennials. Which brings us to number two.
2. How can confident leaders allow Millennials to set their culture?
This is mind boggling to me. One would think that a stellar culture of team excellence and productivity would currently be in place that would help drive the needed culture when absorbing Millennials into it. Do Millennials have some sort of "super slacker power" that allows them to completely change the established culture? Absolutely not! In most instances, Millennials will adapt to the culture they are placed into. What most organizations fail to realize is that the Millennial in your group that is driving you crazy maybe a mirror reflection of your group or organization itself. They may not be as astute in knowing how to hide it. That said, show me an organization with chaos and somewhere, someone in a corner office or cubical has surrendered the culture and then blaming it on Millennials. That takes us to number three.
3. Organizations need to take responsibility for their ineffectiveness within the ranks of their current Managers and Leaders?
Your job as a leader is to grow, groom, direct and lead. Why are you quietly meeting with your peers over sliders at lunch while declaring war or at best plotting the overthrow of all the Millennials in your department? Millennials (in most cases) are not managing themselves. That means that if you have one that you believe is disrupting your team or workplace then the next step is simple. No, not firing them but having you step up to do your job (grow, groom, direct and lead). Too many managers are using the excuse of Millennials and their behaviors as a means of attempting to mask their own deficiency as it pertains to leading. Blame shifting just sounds better rather than saying “I don’t know what to do” or knowing how to engaging Millennials as needed. When my team gets involved, that is much more so the case, just lazy managers/leaders. Trust me, it is not a mark against you as a manger or leader to ask for help in that moment but blaming Millennials for your failure to lead when it is your job description, is.
4. An alarming number of people can’t clearly define the term Millennials.
One question we like to ask our clients during one of our sessions is to explain to us what they believe the differences are between Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials. We ask them to take their teams and place one point under whatever group they would fall into. We then ask them to comment on the groups pertaining to the work environment. With Boomers we hear the term “hard work” used. With Gen X the term “focus” will come up. Then with Gen Y we get “committed” as a descriptive term. Then with Millennials, the descriptive terms tend to move into a condescending arena (lazy, me, selfish, needy). When asked how they feel about hiring out of each group, some managers said they would take any group (Gen Y included) over Millennials. If you are following this line of thought then you know where this is going. Just like the movie “ground hog day” we continue to see the same misstep. Managers giving positive/higher praise to Gen Y and far less to Millennials when they are exactly the same group. The term “Gen Y” was used first and the term “Millennials” was formed shortly after. “Millennials” as it were, caught on with the general public and stuck. Here is the bonus round question. What do today's workplace leaders really know about Millennials beyond the bashing, rumor mill and blame shifting? If they don’t know the difference between Gen Y and Millennials, I would have to question what they have sought to understand on their own minus the venom, misguided and misaligned view of their lazy peer who knows even less on the matter. (revisit reason number 3)
5. Each Generation paved the way for the next. This is the natural progression of human culture so is this really about placing blame?
No it is not. Each and every generation believes that they are the ones that kept the world spinning. Without their contribution to earth as we know it, none of this would be here and society would have passed away many moons ago. Really? Depending on who you engage in conversation, you’re bound to hear terms like “when I was young” or “when I was that age” or anything along those lines. The facts are that the “Silent Generation” thought Boomers were to rowdy. Boomers thought Gen Xer's were selfish. Gen X thought Gen Y was not focused and too out spoken. Let’s not get started on Gen Z (google that one). The point is that every generation created a path for the next. The generation that comes after one or the other is the direct recipient of everything that generation is, was and strive to be. The technological breakthrough that has had some refer to Millennials as the ‘tech generation” have to keep in mind that Boomers and Gen Y birthed them into all this. Some of the labels given to them are simply not true.
Here is an example. Millennials take a lot of heat for being on their phones to much but in this day of instant contact, isn't everyone on their phones? Boomers and Gen X included? Why do Millennials get called on that when this is a workplace issue across the board? Besides, texting on a rotary phone to your peers about lunch isn’t a real thing for people. If anyone should be taken back it is every generation except Millennials. After all, they are the current generation that only knows about cell phones. The rest of us have had or been exposed to a “landline” (in home phone) but we too are still tied to our cellphones as well with most being way past the Millennial age group, right? So what's our excuse?
All that said, allow us to ask ourselves the payoff question, “why all the hate” when it comes to Millennials in the workplace?
Here is my thought. First and foremost is one big word, ownership. Generations prior have had a big part in creating the very thing many have come to dislike. Millennials are a microcosm of what we have created, allowed, evolved to and become as a society. If Millennials are spoiled, we (generations before) spoiled them. If Millennials are not focused then we need to own that as well. We can't saddle them with the term too social. Millennials are more social because life (society) is more social.
A positive in this is that Millennials are far more tolerant because our society is more tolerant and yes, we (Boomers and Gen X) can take credit for that as well. Millennials are said to be generally lazy. That is more of a case by case thing I would imagine. However, if they are lazy then a portion of that is our fault as well. We lead them. They didn't lead themselves to this point.
Then again, how much is actual truth and what part of the tale is just rehashed nonsense? People repeating what they heard someone else say?
My advice to you as a manger of Millennials? Stop your complaining and manage. Just like the generations before them, they are still people capable of reasoning and being lead. Understand that they are not you. They did not get the same generational background upbringing that you might have but that does not make you right and them wrong. It does make both different and that is fine. Your frustrations with Millennials maybe based on your own preference (bias) and views of life with nothing based on fact.
Here are a few tips for you and workplace Millennials:
Start with exploring and acknowledging your own bias pertaining to Millennials. (trust me, a lot of leaders have them)
Get to know their capabilities and put them into roles that will challenge them but also roles that will help them and your business excel.
If you treat them like kids then that is exactly what you will get from them. Treat them professionally and they will respond like professionals.
It is important to understand that they are technology driven so keeping them focused with direct communication, community, speed, customization, automation and interactivity is vital.
It’s okay to talk to Millennials and ask them what you need to know. They will appreciate the fact that you (the old school boss) inquired. With everything you believe is true, there is still a moral obligation to get to know them as people. If you are attempting to manage Millennials based on flow charts, articles, graphs, rumor and fact sheets, then you are in for a very rude awakening.
Regardless of the generation, they still have the same thing that has made generations before them great. Raised differently, yes but there is something great in them that your business needs. Peel back a few of their layers and get out of your own way. What you'll find is some of the most talented, open minded and optimistic thinkers you have come across.
After all, isn't that what you want?
Now, let me hear from you. Do you think Millennials get a bum rap in the workplace? I would love to know what you think. Maybe you have a tip that you would like to pass onto to my team. It's the experiences of many that may help the one.