(Note: this article is the third of a 4-part series based on interviews with baby boomer and Gen X business leaders and HR executives in the Denver area. Make sure to check out part I and part II)
As I talk to older generations about millennials, I was surprised about the perceptions. Most people interviewed agreed that despite the common perception, millennials are not lazy, entitled, or a drag on their bottom line.
“A lot of people put millennials in a box. They want to work 40 hours a week and get promoted in less than a year. This is not true… I don’t think we’ve employed a bunch of spoiled brats.” -Director at Fortune 500 technology company
How can this be? How can there be such a strong perception of millennials that goes against most people’s direct experience with how they behave at work? According to millennial researcher Jason Dorsey, millennials are “breaking into two.” One group has their act together and is taking responsibility for their actions, while the other group has not been able to gain significant real world traction. Which group is your company drawing talent from? The companies interviewed largely recruited millennials from the former group, not the later. If you feel that you’ve employed a bunch of spoiled brats, you might want to reevaluate how and where you are sourcing talent.
While some perceptions are not justified, others were prevalent across most organizations. The top valid complaints that I heard are below:
Impatience: expect to be promoted much more quickly than normal
Restlessness: get tired of doing the same thing
Inappropriate behavior: do not understand how to behave in an office environment
Lack of respect: do not perceive hierarchy and will not do things that they don’t understand
While these statements may be justified, they are in the organization’s ability to directly address—for each complaint there was at least one company that had acted to make it disappear. Use the checklist below to help figure out what steps you need to take.
Impatience: Do you have a well-defined career trajectory that explains the range of timing and the key skills required to develop before each promotion? If so, can 90% of millennials explain this to you from memory, and do they understand how their skills compare to what they need for promotion? Even companies that don’t have defined career paths can do this. A lot of leaders said that there is no one path that millennials can take, and it is up to us to chart our own course. So instead, outline the general principles (e.g. change positions every 1-3 years, get experience in a mix of departments) and show 3-5 representative examples of what people have done in the past.
Restlessness: If millennials are restless, this is a good sign. It means that you have a highly motivated and intelligent team, and they have the capacity for more challenging work. As a manager, you should be excited to offload more onto them. There are a few things you can do here:
One company rotated their people to a new role every three months or so. This is an incredible way to develop people quickly and keep them on their toes, but not every company can pull this off.
Give them more responsibility, which is different than more work. If they are doing the same thing repeatedly, they should be getting better at it. Show them how they can take on more of the end to end process or client relationship, or ask them to improve the way they do the work to greatly reduce the time it takes without reducing the quality. Either way, more responsibility means an increased likelihood of failure. They won’t be restless if failing is a real possibility, especially because failing is a great learning opportunity.
Get them involved in something completely different than their day to day work. It could be a culture initiative, a side project for a client, or something they dream up themselves.
Inappropriate behavior: This should be easy to fix. Communicate directly what is appropriate behavior in an office and what is not, and link it back to culture. For things that are not appropriate, you must be able to explain for us to be compliant.
Lack of respect: This is another good thing. Do you want your employees to be order takers or thought partners? Your managers should be able to lead and influence us, not control us. If there are some processes or rules that you really can’t explain and we need to follow anyways, then get us involved in trying to change them. We might quickly realize that it’s not worth the battle, but then we’ll follow them.
Stay tuned for part IV: Frequent mistakes, and high impact levers to engage millennials. If you would like to be a part of the research, please contact Andrew at email@example.com